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A real look at the plus size clothing industry

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

By Kanika Agarwal,
Fashion Designing Student of National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT)

The cover of Life Magazine in the late 1930’s had set out to define the ultimate body ideal. They sported a model who was 5.6 inches tall, weighed 56 kgs although her life insurance claimed she was 61 kgs. This was the start of an era that ushered in the flat, toned, sporty look. In 2016, Harper’s Bazaar noted a major shift in body ideals since the 1930’s. The fashion and beauty industry now defined the ideal woman to have a “cute face, slim waist and a big behind”

What is the reality however? The average Indian woman is touted to be 5’4” and weighing anywhere between 68-78 kgs. This effectively puts her dress size between 12-16, which, in the fashion industry is termed as Plus Size according to PLUS Model Magazine.

So with these constant changes in body, beauty and clothing, the fashion industry has slowly and tentatively began to accept the plus size figure. A sense of “democratization” can be felt in the air of the fashion spaces. Democratization not just in the sense of price but also size. To understand what fashion for the plus size segment means, we must first understand what it hasn’t always been: fashionable. Unflattering loose shirts, paired with long scarves; flared dresses; full sleeves or worse, puff sleeves; the monotone of clothing in black and grey dominated the plus size market. So called fashion gurus advised heavy set women to wear darker tones to hide curves and large prints to take focus away from extra pouches of skin. Nobody knows who wrote those rules but everybody knows them. Today however, the rules have effectively been broken and thrown away for good by plus size clothing leaders such as blogger Gabi Gregg and other brands. It is the age of crop tops, fitted clothing and bright colors, no matter your shape.

The term 'plus size' itself is a new concept. Outsize is the word used in many countries such as Britain. Fortunately, with the supposed change taking place in the fashion industry, “outsize” has been losing flavor. Back home, plus size store giants, have embraced the term and named themselves as plus size stores. At a chance interview with ALL, India’s chain of plus size stores owned by the Future Group, with Head Designer Krishna Thingbaijam, a discussion on dressing plus size women ensued. Explaining the difference in styling, he noted that although when the store opened in its initial years they focused on treating plus sized women as people who should proclaim they are “big and okay with it.” The store has since changed along with its customers, knowing that casual wear has since been more about comfort and silhouettes. As they step into the $17.5 billion industry, they claim to accentuate the body to its most flattering form.

Which brings about the question, that if the plus size industry is worth $17.5 billion, why are the giants of the business not embracing it? As a design student myself, the problems with patterning and constructing a garment that does not consist of just rectangles is noticeable. According to author Imogene Edwards, the reason why designers don’t do plus size clothing is because “If they do a 16 or 18, it costs them more to make the skirt because of the fabric, and then they can’t charge more for it.”

However, all issues and stated problems aside, big brands and designer labels like Michael Kors, Jenny Packman, ModCloth etc. have openly and responsibly added plus size clothing to their straight size collections. Being the first to break through from monotony and try something that the rest of the industry is hesitant about it extremely lucrative and gratifying. Gabi Gregg, founder of the '#fatkini' movement online, sold her galaxy print swimsuit in 24 hours.

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