Heidi Zak, CEO of ThirdLove, Responds to "Sexist" Calvin Klein Billboard Removal

"Being 'sexy' is one thing, but I think we owe it to women to really look at whether or not marketing is sexist."
Publish date:
March 21, 2016
sexism, Calvin Klein, marketing, Indie Lingerie, Gender Discrimination, ThirdLove

Heidi Zak wasn't the only one to notice the sexism displayed in the Calvin Klein billboard prominently featured in Soho, one of New York City's most popular shopping districts. She was, however, the only one to launch a Change.org petition demanding the billboard be taken down immediately, using filmed reactions to the billboard and coining the hashtag #MoreThanMyUnderwear.

On Friday night, less than 24 hours after Heidi's "Take Down Sexist Billboard In NYC," petition launched, the offending billboard was removed.

According to a statement given to Refinery29 by a Calvin Klein PR representative, "[the] billboard was taken down overnight as part of the planned rotation of our spring 2016 advertising campaign."

Despite the brand's statement that it had no knowledge of the #MoreThanMyUnderwear campaign, Heidi Zak is still certain of both the necessity and effectiveness of the stand she and others have taken. "Of course we can't speak for Calvin Klein and we saw the statement," she told me when we spoke this afternoon, "but we have to believe that we're part of the fact that they did remove it when they did. It happened more quickly than we anticipated. We thought it might take a few days to gain traction."

While she and her brand are familiar with featuring women in underwear, Zak maintains that there's a difference between being sexy and being sexist in marketing. "Being 'sexy' is one thing, but I think that we — as any brand that sells products to women, whether or not we also sell to men — owe it to women to really look at whether or not marketing is sexist."

It's certainly possible, even for brands that feature both men and women in their advertisements. Zak points out that there's a mix of influencers, filling in various blanks in while wearing #MyCalvins in other campaign images, but that "this billboard in particular was one of the ones that really jumped out as being such a juxtaposition — not only the statement that was underneath the male and the female, but how they were dressed, how they were looking at the camera. Everything. It crossed a line."

The difference is, obviously, in the execution. The marketing focus of Zak's ThirdLove lingerie company is on "how the garments make women feel." The models on the ThirdLove website are not overtly engaging with the viewer — and, thusly, the male gaze — but are shown wearing ThirdLove lingerie throughout the day, at work and at home, existing as complete and autonomous individuals.

"One of the things you see on our homepage is that our model is beautiful and she's sexy and she looks great in her lingerie, but she's not really looking at the camera. It represents who she is. She's not naked in any photograph. She's not thinking about her lingerie, she's more than that."

You can view updates on the #MoreThanMyUnderwear campaign here.