As of recent years we have seen many brands within the beauty and fashion industry hop onto the trend of ‘body positivity’, and while it may look inclusive and appealing to the masses from the surface level there are still many ugly truths beneath this facade that need to be tackled.
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A size-inclusive approach should be non-negotiable, it is necessary to ensure that everyone has access to clothing, yet the industry has a long history of excluding those who are plus size, as many self-proclaimed size inclusive brands are only carrying straight sizes (the opposite of plus size), ranging from a UK 6 to UK 16. The term ‘plus size’ represents extra large sizes within a clothing category, in the UK standard plus size ranges begin from a UK 18 upwards.
Growing up I had always been larger than all of the other children at school and within my friendship groups. A memory which has always stuck with me was not being able to fit into any of the clothes that my peers wore. In primary school, I felt embarrassed because I couldn’t fit into clothes made for children my age- I found myself having to wear dull clothing from the adult section very early on, which had a negative impact on my mental health and self-perception of my body. The fashion industry made it clear that I wasn't worthy of wearing my desired clothing. It is unrequited love, I have always loved fashion, but fashion has never loved me. I can vividly remember my 10th birthday and how I struggled to find something to wear for my birthday party. I ended up having to wear matching linen top and bottoms that felt too mature, because my options were limited. This is the problem: plus size people's options are always limited at each stage of life.
The Struggle With Styling
Fashion stylist Rianna, who is also our talent manager here at SevenSix, shared that a lot of briefs for plus sized models are usually targeted towards 'body positivity'. These projects often aim to show as much skin as possible, without actually using any clothing, instead opting to drape see-through materials such as mesh, lace and silk on top of models' skin. This leads me to ask...why? All models, regardless of their size, should be able to wear clothes that tell the consumer that there are clothes out there that will make everyone feel confident and included. As a stylist, Rianna revealed that it can be almost impossible to get samples for any size bigger than a UK 12, especially for small businesses, unless it is their 'niche'. Otherwise, small businesses will only create samples sizes between a UK 6-10, which isn't very inclusive at all.
Did you know that the current average dress size in the UK is a 16? This has also been the general cut-off point for straight sizes, although many brands are now lowering the bar, with their collections now stopping at a UK 14. I am always mortified whenever I see a brand has labeled a UK 14 as XL and sometimes even 2XL! This is our unfortunate reality, but where does it leave plus size women? Do we have to settle for scraps?
The Wave Of Inclusive Fashion
At the start of the 20th century, in 1904, the world saw the first plus size retailer: Lena Bryant, founded by Lena Bryant. To create an inclusive range, Lena surveyed and measured over 4,000 women and to this day the brand still focuses on creating fashionable clothing for plus size women. Moving to the present, over the past 10 years we have witnessed some changes within the fashion industry with many large fast fashion brands creating their own extended size ranges. In 2010, ASOS launched its first womens curve range, followed by H&M, Boohoo and River Island. River Island notably received a lot of backlash in 2018, when they decided to limit their extended range to online shopping only- reinforcing the idea that larger bodies don’t deserve to be fully promoted. This makes it feel as if brands are ashamed of fat people entering their stores. There are many more brands that can be added to this wave, but we definitely saw a turning point from 2010.
US size 14 mannequins in Lane Bryant store
Following the addition of extended sizing, brands began to make clothes that absolutely no one asked for. With all of the excitement and anticipation to see brands finally including plus sizes in their collections, we were not given the trendy, fun and stylish options. Instead brands forced upon their customers horrid tunics, floral prints that would make plant moms cry, lots of dark tones and beige (no shade but the option to have colour would be nice). Garments were traditionally created at a slower pace and made to measure, ensuring that everyone had access to clothing that fit their bodies. However, this meant higher financial costs, due to higher production, material sourcing and labour costs. As fashion becomes more accessible again, due to new technologies and mass overproduction, why is it still exclusive to straight sizes?
How Can Brands Be More Size Inclusive?
I was fortunate to speak with Nadia, well known on Instagram as The East London Edit. Nadia has always been passionate about fashion- take a glimpse at her feed and you'll see she is a massive fan of colour, prints, sneakers, and texture. However, like myself, over the years Nadia has struggled with finding clothes that fit both her style and her size. She expressed that throughout her life, she has fluctuated between UK 16 and UK 24 and explained that a lot of brands are guilty of performing ‘size elitism’; where those with larger budgets who can afford to create an inclusive size range are more inclined to invest money into multiple collections limited to straight sizes. An example of this is brands which have extended sizes available in their general collections but never include plus-sized bodies in their designer collaborations.
On the other hand, Nadia has praised the work of smaller brands including Olivia Rubin, who has created smaller collections that are not only made to order but also made to measure. Nadia mentioned that brands need to treat plus size people as an untapped audience rather than a marketing tool.
More of than not, plus size people are used to fit diversity quotas, with many brands being called out for using "curvy" models that aren't actually plus size, in order to portray a (false) inclusive narrative. In reality, these brands remain inaccessible to many plus size women because of limited ranges. Nadia also expressed her dismay at the portrayal of plus size bodies by fast fashion brands: models' bodies are often hyper-sexualised, as clothing is usually created to hug their figures, when most plus size consumers just want to dress like everyone else.
The issue of size exclusivity doesn’t just stop at clothes: Nadia pointed out how accessories are another pain point, despite being the most inclusive items to wear. Yet there are many brands that have provided a minimal amount of representation of larger bodies in their social media campaigns.
Size inclusive jewellery brand Automic Gold
Why Small Brands Are Taking The Lead
In 2021, small businesses are putting mass retailers to shame and here's why. If you have ever been into a retail store to buy clothes as a woman larger than a UK16 then you've most likely struggled to find anything stocked in your size. Most retailers who do carry extended ranges will only stock them online. Smaller businesses are taking the lead, offering made-to-measure services to ensure that all of their customers have access to trendy and sustainable clothing. These businesses acknowledge the struggles plus size customers face and put them first.
5 Size Inclusive Brands That I’m loving Right Now
Plus size people are constantly othered, when we simply desire to have the same options as everyone else. Fashion designers, marketers and brand directors- I hope that this piece aids and encourages you to create positive change for your untapped audience.
Sophie is a digital creator and body positivity influencer. She's also a part of our Influencer Network! You can sign up here for access to career support, industry advice and regular partnership opportunities.