This CEO put only PhD women in his clothing ads


Courtesy of Betabrand

In a new campaign that's part Dove "Real Beauty," part Sheryl Sandberg, the online clothing line Betabrand is putting only real women with PhDs in its first advertising effort.

Photos released this week from the forthcoming campaign depict young women with advanced degrees modeling the brand's clothing. There's Ines, who has her electronic/computer engineering PhD from University of California, Irvine. Kelly, a neuropsychology PhD candidate at Stanford. Sasha, a nuclear engineering PhD candidate at UC Berkeley. (Betabrand is based in San Francisco.)

In other words: Not your typical fashion model.


Courtesy of Betabrand

The move isn't out of character for Chris Lindland, the clothing company's founder and CEO. The company has always used real models—friends, neighbors, employees—on its Web site. "A lot of our coworkers end up being goaded into modeling each day," Lindland says. The company also has a program called "Model Citizen," in which consumers upload photos of themselves wearing Betabrand items and receive a discount for doing so.

Lindland says the idea came to him in a conversation with a friend who has a PhD. They sent out emails to her network of friends, as well as to customer email lists, to seek women for the campaign. "The question was, is there such a thing as a Dove for the mind?" says Lindland, referring to the "Real Beauty" ads.

The smart image of PhD models fits with Betabrand's edgy, even ironic clothing. It's the company behind the "executive hoodie" (part pinstripes, part Silicon Valley techie), the "dress pant yoga pant" (sweatpant materials dressed up in office-wear style) and "cordarounds" (horizontal corduroys). Lindland knows how to get people talking. As he told the New York Times, his goal is "not to try to create the coolest, most cohesive line of clothing, but to create the most conversation-worthy line of clothing."

With the PhD model campaign, he's done just that, getting buzz everywhere from AdWeek and BuzzFeed to the Huffington Post. Now, he says, the question is: "How are we ever going to turn off the spigot of PhDs who want to model our clothing?" Since the campaign went viral, emails from PhDs who want to be the face of Betabrand have increased.

Read also:

Changing our image of women, one stock photo at a time

Cracking the feminist psyche, and wallet

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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