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Embracing a Broad Definition of Inclusive with Jessica Lopez

Daniel Jester
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:
From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester. And this is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast.
Daniel Jester:
We've talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion on this show before, but like many topics we cover, there are many perspectives, many facets to be explored, and many approaches to creating a more inclusive world. Joining me for this episode of the show is art director, Jessica Lopez, whose main mission, as an art director, is to normalize creating a comfortable environment for shoppers through inclusive casting. When we talk inclusive, it goes beyond skin tone and body type. We talk about those things too, but it also includes many other aspects of an individual's physical appearance. While through most of the episode, we do focus on the physical because those considerations have a direct impact on the products we photograph, Jessica also champions inclusiveness across the gender identity spectrum.
Jessica Lopez:
So we talk a lot about representation across race, across body size, across ability. And we have a long ways to go across all of those factors, especially when it comes to ability. We need to ramp that up. But one thing that I feel like isn't really part of these conversations as much is representation across the spectrum of gender. I would love to see more non-binary talent, more trans talent, more gender non-conforming talent. And that's something I feel like I want to be seeing more of that this year, next year, five to 10 years, and representing the whole spectrum of gender and normalizing that.
Daniel Jester:
There's really not much else for me to say at this point. So let's get into it. This is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I am your host, Daniel Jester, and my guest today is Jessica Lopez of Zappos. Jessica, welcome to the show.
Jessica Lopez:
Thank you for having me Daniel. So excited to be here.
Daniel Jester:
I'm excited to have you. We talked some time ago about having you as a guest on the show. And we specifically talked about having you on to talk about diversity, and some of the impacts of diversity, and ways of thinking about diversity in E-commerce content. So a few episodes back, our listeners might remember, we talked a little bit about diversity with our guest Karen Williams, and we've kind of focused on the crew having diverse perspectives and how that leaves its fingerprints on the content. Jessica, with you we're going to take a little bit of a different approach to it. We can certainly talk about the importance of diversity of the crew, but we had some really interesting pre-production conversations about the diversity and representation of your casting, and going even beyond race and body type. We want to talk a little bit about what future technology can do for enabling more diverse and more representative content as well.
Jessica Lopez:
We've come a long way, I would say, in the last like decade, but I think there's still a far ways to go. You're definitely seeing a lot more diversity, even at an agency, in a modeling agency level. Their books are way more diverse than they were even two years ago. And even, I've been doing this for so long, like six, seven years ago, if you wanted to cast a model of color, it was like they had one in their entire agency. And that ratio has completely shifted. So I think that's really opened up the doors to see a lot more representation online, especially in e-comm.
Jessica Lopez:
When we're talking about diversity, a brand I think that has done it well, and has been kind of at the forefront of that for a while is Madewell. They were one of the first sites that had that kind of toggle that lets you see that same item in a different size. They've been really good about representing body shapes, skin colors, ethnicities. They really have run the gamut. I think they're really strong.
Jessica Lopez:
You mentioned Universal Standard is also really strong. And I think, and the industry as a whole, I think is doing a pretty good job of representing like a standard size model, that curve, which is like an 8, 10,. And then maybe like a 1X or 2X. I think where we could move into is that like 4X. I wish I could see more of that 4X model on sites. You don't see that a lot. And an area that we touched on that I think you don't see a lot of people do, but Zappos does really well, is featuring adaptive models, models with disabilities, in a wheelchair, limb differences, et cetera. So that's a core value for Zappos, is their whole adaptive program. You see individual brands do stuff around adaptive representation in their campaigns, but not so much on e-comm. So I feel like that is some, an area that could really be explored more.
Daniel Jester:
Yeah. I really want to talk to you a little bit more about adaptive model casting. It was really interesting to me when we last spoke about that, and we touched on that. It's really interesting to have that as a core value because that is one area. You opened my eyes to the fact that is an area that you occasionally might see a model in a wheelchair in like a Target catalog, but it's like few and far between. But there are a whole host of like all kinds of adaptive model needs, limb differences, everything from that kind of thing to like casting models with Treacher Collins syndrome, and things like, that are common things that you see all the time in people.
