A couple weeks ago, I was invited to be interviewed on the Heels Down Magazine podcast to answer some questions about size inclusivity and body positivity from the perspective of a fashion designer. I was very flattered and excited, but I also felt insecure about it. Even though at S&S we are working every season to broaden our size range and make our custom sizing options more accessible, I do not consider my brand to be a shining example of size inclusivity (...yet!).
I realized that regardless of my own feelings, there is an important message I could share as someone who works in the apparel industry. In the podcast, I finished the interview by saying "On behalf of the fashion industry, I'm sorry. It's not you or your body, it's the clothing and how it's designed. And you are not alone."
Here's a simplified run-down of how brands typically design and grade (size scale) their styles: They use “sample size” human fit model and set of measurements for their designs. That person is typically a size 0-4. For clothing to be sized up properly up to say, a size 24, there needs to be adjustment to the fit, proportions and scaling. Same would be required for vice-versa.
A lot of (especially bigger) companies do not want to devote the time and money to making a bunch of samples, finding a variety of fit models, and going through multiple rounds of changes before production. It’s easiest to just do a flat 0-12 size range and leave it at that. God forbid they just use a more median size (like 10 or 12) as a sample size so that it scales better in either direction.
The result is clothing that either does not exist above a size 12, or is proportioned awkwardly. When you consider that the average size of a woman in the US is 16-18, it's also a bad business decision to exclude what is called the "plus size market," but is actually the "average size market."
At the risk of throwing stones at my own industry, I am going to say that it is exclusionary to the point of cruelty. I've frequently heard the statements "plus sizes don't sell," "plus size women don't want to spend money on clothing," and "why do you offer custom sizing - women are so picky." Plus size women are rightfully disenfranchised with shopping for clothing because they are devalued and left out. And for the record, our customers have made providing custom clothing a delightful and rewarding experience.
I do consider myself lucky as a designer that I can be our "median sample size," as a size ten. I personally represent some common fit opportunities with clothing (broad shoulders, big bust and full thighs) that serve as a starting point when deciding what styles to develop. The decision to broaden our size range came from a lot of conversations with my friends, family, and customers about the oftentimes harrowing journey it is to find clothing that makes them feel good. I hear you, and we are working on it.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. I see many smaller clothing brands offering plus sizes, I see many plus size influencers inspiring and educating, I see more diverse sizing featured in photoshoots, and I've received such amazing feedback for each size we add to our styles. Change is coming, albeit overdue and slowly. And again, it's not you - it's a broken system in a broken industry. Again, you are not alone in this.
Read my article on Heels Down Mag here.
Listen to the HDHH podcast episode here.