The state of the plus-size fashion industry? Much improved — with much left to go
There’s a myth about why so many fashion companies offer the majority of their pieces up to only a size 12 despite the average American woman being a size 14. “Plus-size women don’t shop” is the underlying whisper in the fashion industry.
Now tell that to Eloquii, the plus-size-focused fashion website that recently announced a $15-million round of financing (and a revenue increase of 165% over the last year). Or to Target or ModCloth, two retailers that unveiled swim campaigns starring women of all sizes.
Or if you’re looking to be laughed at, tell it to the three women pictured here: Nadia Aboulhosn, Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason. As you might have guessed by their style – or the hundreds, if not thousands, of outfits detailed on their blogs and Instagram profiles – they shop, and so do their readers.
Their combined reach to followers on Instagram alone is creeping up to a million, Their combined reach of followers on Instagram alone is creeping up to a million, and regular newsstand visitors will recognize their faces: Mason has a regular column in Marie Claire, Gregg appeared on the cover of Ebony and Aboulhosn on the cover of Women’s Running. What’s more, the three multi-hyphenates (blogger-designer-model-creative strategist, among others) have been pushing the fashion industry forward when it comes to broadening the range of sizes offered as well as the general messaging from brands.
Each of these women has collaborated with major companies for capsule collections that have been statement-making, not only in terms of the style, but in their bold approach of a design-first outlook. “I wanted to give girls fashionable, statement swimwear that incorporates colors, prints and trends,” says Gregg of her GabiFresh collections with Swimsuits For All. “Not things to cover them up. I’m designing around an aesthetic, not a body type.”
Other companies betting on these women and others in this previously ignored community? Canadian clothing store Addition Elle has worked with Aboulhosn and Mason on collections; the women also reference brands such as Monif C., Zelie for She, Beth Ditto and Missguided as far as the more grass-roots brands making plus-size options.
Or if you really want to see what kind of influence the online community is yielding, look at Eloquii, a brand launched in 2011 by the Limited, and shut down soon after. Disappointment from the plus-size community was intense, and the label was relaunched in 2014 as an independent e-commerce business.
As for the customer? “She is buying the trend-driven fashion items the minute they’re available – there is no hesitation,” says Eloquii Chief Executive Mariah Chase. “Off the shoulder, ruffles, ’70s, chambray – if it’s a fashion trend, it’s selling and selling well.”
Of course, this isn’t all meant to paint too rosy a picture of the scene. The majority of fashion companies have made little to no progress, still offering sizes up to only extra-large or hiding their plus-size offerings online – or on a separate social media account.
“If brands just incorporated photos of plus women on their main account, it could help shift what’s considered normal,” says Aboulhosn. “We’ve been brainwashed to think it’s OK to have only certain types of people in the media. If you regularly include a wider range of sizes, it wouldn’t be so shocking.”
Adds Gregg: “You can’t say you care about diversity and inclusion, and then continue to leave out sizes and show the same body types on models. People can see when brands are simply co-opting a ‘moment’ to sell clothing.”
But the next generation is doing its part to lead the trend in a positive direction. “Teens are reinvigorating the plus-size market,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for research firm NPD Group Inc. “Today’s young consumers know what they want and won’t settle for less.”
NDP Group’s recent study might have retailers and designers scrambling because of its findings that show U.S. teens are purchasing less from the juniors section (down from 81% in 2012 to 73% in 2015), and significantly more in the plus-size markets.
These teens are the first generation with hyper-positive plus-size role models in the media such as Ashley Graham, who has appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Maxim; blockbuster actress Melissa McCarthy, who has a plus-size fashion line called Seven7; and Tess Holliday, the plus-size model and revolutionary behind the game-changing “Eff Your Beauty Standards” movement.
Then there’s super-celebrity stylist Susan Moses’ new book, “The Art Of Dressing Curves,” which is her chance to address “the entire audience the industry has not addressed,” she says. “I want everyone to know there is never a roadblock to great style.”
And, of course, there are plus-size role models such as Mason, Gregg and Aboulhosn, who blog and post fashion photos of themselves on social media.
Aboulhosn, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, recalls meeting a 16-year-old girl and her mother at an event for Boohoo, one of the fashion retailers she calls out as a favorite (she also had a capsule collection with Boohoo). “The mom literally said, ‘Thank you for making my daughter feel good about herself. And whatever you’re going through, keep going because we need you.’”
Aboulhosn says she wept in response. Mason and Gregg recount similar stories from in-person and online messages, with a version of the sentiment: “Thank you for making me realize it’s OK to be me.”
The plus-size bloggers say there must be a larger representation of different plus-size women.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done – and still not a lot of diversity in plus fashion, despite the fact that it’s a highly diverse market, in terms of race, financial means and location,” says Mason, who lives in Hancock Park. “We now know it’s OK to be a white, well-proportioned curvy woman, but what about everyone else that’s part of this demographic? We don’t see a lot of body types besides hourglass – not a lot of bodies above a size 16.”
Gregg, who lives in Hollywood, mentions the slow but sure improvement to getting there. “2015 was a breakthrough year in seeing a lot more diversity,” she says. “At the beginning, it felt a little like tokenism. Now it’s starting to feel like it might be more consistent. Only time will tell.”
For now, the feeling might be promising for plus-size shoppers. A person can log on to ModCloth, where the plus sizes are fully integrated into the site. Or see designers such as Christian Siriano and Lela Rose being tapped by Lane Bryant for collections then modeled by TV stars including “Orange Is The New Black’s” Danielle Brooks – and Mason – at a fashion show at the United Nations.
Or go on Instagram and discover designers such as Reuben Reuel and his Demestiks NYC label that offers his fantastical print dresses in sizes XS to 4X. (He counts “all-size” celebrities such as Mindy Kaling, Beyoncé and Jill Scott as fans.)
“It’s fascinating,” says Mason, “to see the huge investment and excitement over bodies that have been around forever – but haven’t been served in fashion.”