Daniel Jester:
And we've come a long way, but it still is some of these more boutique brands. And you and I acknowledge that it's a little bit challenging for a larger company, for a lot of reasons. We were talking about it in the context of like boutique sizing. You can't really change sizing if you're a brand that sells other brands. You have to kind of keep your sizing in line with them. So that's our segue into talking a little bit about adaptive model casting, and how you're handling that at Zappos, and fitting that into part of the brand.
Jessica Lopez:
So there's an entire team dedicated to the adaptive program at Zappos. It is their passion. It's like a group of very passionate people who want to make sure that they are representing the community in the way that the community wants to be represented. I think that's something that's really important. You can't just kind of go, "Oh, we're going to cast somebody with a wheelchair and we're going to just slap them in this campaign." It needs to be really thoughtful, really intentional. You had mentioned representation of the crew. You need to have people on the team who are part of that community, having a voice in how that community is represented. If you're not part of the community of people with disabilities and you're not getting input from them, you're not doing it correctly in my opinion. So this team is totally dedicated to that.
Jessica Lopez:
And there are kind of newly sprung up adaptive agencies, which is something I didn't even see, like five years ago. You would probably have had to have sourced any kind of adaptive talent from a pool of influencers. I think the agency that we're using right now, it's called ZBD or something, and it's an inclusive talent agency. And so they have a wide range of people. It's not just people with limb differences or in a wheelchair, but people with like vitiligo or different ways of being represented. And I think that is really important. I'll say that when we put out any kind of adaptive content, people really engage with it because I think they're thirsty for it and there's not enough of it, and there needs to be more. And they need to be able to see themselves reflected on every website.
Jessica Lopez:
And I think it's important to make that connection with that community because they don't get to see themselves every day. It's important to me when I'm doing casting. Pretty much in every single one of the campaigns, I like to have someone that represents the adaptive community in the campaign because it's such a huge part of real world. There's so many people out there.
Daniel Jester:
Totally.
Jessica Lopez:
Yeah. It's important that they see themselves in these campaigns, especially for a brand like Zappos, that's so all about like including everyone, and it's a brand for everybody and that's really like a core value of Zappos. So it's important to me as an art director to make sure that everyone is seeing themselves reflected back to them in the campaigns.
Daniel Jester:
When we're talking about representation like this, and getting people on camera that are diverse body types, diverse skin tones, diverse abilities and characteristics. It's not just about the representation, but let's talk a little bit also about the availability of product to accommodate that customer.
Jessica Lopez:
Having that representation is super important, but if you don't have the product to offer that community of people, it is kind of tokenism. What's the purpose behind you putting this person in front of the camera and having them represented in a campaign. It's really to say, "You're welcome here. And we support you." We support your community with this grouping of products that will make your lives easier or that serve you. And if you don't have that, you really have to say to yourself, "Why am I putting this person in the campaign if I am not actually backing up this outward appearance with actual inventory that serves this community?"
Daniel Jester:
The tokenism thing I'm really sensitive to. And it came up in our past episode with Karen also where we were talking about it was easy. And that's how we kind of settled on the idea of having the crew needing to have that diverse set of perspectives and inclusive of all different communities, is because it is really easy. It was really easy after the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020 to be really performative with your diversity, without doing any heavy lifting of like sourcing better product, or creating more diverse perspectives on your teams, or, God forbid, promoting diverse groups of people to senior leadership or C-level positions in your company. That's one of the things that I hope that we do. And that's one of the things that we talked about with Karen is that it has to be more than performative. The representation in the content is important. Are you doing anything else?
Jessica Lopez:
Yeah. And to your point about C-suite level, diversity at the C-suite level, that is swirly lacking still. There is not enough of that. I mean, I think it's kind of an industry wide thing where you see people put their diversity stats up and it's all at the individual contributor level. And then when you get into that manager level, the director level. With each level that you move up, it drops off dramatically, to where the C-suite is still, it's like old white dude still in C-suite.
Daniel Jester:
God, I don't like being in the position of saying that I'm going to play devil's advocate because we're all super sick of that. My hope though is, I guess the optimism that I cling to in this, is that some of these things are things that take time. There are some things that we can do very quickly. And one of those things, realistically, if you want to assume that a brand is acting in good faith, in terms of DEI, and inclusion, and representation, then the quick thing that you can do is change your casting. Put somebody else in charge of casting or cast from more diverse perspectives. It's a little bit slower to hire in people at the individual contributor level and then even slower to start to move people into manager levels. And I think a lot of that, to our point in our past episode about this, is about opportunity.
