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Opinion: Australia sucks for plus size fashion, here’s why

Illustration by Twylamae
Words by Rosie Macquire

Debunking the myths around plus-size fashion.

For a long time, plus-size women were ignored by the fashion industry, but now it finally seems like progress is being made.

As a plus-size woman myself, seeing designers like Chromat and Christian Siriano having diverse runway shows really makes me – and I’m sure plus women alike – start to feel included by the industry.

However, as someone who’s not exactly in the money, I look to the high street to find clothes.

Despite having always been a bigger girl, growing up in the UK I never really had a problem finding clothes. I was fairly ignorant on the subject, as I focused on myself and not the bigger issue at hand. Almost every high street women’s clothing store in the UK stocks up to a size 20, and most have plus-size sections. However, since making the move to Australia in 2016, it feels virtually impossible to shop on the high street.

Initially, I wasn’t really bothered that I couldn’t shop at places like Glassons, as ASOS exists. But after living here for over two years now, I’ve come to notice how behind the Australian fashion industry really is.

Of course, there is a small selection in the Australian market for plus-size, but some of the biggest retail giants in this country are ignoring it. Labels like Country Road, Portmans and Bardot all stop at a size 16. And I can’t help but wonder why? Especially considering the industry is now valued at up to $21.4 billion USD. In my mind, I believe there are a few reasons as to why, so below I’m breaking them down and ripping them apart, because ultimately there’s no excuse.

1. The never-gets-old idea of ‘promoting obesity’

Looking into the arguments against plus-size clothing is always fun, what with all the fat-shaming comments on the internet. For some reason, whatever size women are, it can never just stay between themselves and their doctor.

A personal favourite I came across; ‘A fat person has fat hanging off them, struggles to exercise and the weight looks unnatural and plain ugly’.

Well as insightful as that is Ben, maybe we shouldn’t be judging someone based on what they look like? Maybe we shouldn’t make assumptions on someone’s health based on appearances? And maybe health shouldn’t come into it at all?

After recently extending its size range, I asked boho brand Tree of Life if promoting obesity was a concern.

“Our mission here at the Tree of Life is to make clothes so that every woman can find something she loves. We are not here to judge her; to decide if she’s underweight or overweight,” said digital marketing coordinator Billie Edwards.  

“Tree of Life believes that, no matter where you are on the body spectrum, and no matter why you’re there, you deserve right now to have a garment to wear which makes you feel like you.  Something which allows you to express your personality visually and develop your feeling of self-worth”.

2. More mass = more material = more money

Now at first, I kind of agreed with this one. Yes, to make clothes for a larger person, it would require more fabric, which would cost more.  In fact earlier this year, it was revealed that a well-loved brand (one I frequently shop myself) has been charging a ‘fat-tax’ for its curve range.

Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a stir online leaving customers feeling betrayed by their favourite brand.

In an interview with The New York Times, British fashion designer Amanda Bowes countered the argument:

“If the pricing metric is going to be based on size, then every size should be priced differently,” she said.

“If smaller-sized people aren’t getting discounts, then plus-sized people shouldn’t have to pay a surplus. We rarely see ‘tall’ and ‘maternity’ editions of clothing being priced differently. It’s cruel and unfair to single out one body type.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, but not to distract from the point, it does cost more. But think about how much a brand could make by just including more sizes (and not charging more for them)?

Bustle reported that brands such as River Island, Boohoo and Missguided all increased sales massively after expanding their sizing. Missguided saw a 69 per cent increase (thanks to celebrity collaborations and extended sizing) while Boohoo hit a 129 per cent increase.

3. There are no fat people in Australia

Obviously, this isn’t true, but perhaps brands just don’t see a market for it Down Under.

As we know, in 2017, Gorman decided to capitalise on the dog wear market, while ignoring its demand for women’s bigger sizes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average waist measurement for women over the age of 18 in 2014-2015 was 87.5cm, which sits somewhere between a size 16 and 18 (depending on where you shop). This means the average Australian woman cannot fit into Gorman, Glassons, Factorie, Supre, Bardot, Cue and more. The list goes on.

In the meantime, ASOS has continued to be the lead the way for other brands when it comes to inclusive sizing. By giving customers the chance to be able to shop the latest trends, no matter their size, the brand’s Curve line has proven to be very popular here in Australia.

“ASOS Curve is constantly growing, both as a range and in popularity with our customers,” explains ASOS design director, Vanessa Spence. “In some departments, the sales of ASOS Curve have more than doubled in the last five years.”

4. Fat women don’t wear nice clothes  

Finally, what’s the point in making clothes for larger women in styles they wouldn’t wear?

As an example, The Just Group has only scraped the surface with inclusive sizing across its brands. Just Jeans stocks plus-size Levi’s, although the brand’s house label only goes up to a size 18. However, Peter Alexander has a plus-size collection that reaches a size 24. I guess they think plus women only wear pyjamas? Oh and Levi’s. 

And with the very small amount of brands that do offer extended sizes, many are still following the ‘if you’re fat, you’re also frumpy and only wear leggings’ narrative.

This couldn’t be more untrue.

“Our Australian customer loves our occasionwear offer in the ASOS Curve category, particularly evening dresses,” said Vanessa Spence.

So with all that, it seems the only real explanation is that brands are simply ignoring a huge market of people. I would hope that one day, I will be able to walk into Glassons and buy something that fits me (while still being on trend and not losing weight) but until that day, ASOS can have my money.

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