Bild: Ira Weinrauch I Photo: Ira Weinrauch

The Forgotten Plus Size Women: There’s still so much to do

Almost two years ago the Navabi-Founder Zahir Dehnadi and Bahman Nedaei shared their thoughts concerning the potential of plus size fashion in high fashion. The resulting article was published by Edition F. Two years later it hasn’t lost any of its relevance. We take a look back.

The Forgotten Women: Chances and Potential for Plus Size Fashion

by Zahir Dehnadi and Bahman Nedaei

„Nobody wants to see round women on the runway“ – Karl Lagerfeld, 2013

Lagerfelds controversial statement two years back resulted in fierce negative reactions. Now, a year later nothing has changed in the high fashion industry concerning the acceptance of women wearing plus size. One lonely curvy show at the current Berlin Fashion Week – and even though it’s a step in the right direction – is not enough: The industry still ignores the needs of these women. The fact that the average European woman wears a size 14/16 shows that their exclusion from high fashion is not only morally wrong but also bad for the business of the entire industry. This enourmous discrepancy between runway and reality has to change.

For curvy women clothes shopping is often connected to negative experiences. Most stores don’t offer all sizes. Moreover their clothing collections weren’t designed to flatter a fuller figure and the available plus size assortment and its quality is often not sufficient.

Shopping should be fun and therapeutic, but for many women that’s not the case. Just imagine how awful it must feel: Does the store have my size? Will it fit? Why can’t I buy trendy clothes? Why is there only cheap stuff? Where can I find a greater selection? Why is everyone in the changing room staring at me…?

At present the fashion industry ignores women with bigger sizes. This results in millions of women who’d love to dress fashionably but can’t find anything suitable. Beside the fact of them being ignored they also don’t get the chance of fashion advice or inspiration through magazines that tell them what suits which body type best. Alone in Europe the plus size fashion market is worth millions for retailers.

Thanks to the e-commerce boom that spread over the continent, the curvy sector effectively developed into the fastest growing segment in the female clothing sector.

When one talks about the blind spot that is plus size fashion… Then that’s not solely the fault of the high fashion sector. The media is also responsible with their portrayel of women. Presenting skinny, almost bony females as fashion ideal. Hollywood is no stranger to that either. By tending to avoid main female characters with plus size (except if they have a role in a comedy) curvy women are severely underrepresented in the movie industry.

But when organisations dare to think and act beyond the norm they trigger outrage. A perfect example of what happens when a brand breaks with the current specifications of presentation of slim women was the cry of outrage when size 8 model Myla Dalbesio was included in a Calvin Klein campaign next to more conventionally skinny models.

In the past, the clothing style for curvy women was primarily low-cost, low quality and hardly fashionable. But not every woman wearing plus size wants to buy her clothes at a teleshopping channel or order them from a special catalogue. Though there is a lot more that can be done for the classification and distribution of available bigger sizes. In the ‘small size world’ the clothing is sorted by price category, quality, lifestyle requirements and style. Due to the sparsely thought through assumption that plus sized women aren’t interested in neither fashion nor their looks, they’re offered a product market that’s quite one-dimensional. This lack of high end selection for bigger sized women is not only bad for the comsumer but is also the reason that the industry as a whole probably loses billions of euros.

The demand for premium plus size fashion, like the product selection at navabi, shows that the potential of the market is gigantic. Our customers are fashionable, have money to spend on clothing and want to look good. We encourage our team of purchasers to work with brands, so they can convince them to not ignore plus size but instead to embrace the fact that curvy women have an interest in fashion, too. Size Zero isn’t the aim. We should liberalise the fashion sector and forget the size dimensions. The steps navabi takes by itself aren’t enough to reach that aim.

At present the fashion industry suffers by its elite thinking. This superficial approach dictates that some individuals earned it to wear high quality clothing and brands while others aren’t so lucky. To a large extent the fault lies with ourselves and our society. We have to take a look behind the exterior and judge the character of a person by more than just its physical attributes. How far would Steve Jobs have made it, if one had judged him solely on his fashion sense?

Usually known for innovations designer these days are surprisingly unimaginative when it comes to a new approach to fashion. Things change very slowly. To get real progress in the plus size debate one would need brands, magazines and pr agencies, who are working in the fashion sector, to actively adress the stigma of curvy women. A groundbreaking change of direction requires that high end fashion brands as well as the media acknowledge that for many women plus size is the norm.

Through their ignorance towards curvy women high end fashion brands and retailers not only degrade the self-confidene of women worldwide but also affront millions of potential customers. The market for premium plus size fashion in Europe is ripe for retailers and brands which strategically address fashion-conscious women who aren’t part of the thin target group. When the fashion industry finally loses its snobbishness everyone can benefit from it: retailers, brands and consumers.



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