Why The Fashion Industry Is Still A Long Way From Being Size Inclusive
As someone who identifies as fat, I will be the first to admit: there have been changes. But I’m someone who still carries a lot of privilege when it comes to shopping while fat. I am considered a ‘small fat’ and by most accounts, I can fit into brands that are carried in shopping malls or sold by independent retailers, if I really try and look. As someone who is size 18/20, shopping can be difficult sometimes, but not as difficult as some.
I know what you’re thinking, “But aren’t we having a fashion revolution?! One that is inclusive of all bodies?!?” and the answer is, not quite.
People I know who identify as “mid-fat” (sizes 20-24) or even, “super-fat” (sizes 26-32) are often left out of the conversation when it comes to discussions on plus-size fashion. We will see and heard about brands touting their “inclusivity” and “excitement” to be expanding their range, only to find out the line goes up to a size 22 or 24.
It leaves out a larger demographic of folks who not only don’t have the same access to clothing but also are left feeling as if they are unequal within the plus size industry.
Plus size clothing is lacking in trying to bridge this gap. In a story reported on Racked, the vice-president of Modcloth explained that their main challenge was to get their partners to adopt a philosophy of offering the same product in a full-size range up to size 24.
But the fact is, many independent retailers and start-up brands like Universal Standard have always treated their plus-size customers like priorities and offered full-size ranges.
Just because you’ve expanded your line to a size 22 or 24, doesn’t mean you’re making monumental gains. You’re still largely ignoring a huge part of your market, and that matters.
I spoke to three women: Calla Evans, Kirthan Aujlay, and Alex Harvey about the problematic nature of brands branding themselves as ‘inclusive’ and what they would like to see a change in the future.
Many brands have been calling themselves “inclusive” but stop sizes 22 or 24. Why do you feel this problematic?
Alex Harvey: “Branding as “inclusive” or even just “plus” with a cap on the range at 22 or 24 (or sometimes even 20) feels like there is an acceptable and not-acceptable range of plus sizes. If a brand launches a plus line but caps it just a few sizes over where their straight-size line ends, it’s a message to consumers over that size that their business isn’t wanted. Maybe the brands don’t want to be represented by larger people, or maybe they can’t be bothered to put the effort into shaping larger sizes. I find a lot of the time, the brands that only extend by a few sizes are really just enlarging their existing patterns and not trying to fit fat bodies. This results in only some body types being able to wear those extended sizes, regardless of actual size, and can result in some wonky fits. It also frequently feels like a bandaid solution, or PR move: allowing a brand to claim they are inclusive to appease the general public without having to cater to those larger people they’re supposedly including.”
Have you ever called out brands or tried to speak to them about their sizing – what has been their response? Did you feel it was appropriate?
Calla Evans: “I have called out brands, too many times to count. Sometimes I get a response, most of the time I’m blocked, my comments deleted and I feel like I’m just yelling into the void. Some companies feign “smallness,” saying they don’t have the resources to cater to all sizes, or even sizes larger than an xl. But when I ask if they will commit to a timeline towards expanding their offerings, I’m met with silence. Those same companies have no problem offering new garments every time I turn around, so it’s clearly not an issue of resources. It’s an issue of not valuing or seeing the value of fat bodies and larger folks.”
A lot of times brands will use the excuse of price or demand for why they haven’t expanded beyond a size 22 or 24. How do you feel when you hear these excuses?
Kirthan Aujlay: “It’s an old and tired excuse. We’ve heard it all before and yet if that were really the case, a size 2 would cost less than a size 12. Not only that but the cost and demand excuse is ridiculous. I’ve said before that capitalism seems to magically stop with plus sizes. There is so much money to be made if brands are willing to expand their sizes.”
While brands seem to be expanding, what’s a consideration they seem to be missing (beyond sizing)?
Alex Harvey: “I find a lot of plus retailers focus on extra detailing that isn’t required; loud prints, rhinestones or sequins, cold shoulders, rips, and other embellishments. Or, there will be cuts that don’t accommodate bras, things like that. There are often also cheap/non-breathable fabrics used while still charging a lot for an item. For example, a maxi sundress, meant to be worn in warm temperatures/climates, shouldn’t be made from polyester since it isn’t breathable. If that dress also has spaghetti straps but is sized for a large person (who would likely wear a bra), the straps aren’t practical. And on top of all that, if the dress is $100, I’m unclear why I’m paying so much for an inexpensive fabric that won’t be comfortable anyway. Accounting for different body shapes, heights, etc is something that should be considered more as well.”
While there has been a change in the market, what has been the biggest disappointment with the “inclusive sizing” branding going around?
Kirthan Aujlay: “What’s so frustrating about these brands that say they are inclusive but don’t include a full range of plus sizes is that it’s like you are so close to having what everybody else has but you can never quite get your hands on it. It’s like Lucy pulling away from the football right as Charlie Brown is about to kick it. It can feel like a cruel trick, especially when brands get heaps of praise for supposedly breaking barriers. I hate having the promise of inclusivity dangled in front of me only to realize that it’s an empty promise and I am still stuck shopping elsewhere. It’s a very frustrating experience.”
Are there any brands you think are doing it correctly – if so, why or why not?
Calla Evans: “As much as I have issues with Universal Standard, I applaud them for even just offering size 40 clothing. Having that number out there and purchasable sets the “inclusivity” bar higher than it’s ever been. This is important in terms of visibility for superfat folks. Their pattern grading is great, advertising is super inclusive, their offerings are available in all sizes (for the most part) and while they could be more accessible in terms of price point, I think it’s all a good start. I really hope they do well and other companies will follow suit.”
Featured Image: Instagram/@universalstandard
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