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Random Thoughts… The Plus Size Market, Industry, and Shopper is Not Your Savior.

In response to this Wall Street Journal article… It fired me up. Late last night I read this and was immediately irked, frustrated, and confused. There were so many soundbites, thoughts, and comments that really moved me to think about this and so, I put my thoughts around the plus size market to paper… take a read, leave your thoughts, and if you dig it, please share…

Is it too late for mainstream brands to hop on the plus size train?

Is it too late for retailers to start paying attention to a community driven, grassroots raising industry, hello Eloquii: One that has birthed and has created our own infrastructure around plus size fashion? Is it too late and do we care one way or the other? Before we keep going, let me just say…  I am not naïve to the structures of retail and the business of fashion, but in the plus size world? Things move a little bit differently… and as someone who spent her first life in various roles of retail, married with my MBA in marketing, and the 10 years of running The Curvy Fashionista, I have a few things that have been brewing in my head…

I find that there is a bit of cautious optimism, cynicism, and frustration as many of us have been screaming, calling, and pleading for inclusion… Only now as the mainstream retailers and malls’ dollars have affected their bottom line, and bankruptcies looming start to hurt, do they find them self in a unique situation to PAY ATTENTION TO THE 20-Billion-dollar industry.

Do they see us, the plus size shopper, as their savior? Their saving grace to their bottom line?

Listen… we don’t want to be your savior. We do not want THAT responsibility. We do not want THAT pressure. Girl, we are tired. We’ve been pleading for so long, that we have given up and have started to create our own…

Parfait Launches #PerfectFigure
Parfait Launches #PerfectFigure

Even now, with the launches from plus size brands and new launches from plus size retailers, these plus size retailers and brands aren’t reaching and engaging the plus size media (yes, we do exist) which we’ve had to build ourselves, because nobody wanted to talk, share, or show news about plus size fashion… Hello, the birth of The Curvy Fashionista!

No one gave a damn or wanted to be associated with plus size fashion and all its nuances and assumptions.

So, we created our own. Our own independent plus size clothing lines, our own plus size magazines, our own plus size blogs, our own plus size events, and our own plus size digital platforms.

BUT to my main point. What do we want?

We want access to life’s need for clothes. We want to wear clothes that inspire, evoke emotion, that push the envelope. Give us structure. Give us innovation. Give us inclusion. Give us reflective advertisements. Give us more than tokenism. Give us the diversity of sizes, shapes, and hues.

The Model Diversity Project with Liris Crosse and Christopher Michael

What we don’t want is to be pandered to. We don’t want be excluded from these conversations. We don’t want to be shunned. We don’t want a half ass job. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY?

We don’t want to date you in secret.

I think that’s the frustrating part. And it puts us in this weird catch-22.

Now that designers and retailers are including plus sizes, what are they doing to promote it? To make the plus size woman aware that this collection, brand, or physical store actually carries plus? Where are the marketing dollars? And I am not talking about the eye-rolling new phrases to describe plus size fashion (just give us dope clothes).

Pay attention to those thought leaders, activists, and rule breakers who happen to be ass-kicking women of color, champions in the LGBTQ community, or lawmakers and body acceptance advocates for the various layers in the community… better yet, are you even aware of the community around plus size fashion?

Missguided - #makeyourmark campaign
Photo: MISSGUIDED #Makeyourmark Campaign

I digress… If you don’t promote, how in the hell are we to know that you have a fun new line or range that we can shop from? Who are you passing the buck to, when it comes to advertising? The retailer? If everyone keeps passing the buck, no one takes ownership and the plus size woman is left with literally nothing, but the blame that “she does not shop.”

Attention Buyers, publicists, editors, marketing execs…

You need to realize that the plus size shopper is going to the blogs and digital platforms made for and by us, to get the real deal. She may go read about it from these mainstream magazines and websites, but trust, she’s coming to us to see if we are talking about it, to see if we’re engaging with it, and to see if we care.

This is where she is making her decision to move…

Plus Size Luxury Swimwear- Alpine Butterfly Swim featuring Tess Holliday
Plus Size Luxury Swimwear- Alpine Butterfly Swim featuring Tess Holliday

So now we have these new plus size brands, plus size retailers, and mainstream brands that are spending their money (like the $11 million just raised for a new plus size online retailer, CoEdition) to engage us, please dig a bit deeper. There are so many independant plus size designers who are killing the game, that CoEdition missed…

How much homework are you putting in to really understanding the nuances, the layers, and the plus size consumer? We are not a monolith; we are many.

