Asos announced this week that it’s banning the sale of certain fabrics on ethical grounds, but they’re also making bold moves in beauty, by dropping the term altogether. Should we reframe our vocab around cosmetics?
Asos is one of the largest online fashion retailers on the planet, selling over 850 brands to its 15.7 million active customer base (and that was just last year’s tally). As influential creative brands go, it’s a veritable giant, which is why when it makes moves that boldly go where other household names daren’t venture, we tend to sit up and listen.
Earlier this week Asos announced a ban on mohair, cashmere, feathers and silk from its clothing range from January 2019 onwards, in a bid to promote animal welfare. In the company’s own words, “Asos firmly believes it is not acceptable for animals to suffer in the name of fashion or cosmetics.” While other big name retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Zara and H&M have also instated a ban on mohair, Asos is the first to extend its cruelty-free policy to include other animal derived materials, which will see products containing or made with teeth, bone, down and shells removed from sale too.
Asos has notably also removed some of the stalwarts of fashion and cosmetic advertising from its site- you’ll no longer take in perfectly airbrushed bikini shots or be sold clothing modelled by one cookie-cutter body type. The next time you log-on to buy a summer dress or some swimwear (if you’ve not completed your summer haul already), stretch marks, scars, freckles and cellulite will be out and proud in every department. Beauty follows suit too, but this is where it gets even more interesting- while many a brand has embraced body positivity and scrapped digital retouching (shout out to Missguided ), ASOS has chosen to opt out of the word ‘beauty’ altogether.
The brand relaunched its cosmetic offering last September as ‘Face + Body’ , a decision taken to make its makeup and body offering gender neutral and non-judgmental. The renaming is particularly fitting given Asos’ long-term partnership with LGBTQ activist group GLAAD and its gender neutral fashion collection, and the Asos board clearly wishes to further gender fluidity and egalitarian values in the cosmetic arena too, with makeup campaign and model shots representing a huge variety of ethnicities, sizes and even abilities (Asos supports and designs for the GB Paralympic team for the foreseeable). Cis men and women, trans men and women women and non binary people showcase new launches such as the box fresh Crayola Beauty and the Asos Face + Body Instagram feed is a celebration of colour on every level. This doesn’t feel like lip service, it looks to be a genuine propelment towards a more democratic aesthetic ethos. Add affordability into the mix ( Asos Makeup is priced between £5-£12), and the message that ‘makeup is for everyone’ seems to ring true from every angle.
That said, Asos does still stock brands that aren’t cruelty-free (Nars making a move into the Chinese market last year strikes that option out for starters), and not all brands bring a wide colour range to the Asos table, although stock is becoming more inclusive. While ‘a little less conversation a little more action’ could be levelled here, Asos makes it clear that it’s making strides towards sustainability and diversity, and reshaping the language we use is a powerful move- as with US beauty magazine Allure banning the term ‘anti-ageing’ and Women’s Health ceasing to use the phrase ‘bikini body’, how we talk to and about ourselves and others is of fundamental importance to our collective worth and values.
Beauty, admittedly, is a tricky one to abandon- it’s in our own site masthead and it refers to one of the most lucrative industries in business globally. The irony isn't lost on me that this piece is tagged 'beauty' either. It is, however, an undeniably loaded word in a way that ‘fashion’ isn’t, and it's predominantly applied to women- whether we have it, or whether we're lacking it. Changing the ideals around beauty is a vital step, but ceasing our use of it altogether in reference to how we adorn and paint our outer selves could prove restrictive. Perhaps we need a new term that encompasses all of the variations and idiosyncrasies of the human face and body? For now we’ll concentrate on presenting and discussing beauty in all of its guises, but suggestions of a postcard for what to call the new ‘beauty’. Will the clinical 'cosmetics' suffice? Lotions and potions anyone? Hit me up wordsmiths.