Third Love Lingerie's Heidi Zak Pens Open Letter To Victoria's Secret After Razek Interview

Third Love NYT letter to Victoria's Secret.jpg

The fallout from L Brands CMO Ed Razek’s now infamous Vogue interview in advance of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show continued with the publication of ThirdLove's co-founder and co-CEO, Heidi Zak’s open letter to Victoria’s Secret, published in Sunday’s New York Times.

In a long list of frankly stupid comments from a smart man I worked with for years, Razek cited his small but mighty ThirdLove competitor in the lingerie space, saying “We’re nobody’s ThirdLove, we’re their first love.” Pissed off people protested over Razek’s arrogance, particularly in view of Victoria’s Secret and PINK’s current death spiral in revenue. It was not a moment to give women and men one more reason not to shop Victoria’s Secret at the critical holiday season.

Dear Victoria’s Secret,

I was appalled when I saw the demeaning comments about women your Chief Marketing Officer, Ed Razek, made to Vogue last week. As hard as it is to believe, he said the following: “We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t.” “It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this?  Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”

I’ve read and re-read the interview at least 20 times, and each time I read it I’m even angrier. How in 2018 can the CMO of any public company — let alone one that claims to be for women — make such shocking, derogatory statements?

You market to men and sell a male fantasy to women. But at ThirdLove, we think beyond, as you said, a “42-minute entertainment special.” Your show may be a “fantasy” but we live in reality. Our reality is that women wear bras in real life as they go to work, breastfeed their children, play sports, care for ailing parents, and serve their country. 

ThirdLove CEO Heidi Zak (l); L Brands CMO Ed Razek (r)

ThirdLove CEO Heidi Zak (l); L Brands CMO Ed Razek (r)

Haven’t we moved beyond outdated ideas of femininity and gender roles? It’s time to stop telling women what makes them sexy — let us decide. We’re done with pretending certain sizes don’t exist or aren’t important enough to serve. And please stop insisting that inclusivity is a trend.

I founded ThirdLove five years ago because it was time to create a better option. ThirdLove is the antithesis of Victoria’s Secret. We believe the future is building a brand for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be seen as groundbreaking, it should be the norm. 

Let’s listen to women. Let’s respect their intelligence. Let’s exceed their expectations. Let women define themselves. 

As you said Ed, “We’re nobody’s ThirdLove, we’re their first love.” We are flattered for the mention, but let me be clear: we may not have been a woman’s first love but we will be her last. 

To all women everywhere, we see you, and we hear you. Your reality is enough. To each, her own. -Heidi

Meanwhile, back at the Columbus, Ohio Victoria’s Secret ranch, John Mehas, the current president of Tory Burch, will replace outgoing CEO VS Jan Singer, who has lead the lingerie business — but not PINK — for less than two years. Singer was fired days after the Razek interview, although negotiations with Mehas were obviously already in process.

“John is an outstanding retail merchant and we could not be more excited for him to lead Victoria’s Secret Lingerie to a new phase of success,” said L Brands founder and CEO, Leslie Wexner in a statement alongside the company’s third-quarter dismal earnings report. “I am confident that, under John’s leadership, Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, the world’s leading lingerie brand, will continue to be a powerhouse and will deliver products and experiences that resonate with women around the globe.”

“Our new leaders are coming in with a fresh perspective and looking at everything,” Wexner continued. “Our marketing, brand positioning, internal talent, real estate portfolio and cost structure.”

One can’t help wondering if Mehas’ pro-woman Tory Burch background won’t put him at odds with Ed Razek when the topic is branding and advertising. I noted recently that Wexner, a major Republican donor left the party over Donald Trump and his divisive message. Ahem, Les, you might filter VS’s sales declines — which are happening for multiple reasons, to be fair — through that same filter when considering how to reignite the brand. You have a tough hill to climb.

In another change, Victoria’s Secret is reintroducing its swimwear line, which it discontinued back at the end of 2016.  These changes are probably good ones for VS but tackling the brand positioning of VS is its greatest challenge, because it absolutely does not resonate with today’s marketplace — even before #MeToo.

Another friend of mine, Lori Greeley, a former CEO of Victoria's Secret and now a board member and investor at ThirdLove, said: "In all the years I've worked in the industry, I've never seen such dedication to inclusivity."

Forbes covered Heidi Zak’s funding success with Greeley and also Ann Goldman, the former CEO of Spanx in June 2016.