Top professional tennis player Naomi Osaka has signed on to Victoria's Secret's VS Collective, the brand disclosed on its podcast Wednesday.
Osaka said she joined to serve as a role model. "What I realized that I want to achieve is just knowing that ... little kids can look at you and say 'she looks like me' or 'I want to be like her,' and I feel like that's the biggest thing, to push the next generation to have their dreams be as big as yours when you were a kid."
The brand launched the collective, which replaces its "angels" as the keystone of its marketing strategy, in June and debuted its podcast last month.
Osaka made headlines this year when she withdrew from the French Open, after refusing to speak to the press.
Her subsequent disclosure about her mental health and desire to care for herself was also in the news, and in focus during her discussion with VS Voices podcast host Amanda de Cadenet (Girlgaze founder and also a member of the collective) as she reflected on her 23rd year. Osaka, who on her website says that, "aside from tennis, my most treasured passion is fashion," turned 24 last month.
"I took a couple breaks this year, but I feel like within those breaks, I was able to really figure out what I wanted to do for myself," she said. "And also just slow down and realize all of the things that I appreciate and all the things that I'm really fortunate for and spend a lot of time with my friends, since, you know, the tennis tour is pretty long. We don't really have time to spend time with friends or family. So it was quite nice to be able to do all those things."
In the collective, Osaka joins, along with de Cadenet, soccer star and LGBTQIA+ activist Megan Rapinoe; champion free skier Eileen Gu; actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas; Sudanese refugee, model and activist Adut Akech; model and "body advocate" Paloma Elsesser; fashion designer Stella McCartney; model Hailey Bieber; and openly transgender activist, model and actor Valentina Sampaio.
The group and its platform represent a remarkable turnabout for a brand that clung to its sexualized marketing long after it had fallen out of favor. While still a mainstay in the lingerie segment, it has further to go in its rehabilitation, according to Jane Hali & Associates, citing NPD Group research that "while [Victoria's Secret] remains the market share leader in the U.S. intimates apparel space, the brand's revenue has dwindled in recent years (32% in 2015 to 20% today) as consumers shift toward more inclusive brands that offer comfort."
"The retailer is working to revamp its image and product assortment, although we believe there is work to be done," Hali analysts said in comments emailed earlier this week, noting that it's now "more in-tune with millennial and Gen Z consumer interest," with merchandising focused on inclusivity and comfort.