Daniel Jester:
So it's like what's the timeframe between creating the opportunity and starting to see the effects of that. My hope is that that's where we're at. That we're building the right foundation, at least in some of the companies that I think are really taking this seriously. I want to go back to the agency conversation because that was really interesting. And I was going to ask you about that. I'm glad that you brought it up. So there have been agencies that have popped up in the last few years that can support casting from these various types of communities. What are your thoughts on where you're at on that today and what would you like to see from these agencies more of in the future?
Jessica Lopez:
I think they just need to put the roller skates on and get out there and recruit talent. You're not going to see less of a need for this. I think you're going to see more and they just need to have more variety in their casting. It's clear the need from brands and the demand from brands has increased over the past handful of years. And I don't think that the agencies have caught up to the demand. And I think that the demand is going to keep increasing. So if someone has a passion for this and wants to start an inclusive agency, I think now is the time to do it. You're going to see more and more of that.
Jessica Lopez:
I think you're also going to see maybe Wilhelmina Ford start to add those arms onto their agencies and have more kind of... Because we've always had these kind of like real people agencies where you're like, "Oh, I just want like quirky faces," or like, "I'm casting for real people." And there's always those agencies, but I think that this is something that they need to increase the amount of talent they have on their roster. And I think you're going to see a lot more people asking for this.
Daniel Jester:
Yeah. Real people 10 years ago was still like very attractive people, slightly less attractive people. Yeah.
Jessica Lopez:
It was like models and then like the real people were the actors.
Daniel Jester:
Yeah. Right. Exactly. Yeah. And I think the other thing I was going to say is that some of these agencies need to also just need be really brave with their definition of inclusive. To your point, that like, it's not just about these couple of categories that we've, have been sort of the focus of the conversation, but it's just like go take a walk in your neighborhood and see what you see. And that's who you want to see represented in content and how we want to sell these things.
Daniel Jester:
I'd like to pivot the conversation, Jessica, to the role that technology will play in the future of e-commerce content and representation.
Jessica Lopez:
Yeah.
Daniel Jester:
We've had several episodes where we've talked about everything from CGI rendered environments, to completely AI created models, all the way to what role large LED backgrounds might play in the future of everyday product photography. So we know, and you and I know, of being in this industry that we are like right at the edge. Things are going to start changing and happening really, really quickly. The technology, everything's kind of stacked up, the metaverse, all of this stuff, blockchain technology, all of these things. Remains to be seen how it's all going to fit in together and affect retail, but we will try to sell things to people using these things. So where do you see some of these technologies impacting our ability to represent people better in our content?
Jessica Lopez:
So this area in particular is super exciting to me. I always love to think about how technology is going to be applied to E-commerce and make people's lives easier. There have been kind of fits and starts, and attempts to do AR augmented reality shoe try on. There's like a company. There's an app out there that's trying to get that off the ground. And I feel like you've had people trying to really do that virtual try on, and scan your body. The technology is not quite there yet, but you're starting to see brands like Burberry, Balenciaga do 3D renderings of their clothing and send that 3D rendering to influencers. And the influencers are putting on a 3D rendering, and that's now their social content. And they're not sending out product to get shot.
Jessica Lopez:
And then that also ties into this kind of NFT world, where you have a company like Artifact that was acquired by Nike, and they're creating shoes for the metaverse. And so I feel like all of these things are kind of meld together and you're going to have an experience where the technology finally meets the moment and the demand, where people can AR try on anything and have a full scan of their body.
Jessica Lopez:
And I can imagine a world where I log on to nordstrom.com, and because I scanned my body and uploaded it to their site through whatever service exists at the time, all of the clothes on the PLP is on me, on a 3D rendering of my body. A lot of technologies need to fall into place, like the 3D rendering of the clothing, the 3D rendering of the human body, the plugging it into the site. But I think when all of those things meld together, you're going to have this really hyper customized experience of going shopping somewhere. Like your own boutique, where you get, it's almost like the realization of Clueless closet in a way, which everyone has always wanted to exist since Clueless came out.
