Recognizing that the plus-size consumer is still underserved by mainstream fashion, the Fashion Institute of Technology hosted a forum Wednesday night titled, “The Business of Curves: Fashion’s Future.”
Speaking on the panel were Emme, the plus-size model, author and advocate; Catherine Schuller, fashion event planner, educator at FIT and image consultant (and former plus-size Ford model), and Susan Moses, celebrity stylist, author and brand ambassador. The panel was moderated by Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week, industry consultant and author.
Whether the plus-size label is a stigma, how consumers can encourage designers to make more plus-size fashions, and how brand imagery has changed for the better were among the topics tackled.
The event began with a fashion show featuring plus-size eveningwear, dresses, tops, leather jackets, sportswear and intimate apparel from such retailers as Eloquii, Roaman’s, Sydney’s Closet, Tracee Ellis Ross for J.C. Penney, Marina Rinaldi, Emme by Lionyss, Lane Bryant, Rachel Rachel Roy, Universal Standard and Tadashi Shoji.
The forum was designed to introduce and encourage FIT’s Business and Technology students to embrace the concept of curvy women, take on internships with plus-size firms, and consider pursuing the lucrative, yet still relatively untapped market.
Joyce F. Brown, president of FIT, noted that the plus-size industry is a multibillion-dollar one that is just starting to enter the mainstream. She said plus-size women are “finding a voice,” and many of them walked the runway at fashion shows in New York and internationally and have appeared on the red carpet. “They’re out and they’re proud,” she said. However, she pointed out that many plus-size women feel like second-class citizens. She is hopeful that by speaking about diversity and inclusiveness and including every color, creed, economic class and size, that the Millennial generation, five or 10 years from now who will be populating the fashion industry, will do their part to ensure that curvy women are given the same respect.
Brown cited The NPD Group figures that showed 67 percent of all women in the U.S. are size 16 or larger, and the plus-size business generates $21.4 billion in annual sales. But there is still a $20 billion untapped market.
“There’s money at the table for the fashion industry to take advantage of,” said Mallis. She noted that the New York and European runways were diverse this past season, and many plus-size models and ethnicities were represented. “Strides in the last year have been remarkable,” she said.
Asked what they think of the term “plus-size,” Moses said: “There’s a stigma attached to it, but in actuality, there’s nothing negative about it. It’s really a garmento term like contemporary, missy and petite. It’s also used as a search engine. When I’m shopping, I don’t have time to go through a whole site to see if I can find my size. If I can find curves or plus, I can go right to it. “
Mallis said when she was growing up, sizes 14 and 16 were not considered plus-sizes, and it was sizes 18 and 20 and above. But somewhere in the industry, size 0 was developed and samples became 0 and 2, when they used to be an 8. “It kind of went too far in that direction,” she said.
Schuller praised new ad campaigns that have changed the visuals of the plus-size customer. She explained that when she started, it was muumuus and caftans and clothing with no structure. “Now they realize that the plus-size woman is not just a blob shape. She’s got curves, she’s got waists and she’s got busts and wants to show them,” she said.
According to Emme, the full-figured woman is simply a woman. “She wants to be a rocker chick, she wants to be boho, she wants to be contemporary, she wants to be preppy. She wants to be all the personalities reflected in clothing. She’s a woman first with a whole plethora of personality to reflect. The industry getting on board is really a good thing,” said Emme, who walked in the Chromat show in September.
Schuller feels that the world judges plus-size women more severely. “The curvy woman needs to be a diva about her curves, dress for who you are and what you want. It’s really about owning what your style is.…Never leave the house without a smile and also a fabulous-looking outfit because the world judges us much harsher,” she said.
Interestingly, Emme suggested that more magazines (such as the now-defunct Mode) would be helpful to show women how to accessorize and how to dress. “We don’t have our own imagery being reflected back to us. If anyone wants to get into a good business, get into the magazine business.”
“I hate to break it to you,” said Mallis, “but it’s not the best business to get into. It’s the most dying business around us. They’re closing, shutting down and decreasing circulation and number of issues. Think about other ways to communicate to these women. It’s all about your computer, it’s all about your phone. It’s about Hollywood and television. I think ‘This is Us’ is doing a lot for this curvy market,” she said.
Mallis said IMG, where she used to work, has a lion’s share of top curvy models. “They’re all working as hard [as the regular-sized models] and working every day, and they’re getting paid the same rates and also not segregated as a plus group. They’re just part of IMG Models,” she said. Moses added that a lot of the curvy girls are working as fit models and there are a lot of agencies that represent them.
As for the biggest misconceptions within the fashion industry about the plus-size market, Emme said it’s that women don’t have money to spend. She noted that women would spend 80 percent more if they could find the contemporary clothes they wanted.
“The biggest misconception is that we’ve given up and we don’t care about fashion, and if we did we would have lost some weight,” said Schuller. “When I first started modeling, they tortured me and wanted me to be Kim Alexis, or whoever was the blond skinny model of the time.”
Moses noted that five or 10 years ago, it was impossible to buy a swimsuit. “Swimsuits and jeans were very hard to get 10 years ago. Thank God, things are really changing,” she said. She thanked the brands that were shown for really stepping up and doing lingerie, swimwear and jeans.
Emme spoke about how hard it is for plus-size teenagers to find plus-size prom dresses. Then they can’t find clothes for a date, or for a job interview. Schuller said 58 percent of women don’t find anything they really like.
Asked how curvy women can use their buying power to encourage designers to include plus-sizes in their collections, Emme suggested that plus-size women should go on a two-day strike and not buy any purses, lipsticks or shoes to see what would happen. “If she can’t find clothing, she can use her buying power to show that she actually makes a difference,” said Emme.
Mallis suggested that the plus-size community use their voices and create a hash tag for retailers. “Is there a phrase or expression, or six retailers that you know that can make a difference?” She suggested they ask the community for a hash tag such as #makemoresizes, or #pluscounts. This way the movement has unity, she said.