How mannequins are evolving into brand-building tools

While mannequins have always been a key feature of store design, they are continuing to evolve beyond static objects to become something that can add real value to a brand’s message.

As most retailers will know, a mannequin is typically an artificial doll used by retailers to display their merchandise. For the most part, they are plain bodies that require dressing and accessorising and do not tend to possess any distinct features aside from this.

Mannequins have been around since the opening of the first stores and have long been recognised as important tools of retail business. Different items are usually paired together so customers can visualise which pieces work well together and take inspiration from the store’s latest trends. Furthermore, mannequins also function as a primary feature in window displays and are often the first thing a customer sees when they approach a store. Therefore, mannequin displays serve as a showcase of the best merchandise a store has to offer in a bid to attract potential buyers.

Image Source: Retail Window Displays

However, nowadays, more and more retailers have challenged typical mannequin ‘standards’ to make their retail design stand out and represent something different. So let us focus specifically on the evolution of mannequin use in modern retail and the innovative ways many retailers are bringing their mannequin displays to life.

Building characters

Diverting away from using idle figures, many retailers have opted to create fun and animated characters to showcase their merchandise. 


This window display in Columbus Circle, New York, back in 2013 used many attention-grabbing figures to promote H&M’s denim collection.

Image Source: MOM.ME

The H&M Columbus Circle Visual Team created quirky characters to liven up the entire display and each individual character was brought to life through amusing facial expressions, granting them their own unique personas. Furthermore, the oversized heads served as an enhancement to the entertainment value of the window design.

Most importantly, the window display effectively draws attention to the merchandise H&M is promoting. The denim theme is evident as the display is predominantly blue, and the white only serves to complement it. Moreover, all of the mannequins are physically dressed in denim items, even the mannequin heads look as though they are made from denim and this additional feature really brings the theme to fruition. 


The Tanni store in Taikoo Li Sanlitun mall in Beijing places cute, larger than life dolls at the forefront of their take on mannequin displays. 

Image Source: 5 Star Plus Retail Design

The sizes of these characters are magnified in a way that is sure to generate an element of surprise and fascination for nearby shoppers because at first glance, they do not appear as though they are actual mannequins. As well as this, the dolls also appear to evoke a sense of nostalgia and childhood innocence, as they appear to be very child-like in both their dress and demeanour. This seems to be in keeping with the general theme of the whole store, which features lots of fun, floral prints and patterned pieces. 

Image Source: 5 Star Plus Retail Design

The zeitgeist of their retail store design is very light and playful and is reflected in the colour palette as well as the decor around the shop. Therefore, the mannequin display provides a playful teaser of what the retail store has to offer.

Mannequins in Motion

Activewear is currently a lucrative industry which shows no signs of slowing down. Consequently, how Activewear is presented to consumers can really impact its appeal. In particular, ‘active’ mannequins can really help to bring a brand to life in both a physical and symbolic way. 

Hans Boodt Introduces ‘Yoga Sports’ Collection. Image: VMSD

Shown above is Hans Boodt’s most recent Yoga Sports Collection which features mannequins doing impressive yoga poses. This not only proves how mannequins can be just as flexible as humans but more importantly, overturns the pre-conceived notion that mannequins can only be still figures with certain limitations to their movement. 


Image Source: 5 Star Plus Retail Design

The Lululemon store in the Parkview Green Shopping Mall in Beijing is bursting with life and showcases how ‘active’ mannequins can be incorporated within retail store design. The store features a mannequin display on both the outside and inside of the store, to ensure that they are easily seen and noticed by customers in the shopping mall.

Image Source: 5 Star Plus Retail Design

The mannequins showcase a diverse set of athletic poses, as some are warming up, stretching and running, illustrating the sheer range of movement the mannequins possess.

Image Source: Retail Design Blog

This is especially true of the mannequin who is mid back flip, showing how mannequins are able to bend in positions like never before. The balance and precision which has gone into the placement of these mannequins is a testament to how far sports brands are willing to go in order to experiment with mannequins and create new boundaries. 

The Bigger Message

Perhaps the most notable aspect in the evolution of mannequin use lies in their capacity to represent something more. In particular, realistic mannequin figures can not only more accurately represent and relate to customers but can also promote powerful messages of individuality, diversity and inclusivity.

“Hans Boodt Mannequins Creating Characters campaign”
Image Source: Retail Design Blog

Hans Boodt

As with the Yoga collection, Hans Boodt also proves to be ahead of the game in the Creating Characters campaign. The collection had the specific aim of bringing awareness of individuality through 3D sculptured, realistic characters. These figures are so life-like they could be mistaken for real people, as each individual mannequin appears to have their own unique identity. Therefore, the collection displays a true dedication to represent different sectors of society, transcending barriers of race and age. 

“Hans Boodt Mannequins Creating Characters campaign” 
Image: Retail Design Blog
“Hans Boodt Mannequins Creating Characters campaign” 
Image: Retail Design Blog


Missguided made headlines back in February with its brave decision to incorporate diverse mannequins in their Bluewater, Westfield and Stratfield UK stores as part of their #MakeYourMark campaign.

Image Source: Retail Focus

Part of what made this such a milestone in visual merchandising is the fact that not only do the stores feature mannequins of different ethnicities, religions and skin tones, they also acknowledge and celebrate women’s differences by including mannequins with what some women would perceive to be ‘flaws’ in their bodies. This selection of mannequins includes models with freckles, stretch marks and even skin conditions such as vitiligo have been given representation. 

“Missguided Mannequins Now Have Stretch Marks But Are Still One Body Shape” 
Image Source: Huffington Post 
Image Source: Retail Focus

In doing this, Missguided has taken a momentous step towards becoming more representative of all women, while also encouraging them to be their natural and authentic selves without pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty. These mannequins speak out to a larger demographic of women by not only allowing representation for different groups but also bringing awareness to what ‘real women’ look like. This promotes an important message about inclusivity and how shopping should be a relatable experience for all women.

While there is still progress to be made within visual merchandising, especially regarding representation of women of different body sizes, Missguided has still paved the way for real difference to be made. It has displayed an ability to adapt its approach to evolve with the times through incorporating what can be seen as ‘progressive’ mannequin displays as part of its store design.


In conclusion, an awareness of the value mannequins can hold can have a real impact on a brand’s appeal. Mannequins have evolved into much more than just objects, therefore, an effective mannequin display can not only add to the overall ambience of a store to create customer intrigue but can also become something customers can actually relate to. Moreover, as fashion and society are ever evolving, this can also be translated into your mannequin displays so to actually speak out to customers and make a lasting impression. 

Joe Spenchian works with 5 Star Plus Retail Design at Beijing. 


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