Banana Republic Instagram Ad Unrealistically Portrays a Modern Fashion Design World



Instagram video ads were released recently, but not without some controversy. Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge was unimpressed, saying that “the video ads are basically just commercials. There’s nothing Instagramy about them, and it’s hard to imagine that they’ll fit in. Banana Republic is the only one that gets close, running a silent time-lapse video of someone [hand] sketching a model.”

I agree with Kastrenakes that the Banana Republic ad is the best camouflaged amongst the Instagram landscape. However, speaking as someone who was a professional fashion designer for 10 years and an educator working in the 21st century design world, reality looks more like this:

Note: Original Banana Republic ad is shown as a thumbnail in the bottom right corner


It is my experience that many students leave fashion design school with the ability to hand sketch, but have underdeveloped computer skills. Recent graduates soon realize their resumes don’t match modern fashion design job requirements (a quick search through 10 assistant and associate fashion designer jobs on Style Careers showed only one listing that required hand sketching abilities, while all 10 required Adobe Illustrator proficiency).


I believe that fashion schools in general, and Banana Republic through their Instagram ad, are creating a false emphasis on a minority and outdated skillset of designing with pen and paper. To help students become better equipped at finding design jobs, in 2009 I began teaching workshops and creating copious amounts of YouTube videos on how to use Illustrator for fashion design. I’ve heard far too many of my students tell me, “I can’t believe they didn’t teach me this in school.”


I will never discount the skills of fashion illustrators, or deny the amount of respect I have for these artists. My ability to draw with pen and paper is actually quite poor and my formal training is in graphic design; in fact, I landed my first fashion design job due to my strong computer skills. Hand sketching is still valid (Banana Republic even lists it as one of the requirements in some of their design job postings), but as noted previously, it falls a distant second to what most fashion design jobs require: high proficiency in Adobe Illustrator.

Meir Erani who runs FashionClassroom.com, an on-line video and educational resource for fashion pros, is a 35-year veteran of the industry and a fashion technology pioneer. He can’t emphasize the point enough.


“Knowing how to sketch, and the basics of design are very important, but survival in the fashion industry is much more dependent on your ability to execute design ideas using technology, and today that technology is primarily Illustrator as well as Photoshop.”

My “spoof” version of the video was originally created to underscore the reality of working in modern fashion design and the role that Illustrator plays (this is the world I live and breathe everyday). But upon further research, I bumped into a quote from Marissa Webb, EVP of Design and Creative Director at Banana Republic, which I found very interesting.

Webb states that with the Instagram video ad, “we are targeting women, because these are fashion illustrations and the focus is on women’s products.” In an attempt to play devil’s advocate against my own argument, I thought about the nostalgic and traditional angle of hand sketching that Banana Republic may have been taking with the ad, but in response to her quote, I can’t help but be insulted as a female and a designer. They’re perpetuating a stereotype that women are more drawn to hand sketching than the more tech based reality.

I believe that this ad represents a lost opportunity to show young women more tech options available in the industry. It’s disappointing to me that this comes at a time when women are already facing growing challenges as they try to get ahead in a male dominated business and tech world.

I’m also obliged to add that after watching the video countless times and asking my peers what their observation were, we all came to an unconfirmed conclusion that the sketch in the original ad is done by a male’s hand.

Advertising has always been, and will surely continue to be, misleading and unrealistic; as we know all too well, “sexy sells.” Regardless, Banana Republic (operated by Gap Inc., whose 2013 revenue was $15.6 billion) is in a high demand sector (fashion is desirable) as an industry leader, and I find it unfortunate that the reality of work and any obligation to being a good steward of the trade and craft seems to be put on hold in this instance. There are plenty of ways to promote products, and burgeoning platforms are critical (such as Instagram launching ads), but there are realities to keep in mind when representing a brand, trade, and craft.


Image credit: CC by Esther Vargas

About the author: Sew Heidi

Sew Heidi is a fashion designer & educator and founder of Illustrator Stuff, an online marketplace for vector fashion downloads.

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