Since Aerie launched its #AerieReal campaign in 2014, the lingerie and lifestyle brand has aimed to promote women’s empowerment and body positivity through efforts like not retouching ads, casting models with disabilities and illnesses, and leveraging celebrity and influencer ambassadors known as Aerie Role Models. The American Eagle Outfitters-owned brand’s platform has grown to have 13 Role Models, and is giving its customer base a chance to interact with them face-to-face at the brand’s first large-scale summit.
Timed to International Women’s Day on March 8, the brand will host the AerieReal Summit, a day of panels, workshops and activations themed around the 2020 campaign theme of women using their voice for change. Programming includes conversations and meet-and-greets with Role Models including actress Lana Condor; Broadway performer Ali Stroker; actress Beanie Feldstein; trans activist Hari Nef; scientist Keiana Cavé; sustainability activist Manuela Barón; and gymnast Aly Raisman.
Aerie teamed with integrated marketing and communications firm Shadow to create and execute the ticketed event, which will take over event space at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The event sold out of all 300 tickets, which went for $25 each, with 100% of sales going toward Aerie partner NEDA, a nonprofit that supports those affected by eating disorders.
Stacey McCormick, svp of brand marketing at Aerie, said the brand’s first large gathering is meant to bring most of its Role Models under one roof and connect them with consumers. The brand took learnings from its past, smaller Role Model events, which have included free in-store talks and invite-only Role Models Changing the Course dinners for media.
“The best way for us to engage with customers is through events where we have two-way conversations,” McCormick said. “When we signed on with our Role Models this year, we had individual conversations that led us down the path that we needed to do something bigger, on a scale where we could [feature them all] and invite more of the community in.”
British model Iskra Lawrence, who was Aerie’s first Role Model in 2016, told Adweek the summit is a culmination of the #AerieReal campaign in “one huge, shiny package.”
“We are saying, ‘Hey everyone, come be a part of the brand and come experience a whole day of Aerie realness,’” Lawrence said in a statement. “From the panels to the discussions and the workshops, everything we are discussing is about the attendees.”
Each Role Model will speak on topics related to their career or passion during onstage panel discussions as well as offstage breakout sessions and meet-and-greets. Lisette Sand-Freedman, CEO of Shadow, said the firm worked with Aerie to curate the programming around three sessions that tie into the theme: Reflection, Intention and Action.
The Reflection session will kick off with a meditation led by Raisman and an International Women’s Day panel sponsored by Bumble featuring multiple ambassadors. The Intention session will include a discussion by Barón on how she lives a zero-waste lifestyle, and a performance by a surprise musical guest. And Action, the final session, will feature a fireside chat about women in business with event sponsor Synchrony Financial, and Lawrence in discussion with Katherine Schwarzenegger about her book, The Gift of Forgiveness.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into being inclusive and accessible as far as production goes, as well as being considerate of the many ways the programming content of the day can be interpreted or experienced,” Freedman said. “We are making sure this is an event for everyone, not just for a few.”
While programming is a key aspect and draw of the event, creating an Aerie store aesthetic and onsite activations was also important for the brand. According to Freedman, the event design will include organic greenery and pops of color. The space will also have a DIY succulent station (which Aerie has featured in stores) and a dance party video booth. The teams also chose to hold the event at the 1 Hotel for its company-wide sustainability commitment similar to Aerie’s.
”It was important to us to preserve the Aerie aesthetic from both its stores and previous events we’ve executed for the brand,” Freedman said. “We didn’t want this to feel like a radical departure into something new, but rather a growth in the movement that started in 2014 that Aerie customers collectively have grown together with us.”
According to McCormick, the goal for Aerie is to continue holding larger events in the future based on customer feedback. One way the brand plans to measure success is through post-event surveys, asking attendees if they would attend similar Aerie events in the future and what the brand could do differently in terms of programming and activities.
“We will continue to grow the brand and build community through digital and social, but there is great value in connecting live,” McCormick said. “Getting closer with our customers is part of our value, and [live events] will be important to our success.”