I was reading a post from a Facebook group that touched upon the sensitive subject of clothing size availability, and it inspired me to write a bit.
To paraphrase the interaction, a local clothing store was advertising a store wide sale, and, when asked if all sizes were available, they said yes, all sizes from XS-XL were available.
For those of you who don’t know, XL is normally classified as sizes 14-16, at least that’s what big box stores call an XL. However, in my lengthy experience in independent fashion design, where sizing is up to the individual designer, the XL label is frequently given to sizes 12-14. Which is, if you do any research on ye old Internets, pretty much the average women’s size in Canada. Why don’t we start calling it a Medium? I don’t know.
Furthermore, most stores, when they take a line from indie fashion designers, will only carry a small number of sizes, usually (the fractional equivalent of) one Small (sizes 4-6), two Mediums (8-10), and one Large (10-12). XL isn’t even commonplace among indie retailers (neither is XS for that matter).
Considering that approximately 44% of the female population in Canada is either overweight or obese (and please note that this statistic is self-reported, meaning that 44% of the female population is admitting to being overweight or obese, which makes me think that the real percentage of overweight/obese women is probably higher), fashion designers are cutting out a significant percentage of potential buyers.
And why? Shouldn’t businesses be more open to, oh I don’t know, making money?
Here’s where it gets complicated: the reason why most indie retailers only take S/M/L is because those are the sizes that sell. In fact, the vast majority of my sales over the years were Smalls and Mediums. I used to be in a fashion collective that ran a retail space in the East end, so I got to experience the retail interaction first hand. It was common for women to come in and complain that there weren’t enough larger sizes available, but whenever we would make larger sizes, they just wouldn’t sell.
I think that part of the reason for the lack of plus sized sales was that none of the designers were any good at drafting larger sized clothing patterns. For one thing, it’s a bit harder to draft larger sized patterns. Our bodies tend to grow in different areas as we go beyond the S/M/L, so creating an “average” size 24 garment is more challenging than creating an “average” size 4 garment. Not impossible, mind you, just more challenging. A designer could make the effort if they really wanted to.
Another obstacle though, is schools that teach fashion design don’t really get into plus sizes. I’ve done a fair amount of research online for drafting plus size patterns (because I’d like to start making cute dresses for a more diverse clientele), and it is damn hard to find good information.
The fat-shaming runs deep in this industry.
So what to do to make the world of fashion retail a more accessible place?
Here are some suggestions:
To the designers: design larger sizes. The same cute styles that you’re creating for S/M/L, but larger. Just because you and all your friends are skinny doesn’t mean that this applies to the rest of the world. And let’s be honest, most of the people with money to spend on indie clothing aren’t your 20-something intern/barista pals.
If you want to run a successful business, you make what the customers want to buy. Which, in this case, is larger sized clothing (see previous statistic about average sized Canadian women). Do your research, learn how to make clothing that flatters larger sizes (go up to a size 24 at least), and market yourself. And if you don’t want to make larger sizes because you prefer to “make clothing that flatters a slimmer silhouette,” then go fuck yourself. Honestly. Like your shit don’t stink. I mean really, if you aren’t willing to learn how to adapt to a changing market, then you have no business running a business.
To the retailers: take larger sizes. Advertise that you carry larger sizes. Promote the designers who carry larger sizes. Try this for more than a few weeks. Wait until it reaches the ears of the consumers before you go back to the S/M/L formula.
We need to stop segregating the larger sized customers, acting like we’re doing them a courtesy by pointing them in the direction of the fat-girl shops. It’s a humiliating tactic, this segregation. Humiliating and outdated, and it needs to stop.