How Parade Underwear Took Over Instagram - The New York Times
For Mariah Williams, 21, it was a direct message from Parade’s Instagram account, offering her free samples. When the products arrived, she took the day off from her job as a barbershop receptionist to curate a photo shoot to show off her new burnt-orange underwear; in the photo she posted, a bamboo planter sits next to her bottom half, and her face is just out of the frame.
“Taking these pictures really made me feel good about myself and my body. Especially with seasonal depression, I was in a mood,” she said.
Ms. Williams, who has only 2,000 followers on Instagram, is one of more than 6,000 women and nonbinary Instagrammers who received messages from Parade offering free gifts, ideally in exchange for social posts.
In addition to mailing samples, the company also sent along digital mood boards and a Google Drive of creative direction, in the hopes that the recipients would use it as inspiration for their own posts. The gift boxes yielded hundreds of posts across social media and drove interest in Parade’s products.
The pandemic has been devastating for the fashion industry. But not for underwear. Those sales have had a steady uptick since the beginning of the pandemic; according to Allied Market Research, the lingerie industry is estimated to be worth $325 billion by 2025.
Parade was founded in 2019, just months before the U.S. economy shut down in March, by Cami Téllez and Jack Defuria, two friends in their early 20s. As most fashion companies struggled to keep afloat, Parade sold over 700,000 pairs of underwear and brought in $10 million in revenue, according to a company representative.
Parade is one of many brands that have eschewed paid influencer campaigns in favor of sending products to people who have smaller and more dedicated followings, and often aren’t influencers at all.
“They’re just reaching out to normal people who have followers they actually know in real life,” Ms. Williams said.
“Working with micro-influencers is part of our DNA,” Ms. Téllez said. “Unlike brands of underwear past, we don’t think you need to have hundreds of thousands of followers or be a supermodel to share your underwear story.”
Gifting programs, which offer free product in exchange for posts, have also become more common. But the tactic has sparked discussions about unpaid labor. “As a small influencer, especially as a Black and brown influencer, we often get used and not paid,” Ms. Williams said. She has since reached out to Parade about receiving commission in exchange for promoting a discount code.
Rhea Woods, the head of influencer strategy at Praytell Agency, encourages brands to offer compensation to influencers, no matter how small their following. “It is very standard to pay those folks several hundred dollars,” she said. “That shocks brands. But at the same time, we’re asking for rights to their name, image and likeness,” Ms. Woods said.
Mx. Landrum, who takes nongendered pronouns, noted that in the most recent revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, many brands advantageously adopted progressive slogans but rarely invest in meaningful representation.
“You can scroll back to Parade’s Instagram page in March and see the shift in skin tone. And a few months goes by, and they go back to being very thin, mostly white, with very sparse representation of Black and heavy people,” they said.
Mx. Landrum said that because younger consumers are increasingly politically aware, brands have learned to lean into causes. Parade recently told customers it would donate $1 to Feeding America for every post that featured their underwear with the hashtag #ParadeTogether and five friends tagged.