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A Victoria’s Secret exec quit the brand because it made her feel she was ‘constantly trying to be someone else’

  • Michelle Cordeiro Grant is a former director at Victoria’s Secret.
  • She told Insider she left the company after she no longer connected with the brand and its products.
  • “Constantly trying to belong came to be really mentally exhausting,” she said. 

After decades of sexually-charged advertising and raunchy runway events featuring models decked in angel wings, Victoria’s Secret is trying to move away from the male gaze. It wants to go “from sexy for a few to sexy for all,” CEO Martin Walters has said. It announced in June that it would axe the Angels for being “no longer culturally relevant.”

But such changes were championed by people at the company long before they actually happened. This was the case for Michelle Cordeiro Grant, a former senior merchant at Victoria’s Secret. Grant told Insider she believed it was absolutely a necessary change for the brand to ditch its Angels if they wanted to remain relevant in consumers’ eyes.

Grant worked at the brand for four years to 2012, when she quit because she was no longer wearing the products herself.

She told Insider how her experience working at the lingerie conglomerate was what eventually led her to build a rival bra empire, Lively

“Whereas their product was geared towards helping women look a certain way to please others, I craved to feel confident, comfortable, and empowered in my own skin,” said Grant.

Grant said she felt under pressure to fit a certain image of a beautiful woman. “Constantly trying to be someone else and trying to belong came to be really mentally exhausting,” she said. “I knew that something had to give.”

Her desire to start a family made her realize that Victoria’s Secret didn’t market to mothers.

“There was no representation of pregnant or new moms in our marketing, and the product offering fell short for this specific customer too,” she said. The brand didn’t sell maternity bras, she added.

At the same time, Grant said she felt there was a cultural shift underfoot, whereby women were no longer willing to conform to the idea of “beautiful” that brands like Victoria’s Secret were selling them.

“While Victoria’s Secret’s discipline in its brand identity was the reason why the company was hugely successful for so long, in the end, it turned out to be their downfall as they failed to evolve with the changing cultural tides,” Grant said.

Marketing tools including mail-order catalogs, the Angels, and yearly fashion shows became outdated, Grant said.  “It was becoming clear that the future of brands was more about community and creating a conversation versus just selling a product.”

Grant said she found herself completely detached from the company, which led her to the realization that there wasn’t anything on the market that catered to approachable branding products and bras that conform to women rather than forcing women to conform into the bra. A brand that was inclusive to all women was also something Grant found lacking in the industry. “I wanted there to be a brand that represents her as an individual and that acknowledges that she is her most powerful and beautiful asset,” she said.

Grant left Victoria’s Secret to launch Lively, which aims to offer lingerie with a message of empowerment. “More than product, Lively is an experience and mindset that aims to meet our community where they’re at and enables them to live life confidently, doing what they love, with the people they love,” Grant said.

For Grant, however, working at Victoria’s Secret was one of the great learning experiences of her life. “The tools I gained from working closely with top execs have been a huge piece of the puzzle on why I’ve been able to launch that vision into a healthy brand that is now five years old, and one that will be relevant years beyond me,” she said. 

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