  • Some of us are bold, while some of us want classic and timeless.
  • Some of us want contemporary plus size fashion, while some of us want high-end classic minimalism.
  • Some of us love structure, while some of us want flowy layers.
  • Some of us appreciate a bright pattern, while some of us want demure and subtle hues.
  • Some of us want bikinis, while some desire a classic one-piece.
  • Some of us want high end options, while some of us need a fast fashion options.
Impish Lee x Fat Girl Flow
Impish Lee x Fat Girl Flow Collaboration

Sound familiar? 

Now that you have made the step and decision to engage the plus size shopper, you are not done. You cannot hit the emerging trend of a certain top models in the plus size space and think we will come to you… oh no, love.

  • You have to market to us. You have to get to know us… you know, court us. How are you marketing TO us?
  • Are you including a visibly plus size model (ideally 16+) in every brand campaign in your marketing?
  • Are you including a variety of shapes, shades, and heights?
  • Are you digging into the community, talking to those who are involved in the conversation?
  • Is your PR agency of record engaging the community, reaching out to us the same as mainstream brands?
  • Are you aware of the climate, political conversations, and those who we look to?

Now, do not get me wrong, there are quite a few brands who have made and who are making these steps and changes, but so much more needs to happen! So much more needs to be done and like I said before, I’m cautiously optimistic…

GabiFresh x SwimSuits for All Campaign
GabiFresh x SwimSuits for All Campaign

Were also going to challenge and call out these brands where we see how and where they can do better. And get this! Sometimes, it’s not even just those mainstream brands who are dipping their toes in plus size fashion; it’s also the legacy and plus size brands that been had plus size offerings, but would never include plus sizes in their marketing, provide samples, or even advertise that they carry plus sizes on their site. You are just as complicit.

And I am sure if you spent just a few dollars and a few hours on your plus size business, you’d see a positive reaction to your bottom line, too!

So, to answer my first question…

Is it too late for mainstream brands to hop on the plus size train? Is it too late for retailers to start paying attention to a community driven, grassroots raising industry: One that has birthed and has created our own infrastructure around plus size fashion?

No, it is not… but as you do engage us, please note, you are NOT our savior and our dollars are not yours.

PS. Need a little help in your approach, research, or marketing? Holla at me! I do this and can help.

Written by Marie Denee

I am the Editor in Chic of The Curvy Fashionista. Often goofy. Forever emo. Always a Virgo. You can find me somewhere grooving to 90s R&B.

What do you think?

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  1. “We are not a monolith; we are many”….girl….yes! I love fashion but plus size fashion offerings still kinda put us into a box. I’m just a fat girl trying to go to work everyday and to the occasional event. In the trendier stuff, all I see is bodycons, etc. No knockin’, but we aren’t all the same. This was a great article Marie!

  2. I would just like to add… a lifeless unshapely “tunic” or long T is NOT plus size fashion… seriously people we want fitted clothing that excentuates our bodies!!! And that does also not mean too tight “body on” slutty knits either… high end well fitting proportional clothing please…

  3. Yes, yes, YES!!! As someone who’s been plus size since childhood and now in her late 40’s, I expect my fashion to grow up just as I did. Not everyone wants to dress like a pinup girl, or show off EVERYTHANG. There are many brands from back in the day who made plus sizes but didn’t want anyone to know – here’s looking at you Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren – and I’m actually surprised that only Kors and Lauren still have plus (but only carry them at certain department stores or online). Brands need to get a realistic perspective on the market and realize our tastes are just like our thin counterparts. We want it ALL, every choice imaginable, not just some marginalized selection. I want sophisticated work clothes, cute date-night clothes, and glamorous special event clothes. Why should I settle for being under-dressed for my tastes and style? They need to do better. Thank you for the excellent perspective. They would be wise to listen to you…..

    • You are SO right! I have been heavy my entire life which made high school difficult with just jeans and t shirts because we didn’t have many options were I lived. I just turned 40 and have finally found brands that I truly love!! Umgee, Silver Jeans, and a few others – I am obsessed with them! I agree with everything you wrote and what the others have posted. I’m modest and don’t want to be hanging out of my shirt or pants, but to have clothing that actually fits like it should ~ WOW! Or to have it last longer than one wash. We are women who want a great closet also! And in case they haven’t noticed….most of America is not a size 4. Time to wake up! I shouldn’t have to shop online all the time. And let’s not even get started on swimwear!

