The fashion industry is notorious for its overly exclusive definition of beauty. Not surprisingly, for many years this did not include anyone that was much larger than sample size. While most fashion designers and industry publications still have not opted to branch out beyond that norm, some have made noteworthy strives to produce collections and issues that are representative of a more inclusive – and dare we say, realistic – standard of beauty.
And from a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Annual U.S. sales of women’s plus-size apparel, size 14 and higher, rose by 17 percent to $20.4 billion in 2016, from $17.4 billion in 2013. During that time, overall apparel sales increased by 7 percent, according to NPD Group, a New York-bassed market research company. Customer demand could push sales of plus-size clothing even higher – if only retailers would fully embrace the category.
While it is difficult to determine the exact percentage of American women who wear plus sizes, we do know that the number is growing. The average American woman now wears size 16 to 18, according to new research from Washington State University assistant professor Deborah Christel.
The apparent disconnect between what retailers offer and what customers need stems partly from an old, enduring stigma in the fashion industry, which has seen plus sizes as denigrating to a brand. And retailers often consider plus-size an ancillary business, which is demonstrated by retailers’ inconsistent stocking of plus size wares. Per Bloomberg, retailers tend to trot out a new designer or plus-size line with much fanfare, only to kill or shrink the line later when the economy turns south or they shift focus.
Moreover, retailers commonly relegate plus-size clothing to faraway corners of their stores and stock clothes designed to cover women up, rather than give them the bold, bright, fashion-forward styles they offer elsewhere. Others ditch the business altogether, as Limited parent L Brands did with Eloquii, a plus-size offshoot it shut down after roughly two years.
With such shortfalls in mind, here are some designers and retailers that are making waves in terms of plus sizes garments and body diversity in fashion …
1. David’s Bridal Brings Zac Posen to the Everyday Woman
In 2014, Zac Posen took a turn towards plus-sizes… and budgets! You’ve probably seen several of Zac Posen’s designs on the red carpet, but it would have been difficult to find a Zac Posen design for the average woman, particularly in regards to size and price, prior to this collaboration. However, Zac teamed up with bridal gown giant David Bridal in 2014 to create a wedding dress line spanning sizes 0-26 with prices at $1,350 and under.
2. Marc Jacobs’ September 2015 Runway Show
The fashion industry made progress last September when plus-size indie rock singer Beth Ditto appeared in Marc Jacobs’ New York Fashion Week show. Although this was not Beth’s first runway appearance, her presence at NYFW among fashion’s elite models, such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, was a major breakthrough for Marc Jacobs, Fashion Week, and the industry as a whole.
3. Prabal Gurung Teams up with Lane Bryant
Prior to this collaboration, it is highly unlikely that you’d find the vast majority of runway designers creating garments in sizes larger than 12. However, with the help of Lane Bryant, Prabal Gurung is one of the first high-fashion designers to cater to the plus-size customer; and we say, it’s about time. The collection is slated to hit stores in March 2017.
4. Christian Siriano Continues to Champion Diversity
In his ongoing quest to celebrate diversity, Christian Siriano casted five plus-size models for his New York Fashion Week S/S 2017 show—and dressed Ashley Graham, who sat front row. New York-based label, Chromat, similarly welcomed a number of plus-sized models to its runway this past season, as well.
5. British Vogue Casts Ashley Graham for its January Cover
Vogue’s British edition chose famed plus size model, Ashley Graham as its January 2017 cover star. While Graham and other plus-size models have appeared in various editions of Vogue before, this is the first time a plus-size model has appeared on the cover of Vogue U.K., a spot so highly coveted by models and celebrities alike.
6. J.C. Penney Launches Boutique
A new in-store area J.C. Penney announced in April, the Boutique will be in nearly 200 J.C. Penney stores and cater specifically to plus-size customers. As part of a renewed push into trendier, plus-size clothes, J.C. Penney also launched a new house brand called Boutique+ in collaboration with “Project Runway” fashion designer Ashley Nell Tipton.
J.C. Penney has long offered plus-size clothing, but this new line, which launched May 1 in 500 stores, was crafted with plus-size customer’s needs “in mind from the beginning, rather than just taking existing clothing lines and distorting them to fit a bigger size,” Siiri Dougherty, who oversees women’s apparel at J.C. Penney, said.
7. And last BUT NOT LEAST: Chromat Every Season!
As Vogue recently wrote, “For Chromat designer Becca McCharen-Tran and her casting director, Gilleon Smith, diversity and inclusion aren’t seasonal crushes but integral to everything they do.” For McCharen-Tran, who has been one of the most consistent, authentic forces in the industry’s push to diversity its runways, diversity is a choice. “You can’t just sit back and then—poof—your runway is diverse. It’s a deliberate act,” she told Elle. And “it’s a very deliberate choice.”
She continued on to state: “If we don’t actively say that we want plus-size models, they’re not going to come to the casting. We have to tell our casting directors, ‘Please contact these agencies. This is exactly who we want.’ And it’s the same with trans women, because trans women aren’t represented at modeling agencies. We have to seek out the people we want to be in our shows. You have to create that and be active about it.”
As for the industry’s obsession with – and countless excuses for – sample size models, McCharen-Tran is not taking the bait; “I’m not sure who decided that the body has to be a size 0 or 2 or 4. Who decided that? Designers have the power to make the samples in whatever size they want. There’s absolutely no one telling them otherwise.”