Jessica Lopez:
So that's something that really excites me. I think like the implications for E-commerce are really interesting. If I had to guess, I would think that your return rate would be almost nil in that situation. But also I feel like the sales would decrease because people buy a lot of things to try them all on and maybe they forget to return them. So your return rates are maybe like falsely, like the return rate level, if it's 25%, 10% of that is people who forgot to return something, and the expiration date has passed and they can't return it anymore. So you're going to have people buying less, but returning way less.
Jessica Lopez:
And I think that has a really exciting implication for sustainability. Because then it would have an impact industry wide where things are more right sized. I feel like we overproduce clothing right now. So the trickle effects of this technology, my imaginary technology of me being able to see myself on nordstrom.com in every piece of clothing that they have, I think would have a lot of... It would really shake up the industry in ways that maybe seem bad at first. But in the long run, I think it would be a net positive.
Daniel Jester:
Well, think about it like this though, because the logical conclusion of body scan, uploading your virtual avatar to Nordstrom, maybe Nordstrom's now laser cutting that garment for you specifically. It's no longer a matter of, are you a medium, a large, or an extra large, and are we slim cutting them this season or not? But it could become a thing where it's like, "Okay, you've got a little bit of extra circumference here. And so we can laser cut this garment to your body type." And basically everyone's getting bespoke clothes from their favorite brands. That seems insane to me. And also just dimension, you're talking to one of the reigning champions of buying too many sizes of something and then never returning it. I have gotten a lot better about it, but I still do it with shoes with my kids because if I get it right and the smaller size fits them, we still have shoes for next summer. So I don't return those, but I do end up using them.
Jessica Lopez:
Yeah. I mean, personally I have so many things that I have forgotten to return and that like 30, 90 days expires. And then you're like, "Well."
Daniel Jester:
Get this Jessica, last week I left the house to return something. So you can see how committed I am to improving that. You brought up the thing about sending out like virtual renderings for influencers to try on different things. And that's one of the things that's really, I think, exciting from a sustainability standpoint about the future of e-comm content. Is that we will get to the point where we won't need to be shipping garments all over the place. Or it's not a problem to get garments in multiple sizes for samples for these representation efforts, because you know, the practical side of e-commerce content creation, sample availability has always been an issue in this. The sample availability was hard when you only needed one size of everything. And if you want to show multiple sizes and multiple body types, it's a compounded problem. So it is really exciting to see what some of this does.
Daniel Jester:
And also the bridge between in person shopping and digital. We talked before this episode about the virtual try on mirror, at your physical... You're at Banana Republic, and you're in front of the mirror, and you're like, I like this sweater, and okay, maybe I don't like it so much now that I've seen it on myself in this mirror. So you're able to virtually try on things in store and still enjoy that in person shopping experience, which you probably know as well as I do over the course of the pandemic, online shopping is a poor replacement for just walking around your favorite store. But being able to take some of that technology into the brick and mortar also, and all of these things will be supported by the creative teams who are doing that work. It's all really interesting. And I think it really, like all technology, hopefully we harness it for good and for improving people's lives. And like you said, reducing what we produce, reducing our waste, and making it easier for people to find things that they feel amazing and look amazing in.
Jessica Lopez:
Yeah. And PS, maybe you're in that Banana Republic looking in the mirror, and you grab the sweater in beige and the AI mirror changes the color to see if you like one of the other colors of the sweater and you don't have to take-
Daniel Jester:
Yeah. Hunter green's going to look better on you. It's going to just tell you. Like, "Hey, you got green eyes. This is going to really set your eyes off." Thanks mirror. Now we're in like a Snow White situation where we have... Well, Jessica, thank you so much. That's about all the time we have for this episode. Thank you so much for having this conversation. And I would really love to have you back some time about this topic or any other topic. I think this was a good time.
Jessica Lopez:
Daniel, thank you so much for having me. I always love projecting into the future as a thought experiment. That's always super fun for me.
Daniel Jester:
Totally. Yeah. All right. Until next time.
Jessica Lopez:
Thanks. Bye.
Daniel Jester:
That's it for this episode, many thanks to our guest, Jessica Lopez, and thanks to you for listening. The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to Sean O’Meara, and a special hello to my friend and new subscriber to this show, Yolanda, who is @ygkbeauty on Instagram. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends.

About the host

Daniel Jester
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.