They have money and love fashion. So, why do so many brands ignore these women?April 10, 2023
Much has been written about the lack of size diversity on the runway and red carpet, especially after the most recent ready-to-wear shows and the so-called “Ozempic Oscars”, named after the diabetes drug that’s become infamous for its weight-loss properties.
But spare a thought for “ordinary” curvy women, who find it challenging to visit their local shopping centre and find something in their size, which they say is a symptom of the fashion industry’s obsession with thinness.
Plus-size influencer Curvy Sam, at Proud Poppy boutique in Melbourne, has documented her difficulties shopping on TikTok. Credit: Simon Schluter
Plus-size influencer Curvy Sam, 37, who keeps her surname private, videoed herself on a recent trip to one of Melbourne’s biggest shopping centres, Chadstone.
“Shopping at Chadstone, as a plus-size woman, is dehumanising,” she says in the clip, which has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on TikTok.
In Australia, the average woman wears a standard size 14 to 16 (although there is variation between brands), but many labels still only make up to a size 12. “Curvy” or “plus size” is typically defined as size 18 and up, but with 60 per cent of women classed as overweight or obese, it is a lot closer to the median than even 30 years ago. And yet, the fashion industry largely still treats it as a niche market.
Curvy Sam filmed herself visiting Myer and David Jones, where staff members can be heard on the footage telling her they did not know if any brands stocked there went above a size 18. (A David Jones spokeswoman said Blue Illusion is stocked up to size 20 at Chadstone.)
“I am constantly asking the same question to multiple staff. They have no training [to service plus-size shoppers],” Sam says. “They’re like deer in headlights.”
Curvy Sam says options for plus-size shoppers, particularly in physical stores, seem to be getting fewer, despite the industry being worth $600 billion globally.
“A lot of brands are pulling out [of plus-size],” she says. “It’s not cost-effective to stay in retail spaces like that … We constantly reach out to brands and ask [how] they are catering [for plus-sized consumers].”
Curvy Sam also relayed in her video that Myer staff told her that Myer’s own plus-sized brand, Taking Shape, was no longer on the shop floor at Chadstone, despite it being one of the company’s more high-profile locations.
Model Ashley Graham has appeared in campaigns for The Commonry.Credit: AP
David Jones’ head of menswear, children’s wear and home, Chris Wilson, says the company has invested in more brands with extended sizing, including The Commonry, which has featured model Ashley Graham in its campaigns.
This month, David Jones will launch Curve Project, which offers up to size 24, in seven stores across four states.
“Previously, this brand has only traded online, but we see an opportunity to expand into stores to offer a destination for curvy women,” Wilson says.
Curvy Sam says the fact that many curvy brands are only available online is a form of discrimination, or at the very least exclusion, denying plus-sized consumers the in-store experience, and sometimes forcing them to pay postage that “straight-sized” people can avoid by going to the shops.
She accuses some brands of “performative inclusion”, possibly for the halo effect of being seen to be doing something.
“They will take our money, but they won’t actually cater for us,” she says. “I want to be proved wrong. Department stores have the space, they have the floor, they could make a lot of money. I wouldn’t blink at spending $300 on a dress.”
Department stores have the space, they have the floor, they could make a lot of money.
The frustrations Curvy Sam has experienced are in part what led her to create her own brand, Hilda’s, which launched this week with a range of robes and sleep dresses in size 8 to 34.
Gary Mortimer, a professor of marketing at Queensland University of Technology, says it’s unacceptable for brands to be tokenistic about inclusivity.
“If this is a segment you [a brand] wish to move into, you simply can’t pay it lip service, you can’t bolt it on without doing the necessary research – styles and cuts and tailoring – to suit a person of a larger figure,” Mortimer says.
Wilson says David Jones is aiming to increase its options for larger men, including a dedicated section on its website to make shopping easier. “There’s obviously still lots of work to do,” he says.
Myer carries several brands up to size 30, according to a spokeswoman.
The dominant players in the plus-size industry in Australia, which was worth $1.2 billion in 2022 according to market analysts IBISWorld, are City Chic, Taking Shape and Mosaic Brands, which owns the Beme and Autograph labels.
Tara McKeon, a former emergency nurse whose weight reached 140 kilograms after the birth of her first child, started Proud Poppy Clothing four years ago after feeling disenfranchised while trying to buy clothes.
“Women shouldn’t have to feel like this. I was 31 at the time and shopping at Millers or Kmart and thinking, ‘This is not OK’,” she says.
Tara McKeon, a former emergency nurse who founded Proud Poppy Clothing.
Proud Poppy has grown to three stores – two in Melbourne and one on the Gold Coast – plus a thriving online business, and caters for sizes 6 to 28, though McKeon, who is size 18, has plans to extend that to size 32. She says she has had customers burst into tears from finally being able to buy clothes they love. One woman messaged to say that although McKeon was no longer an emergency nurse, she was saving lives by giving women hope. “It’s given women back choice, quality of life, they can go out and experience things and feel good,” she says.
The demand for plus sizes among fashion-conscious consumers has also led brands such as Portmans, Gorman and Forever New to expand into “curve” sizing. But Curvy Sam says the experience – she documents her shopping trips to these stores, among others, for her TikTok audience – is mixed. She says some brands have good intentions, but they fall short when trying to adapt straight-sized styles to a larger pattern.
“Regardless of someone’s health and size, we should be able to buy clothes,” she says. “Being in a bigger body, we have lumps and bumps, we aren’t just straight up and down like a size 10.”
Portmans, for example, only offers its “curve” range online and in three stores, all of which are located inside outlet centres. Gorman, which integrates curve into its main line, goes up to a size 20.
A spokeswoman for Forever New says it has 41 dedicated “curve” stores, and carries its plus-size range in two “regular” stores. The company recently extended its curve range to a size 24, up from a size 22, and uses size-18 models in its marketing and e-commerce.
Managing director Carolyn Mackenzie says the company has recently added six new curve stores, and has entered the Canadian market. “As we continue on our journey to becoming more size-inclusive, we have expanded the number of locations where our curve range is available,” she says.
McKeon says she can’t understand why some brands jump on the curve bandwagon but stop short of being truly inclusive in their sizing.
“They just don’t want fat people associated with their brands. They’re happy to take their money but there … is this stigma. The demand is there, the women are there, they need to wear clothes, they want to buy clothes,” she says.
“When you see these brands jumping on, when they have been around for years, [you have to ask] are they truly passionate about helping women, and the body positivity movement, or do they just not want to miss out on sales?”
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