  4. I hate that plus size stops at “size 22-24”..how about a new term for “sizes above that”…hate buying 3x to 5x…also not all larger girls have “huge breasts”..how about large band size with “A & B cups”…plus finding sexy lingerie is almost impossible

    • O…m…g, thank you for this comment. Im a 24/26 with a small chest. Its so hard to get excited about this “plus size revolution”, if you will, because the sizes just dont seem true. Its like retailers are doing just enough so ghey can say they are offering plus sze, but in most cases they are only going up to size 24…but its a 24 that fits more like a 22! And forgrt about finding a small cup bra past a 42! In order to grt a B cup that not only comfortably fits with the right cup, but isnt drab and ugly, I have to get one too small and add extenders in the back. Or I have to settle for one that fits but stuff the cups! And dont grt me started on shoes and jewelry! Not only do I automatically have wider feet because of my weight, but they are size 12! Its like the fashion industry figures that only prude 80 year olds have large feet! Finding anything remotely cute for my foot is impossible. Theres huge fashion wave happening for the curvy woman, but in a lot of instances I still feel so left out. Trying to express my femininity is difficult when true still sizes still dont seem available.

      • Might try Bed Stu for shoes. I have a wider foot but their shoes seem to fit perfect for me. (And they are cute and last!) good luck

      • I totally agree with Niccole H. I have the similiar issues, smaller on top and in a cup size with a wider band;bigger in the tummy. I like to dress modest, but comfortable and feminine. Wide front feet in a sleek front,comfortable flat, one that the back part of the foot doesnt slip out of because they figure wide is longer, NO! Same length just Wide!!!! I get it, there is not a one size fits all, but we need more variety. For example—I walked into a popular high end store that maybe went to a size 12 and I loved the fabrics and neutrual colors and the sale peron told me “oh, our plus size is online”, so I went online and the clothes were nothing like the store ?. For now, I figure I will just have to buy something bigger from my locals I use and have it tailored to my fit. Oh well, but is this 2018 Calvin, Anne, Michael??????

  5. I glad to see the fashion industry is moving toward offering plus size clothes but they still have a long way to go! I am a size 26/28 I’m 5’8 and wear a size 12 shoe. It’s difficult for me to find clothes outside of the torrid, lane Bryant, and Ashley Stewart. I love these stores but even in the stores for plus size they still have restrictions. I can’t find bras in these stores most of them carry a band size up to 46 or 48. I wear a 50 ddd/f. Also a lot of the shape wear is limited in size. Glad we are moving forward but still got a long way to go.

  6. MY biggest fear, they will give us “the Sizes” but the fit will be wrong…. that’s why I sigh when I read these articles because most Plus Size “fashion” doesn’t fit.

  7. I’m old school. I’ve been heavy all my life. I’ve always been taught to wear clothes that complements your body type. For me to look and feel good about what I’m wearing, I need clothes that are tunic size, but not looking like I’m wearing a tent. It needs to have curves in the right places such as in the waist and in the bossom are to accentuate my body style. But for me it also needs to cover my lower stomach area. I have no hips and skinny legs, but have a large stomach, so inorder to wear pants that fit me, I always have to buy a pair that fits my stomach, then get them seamed in from my hip to my knee, otherwise it looks like my hips are wearing a baggy bubble. Not a good look. Not everyone’s body is the same. I think if retailers are going to sale plus size clothes, they first need to learn the different body types that plus size women’s bodies look like. Even retailers like Romans they make alot of tops that are made like trapez tents or are so short that you can see the full stomach. Well that’s not my style, I want to show off my curves and cover the areas that aren’t as flattering to me. That’s what plus size fashion means to me. Ty Cathy

  8. Thank you for spelling it out! I have suffered for years. Feeling like I needed to loose more weight just to fit what was out there. And baggie and flowers do not cut it for me..I’m not dead yet! I’m happily married and engage my husband whenever and wherever I can. He loves when I find my chi in clothing..which is rare. Candle to you my Diva!

  9. And stop including plus sized, but not including 26/28. If Lane Bryant has carried that size forever, so should you. I noticed that they all stop at size 24, which plenty of us do not. Grrrrr

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