Bonds faces backlash for using non-binary model with beard in campaign for new Pride collection

A major Australian underwear brand is facing backlash online for using a bearded, non-binary model in a new campaign, prompting calls for a boycott.

Bonds, a longstanding underwear, sleepwear and clothing brand, used several non-binary and LGBTQIA+ models as part of the campaign for its recently released Pride-themed collection.

One of the models, Mikey - who stands at almost 2m tall, sports facial hair and uses they/them pronouns - has drawn a particularly strong response on social media, with a number of people expressing their outrage at shots of them posing in the Retro Rib Seamless Tonal Hi Bikini.

Despite identifying as non-binary, many have been quick to misgender Mikey online in their condemnation of Bonds using "a man" to model "women's garments".   

"I used to buy Bonds [but] I will no longer do so, seeing a man wearing women's garments is seriously off-putting [sic]," one declared on social media, while another wrote: "Go woke go broke come on people [sic]." 

"For their 'Pride' 2024 range, Bonds has decided the best model for their women's underwear is a man with 'they/them' pronouns. Boycott," a third posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

It's not the first time the underwear brand has aimed to showcase inclusivity and support for the LGBTQIA+ community. The website currently offers a range of gender-free products and has partnered with Minus18, an Australian organisation that works to advocate for and empower LGBTQIA+ youth with access to free workshops, education resources and safe spaces. Customers can donate AU$2 at checkout to support the charity.

Mikey and Clementine model the Retro Rib™ Seamless Tonal Hi Bikini on the Bonds' website.
Mikey and Clementine model the Retro Rib™ Seamless Tonal Hi Bikini on the Bonds' website. Photo credit: Bonds

The listing for the Retro Rib Seamless Tonal Hi Bikini has attracted multiple one-star reviews, with one writing on Wednesday: "A once sporty, good quality, underwear brand is going about gender inclusiveness in all the wrong way. By insulting women you are not being inclusive. Rather you are being disrespectful towards women. Good idea, wrong execution. Bonds owes women an apology [sic]."

"Disgusting putting men in ladies items! How insulting [sic]," said another, while a third wrote: "Useless unless you have real breasts." 

In the description for the bikini, which retails for AU$18.99, Bonds writes: "Times are changing and so is our underwear. Made for fierce women everywhere, our Retro Rib™ Seamless Hi Bikini is part of our Retro Rib™ Seamless range that gives you the confidence to roar."

Another non-binary model, Clementine, is pictured in the bikini alongside Mikey, with the caption noting that both use they/them pronouns.

Screenshots of two of the one-star reviews left on the Bonds' bikini.
Screenshots of two of the one-star reviews left on the Bonds' bikini. Photo credit: Bonds / screengrabs

In a post of the Pride collection's campaign imagery shared to its Instagram, Bonds also showcased four other models alongside short snippets of their stories, including the drag artist Stone, who goes by she/they pronouns; bisexual single dad Josh; trans model Kye, who goes by she/they pronouns; and Rahni, a nurse.

The post has since been flooded with irate comments, with one man declaring: "Well I guess that makes my decision pretty easy for the next set of clothes that I buy. I will not be buying Bonds."

"Will be unfollowing Bonds and won't be buying ever again," another commented, with a third adding: "For god's sake! Sick of this crap being shoved down our throats. Who cares what someone's preference is [sic]."  

But others have responded positively to Bonds' inclusion of non-binary models, with many hailing the brand for championing diversity and praising its support of the LGBTQIA+ community.

"Thank you Bonds for showing your support and the diversity of those of us who wear Bonds," one wrote on Instagram, with a second commenting: "Thanks for celebrating diversity, Bonds."

"The people that are unfollowing and saying they will buy other brands, you're the same people that are probably racists and homophobes," a third declared, while a fourth weighed in: "This is the reason why Australia is divided. People like to live black and WHITE lives... open your eyes and see the colour for once." 

"We went through this same debate last year, Bonds shows diverse bodies, get over it. It's underwear," another said on X. 

"We get it Senator, you're scared of pronouns," they added, referencing a post by Australian politician and Senator Ralph Babet which said: "What's wrong with just using women to model women's clothing?"

Bonds has chosen to respond to several of the hateful comments, with one reply reading: "We're sorry to hear you're offended by our campaign, this was certainly not our intent. Bonds is a brand with a proud heritage of reflecting and representing all Australian. Our Pride campaign is a celebration of the joy and spirit of Australia's diverse LGBTQIA+ community."

Another read: "Our limited-edition range of comfy Bonds basics have been reimagined to celebrate the joy and spirit of Pride festivals and events all across the country."

The backlash follows similar controversies sparked recently by Rip Curl and Bud Light for using transgender people in their marketing. The latter, one of the United States' top beer brands, worked with actress and TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman, on a sponsorship campaign early last year. A far-right-media-led backlash to the campaign prompted many to declare a boycott on Bud Light in April 2023, causing its sales to tumble.

And last week, transgender woman Sasha Lowerson was featured on the Rip Curl Women Instagram page as part of the company's campaign, Meet the Local Heroes of Western Australia. The surfing sportswear brand later deleted the post and issued an apology, the Daily Mail reports.

"Our recent post has landed us in the divisive space around transgender participation in competitive sport," Rip Curl said. "We want to promote surfing for everyone in a respectful way but recognise we upset a lot of people with our post and for that, we are sorry."  

That came months after Rip Curl dropped former brand ambassador and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton, a famous surfer, reportedly due to her opposition to transgender people competing in women's sport. 

Last year, Bonds used controversial transgender activist Deni Todorović to model its 'Proud to Be Me' collection for World Pride. Todorović - who used they/them pronouns before claiming they identify by all pronouns - was later dropped by multiple brands, including Bonds, after allegedly sending a threatening email to the brand's marketing team.

In 2019, Bonds announced Andreja Pejic would become the first transgender model to star in one of its underwear campaigns.