Tuesday, December 30, 2008

HBCUs In The News: Victoria’s Secret Pink Collection Launches HBCU Apparel

This past Saturday, my sister and I were in a Victoria’s Secret store in the tony Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. We happened to notice a Howard University t-shirt on display (which happens to be my alma mater). The t-shirt is part of the Victoria’s Secret Pink Collection, a line of collegiate apparel geared towards young college age women. The line represents various universities, among them Penn State and the University of Miami, that launched in July. My first thought when I saw the Howard shirt was, when did this happen?

This past summer, I read about Howard University sophomore Amelia Reid, an avid Victoria’s Secret shopper and employee of the company on the blog Poetics Noire. She saw a hoodie that she wanted from the Pink Collection, and noticed that not one Historically Black College or University (HBCU) was among the selection.

She took matters into her own hands and decided to e-mail Victoria’s Secret a suggestion to include Howard University among its selection of schools. She received a response from a customer service rep that she called ‘sugar coated’ and then created the Facebook page, “HBCU Ladies Wear Victoria’s Secret Pink Too,” encouraging others to contact the company to include HBCUs. The Facebook page currently has over 700 members.

BlackEnterprise.com highlighted Amelia’s efforts, along with the launch of the HBCU Pink Line at Florida A&M University (FAMU). In the photo above are FAMU President James Ammons (fifth from left) and CEO of Victoria’s Secret Pink Brand and FAMU alum Richard Dent (fifth from right). Dent stated in the article that they had been in contact with HBCUs prior to the first launch and that Amelia’s grassroots efforts didn’t play a part in their decision to launch HBCU apparel. He did however contact Amelia through her Facebook page to let her know that they were not being insensitive. When I learned that Dent was an African American and a graduate of a HBCU, I was surprised at the omission.

Tina Wells, CEO and founder of Buzz Marketing Group, is quoted in the Black Enterprise article as stating, “The African American consumer is brand loyal and will spend a lot of money on the brands they love. It was a huge oversight on their part not to have [included HBCUs initially], but they are doing it now, and I think it is going to be really successful.”

She also shares that Amelia’s efforts played a bigger role than they are willing to admit: “I don’t think they anticipated that what she did would get so many young women passionate about this,” Wells says. “It goes to show the power of not just social networking but what happens when the beauty of the Internet puts communication in the hands of consumers to go direct to brands and say, ‘I want something to change.’”

Other benefits of this partnership include paid marketing internships and scholarships for students, and a portion of the sales going back to each school. The company is also in talks with the Tom Joyner Foundation and Black America Web to promote the brand.

I decided to share this story because it perfectly illustrates how one person can make a difference. Amelia’s efforts to request that Victoria’s Secret include HBCUs in their product lines will now benefit thousands of young girls just like her, who want to show pride in their school. In fact, at the Howard University and FAMU launches, the merchandise sold out.

Other participating schools include North Carolina A&T and Southern Louisiana University.

Read article here and view apparel here.

UPDATE 3/21: Victoria’s Secret PINK is pleased to announce the winner of their HBCU competition, Florida A&M University (FAMU). PINK tracked in-store and online sales of their HBCU Collegiate Collection from January 26- February 22 and FAMU consistently came in first place each week.

PINK will visit FAMU this April with Limited Edition tees to giveaway to 1,000 students and coupons to use at their local VS PINK store.

Photo: Keith L. Pope/Black Enterprise.com

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