Jo B. sent us a link to Icebreaker, a New Zealand clothing company. One of their products is wool underwear. As she pointed out, there are some distinct differences in how the men’s and women’s underwear lines are depicted.

The men’s line is called beast. When you go to the site, there’s a little intro part. The following phrase shows up on the banner at the top:

As Jo says,

The overall idea seems to be that men have some kind of innate, primordial aggression (thought I’m not sure how this is supposed to relate to woollen underwear).

Indeed, socialization “cages” men’s true nature, but just barely–its hold is “frail and fragile” and, I presume, could burst forth if you aren’t really careful. I don’t quite follow how the city “brings the beast alive,” or how reconnecting with nature “balances” the beast; since the beast is supposedly men’s real nature, I think reconnecting them with nature would bring out the beast, but whatever. I’m clearly applying too stringent a level of logic. Also, for the record, if all it takes to reconnect with nature is a natural material (made from a domesticated source), then cotton, angora, and mohair would work just as well.


The women’s line is called Nature. When you go to its site there’s also an intro, but without any useful summary of what women are like to compare to the Beast.

Again from Jo:

The female models are slim, delicate, and tend to pose in a way that suggests passivity (static poses, arms held behind body…) and instability (balancing on her toes).  The images in the female range focus more on being attractive, while the men’s range is about being active and aggressive.

The marketing campaign also reinforces the difference in the way we talk about men and women and their association with nature. When we connect men to nature, it’s in an aggressive, predatory sense (the beast). When women are associated with nature, it’s often in a way that implies harmony, an appreciation for the natural world, perhaps some intuitive sense that women have (or, you know, their connection to the moon and stuff because of menstrual cycles). The background is part of this; the grey background of the men’s line doesn’t look nearly as peaceful as the serene white background for the female models.

Thanks, Jo!

FYI:  Jo sent an email to the company complaining and this was their response:

Hi Josephine,

Apologies for the delayed reply. I am writing on behalf of Jeremy Moon to thank you for taking the time to give us your views about Icebreaker’s marketing of its underwear lines for men (Beast) and women (Nature). We understand your concerns, and we really appreciate the level of thought you have put into sharing them with us.

Gender representations are a sensitive issue in marketing, and Icebreaker certainly had no intention of promoting negative or damaging images of men or women in our Winter 08 campaign.

In most of our collections, our marketing approaches to men and women are almost identical. We aim to make Icebreaker garments as stylish as possible, but our clothes are based on performance above all – regardless of the gender of the wearer.

In our Bodyfit, Icebreaker_GT and Superfine collections, for example, women are photographed in exactly the same way as men – pushing their physical boundaries in the outdoors. Our marketing for the garments in these core collections centre on photographs of athletic-looking women skiing, hiking and climbing mountains. None of the images are of women in a passive or decorative role: they’re of women who are confident, independent, adventurous and strong.

We chose a different approach for our underwear ranges. For obvious reasons, we couldn’t adopt our usual approach of showing women taking part in outdoor sports – clearly they wouldn’t play sport in their underwear alone. The other factor we took into consideration is that Nature and Beast, although both underwear collections, are very different ranges.

Men tend to buy underwear for its practical benefits. Our aim was to position Beast as a premium range that has the same performance factors (such as breathability, a critical benefit for underwear) as Icebreaker’s outdoor clothing and yet is sufficiently stylish to be worn at work. Our marketing approach refers not to aggression, but to energy – the same energy (or performance benefits) that works equally well in both outdoor and urban environments. You’ll notice our marketing refers to “creative energy” and also the “harmoniousness” of nature.

The Nature range is our most feminine range by far, and much of our marketing focuses on the way it looks – its styles and its nature-inspired designs. Nature is made from the lightest, most luxurious grade of 100% pure merino, as we understand customers’ concerns against wearing traditional wool (rather than merino) against their skin, so our marketing talks about concepts like “100% pure”. While the photography for the rest of our collections is based around the outdoors, Nature images are designed to show off the styling and softness of the garments.

Our campaigns are designed to be edgy, and we’re very sorry if in this instance you feel our approach conveyed the wrong messages. Please be assured this was not our intention. Thank you for writing, and be assured we will bear your concerns in mind when planning future campaigns. I hope this email helps lesson your disappointment with our brand,


Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.