by Joe Pendlebury (@theuxchap)

Why Fashion Retailers Need to Embrace Size Inclusivity

Size inclusivity and body confidence are two significant topics that many Fashion Retailers just aren’t taking seriously enough. Well, more fool them. It’s a vitally important issue affecting all genders, body shapes and sizes.

Common Bad Practices

This controversy isn’t helped by bad practices adopted by such retailers:

  • Separation of “Petite”, “Tall” and “Plus Size” clothing from “Standard”-fitting clothing — both online and in-store.
  • A much more limited range of styles and collections, representing the “Non-Standard” sizing.
  • Inconsistencies in same sizing, across different brands and stores. Why is it that a women’s size 12 at one retailer, is different to that, at another?
  • The choice of online model photography, which often tends to favour portraying women with slimmer figures and men with a more muscular build.

Sizing Inconsistency & Separation

Inconsistency in sizing has led to the rise in the establishment of startups like TrueFit and Rakuten Fits Me. They aim to solve the issue of sizing dilemmas when shopping online, by providing highly personalised fit ratings and size recommendations to shoppers. They do so, through a wizard-like setup, which asks the user a series of questions about their body shape, size and personal style.

Fast Company, (2018), Gwynnie Bee Model [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3064748/how-gwynnie-bee-is-personalizing-the-plus-size-fashion-experience [Accessed 1 January 2018].

It’s a step in the right direction — particularly as far as reducing online return rates. However, it doesn’t take the onus away from the retailer to be more proactive in helping to alleviate, or better-still, eradicate the pressure, individuals are made to feel put under.

Here’s some excellent insight from the perspective of a thirty-something male, shopping for his wife:

“I’ve always found women’s clothes sizing to be particularly obtuse. I mean what is a size 12? What does it mean? By what standard is it defined? And perhaps most importantly, why are women different sizes in different shops? Why are men’s clothes sized by a verifiable metric, and women’s not?”

There were some interesting responses to this comment on LinkedIn, highlighting the pressure women feel to be a certain size or shape, in comparison to men.

“Women’s clothing sizes are designed to make us feel bad. Retailers have figured out that people shop like crazy when they’re anxious and feel insecure. Men’s clothing sizes are made with utility in mind, by and large. I am not sure if that’s because it’s mostly women buying men their clothes (quite a lot of the men in my life rarely buy their own clothing — usually their mothers do it until their wives / girlfriends / daughters do) and so the insecurity bonus wouldn’t be as useful, or if it’s because we live in a society that generally puts very little pressure on men to be a certain size or shape, but the end result is men’s clothing gets a matter of fact measurement, and women are graded.”

Here’s another response, highlighting that the media and women’s magazines, also have a lot to answer for:

“This is incredibly true, there’s definitely a culturally built stereotype for each women’s size bracket that is fuelled by the media and women’s own publications — the way celebrities are grouped to fall under each particular stereotype and those that fulfil what is seen as ideal are praised and portrayed in glowing light.”

In-store especially, why is it that retailers feel the need to create these separated, dedicated areas for “Petite”, “Tall” and “Plus Size” ranges? It’s entirely unnecessary to generate this disconnect. For someone, low in self-esteem already, it can be quite a demoralising experience.

Good American, (2018), Good American Jeans Models [ONLINE]. Available at: http://people.com/style/khloe-kardashian-good-american-jeans-we-tried-it/ [Accessed 1 January 2018].

Khloe Kardashian and Emma Grede, Founders of inclusive sizing, denim brand, Good American, recently lobbied Nordstrom to stop separating plus-size clothes from the rest of the clothing in the store, so that all women feel included during the simple act of shopping. Nicely done, girls.

I’ve witnessed video footage filmed at focus group sessions where women have almost broken down in tears about how difficult a time they have shopping for clothing in-store. One lady in particular, I vividly remember, because she nearly bought me to tears. A forty-something Mum of three, who said that she couldn’t bear to bring herself to shop in-store anymore due to her complete lack of body confidence. She was a size 14. Instead, she chose to shop online, but often found herself facing the same difficulties in finding “clothing that flattered her figure” and went on to advise that she often ended up returning most of what she bought.

The lack of range and choice of styles, were highlighted by another lady I recently spoke to:

“Here’s something that doesn’t give my size 18–22 self much confidence — going to stores like that [referencing a screenshot taken from a speciality online clothing retailer’s website] and seeing a bunch of shapeless bags and big weird sleeves. This image is basically the depressing reality of most of what’s on offer at those sorts of places. Apparently, we are meant to hide our shameful fat bodies under reams of distractingly-patterned broadcloth.
This is why I never shop at those stores. I like form fitting, flattering clothes. I liked clothes like that when I was thin as a post, and I still like them. But I like my body, probably more as an obese 30 year old than I ever did as a sub-100lb skinny teenager. I pass out a lot less, can go longer without a meal when emergencies or hectic travel schedules necessitate, and can handle my liquor better 😁”

“Inspirational” Model Photography

One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve personally encountered, in the four years I’ve worked in Fashion Retail, is the perception that the model shots we so often see plastered across websites and advertising, are deemed to be “inspirational”. That may well be what the retailer is hoping to achieve, but it’s certainly not the case, as far as their customers are concerned. Here are quotes from another focus group, where customers were asked to share their thoughts on the model photography featured on a high street retailer’s website, targeted at this exact demographic:

“It’s not representative of real women”

…and…

“These women don’t reflect who their customers actually are”

Speaking from a personal viewpoint too, as a 32-year old, Dad of two (in pretty good nick!), I find the male model photography used on some of the sites I browse, to be quite off-putting. Many of the guys are immensely-built, with chiselled jawlines and tonnes of tattoos. That’s not me. Likewise, it doesn’t inspire me, in any which way. I have no choice but to browse in ‘Model View’ mode (I can’t just switch to the ‘Product View’), as I’m 6ft4, so it’s important to validate the height of the model, against the fit and size of the item of clothing he’s wearing. That’s where the catwalk videos come in useful (if available). Nevertheless, there have been occasions, where the style of model photography and choice of models, have led to me leaving the site on those grounds. I want to see somebody that is representative of me — or at least a close match.

I like the approach adopted by Australian, size inclusive retailer, Sizeable. They have 10 models representing 5 different body shapes — “Booty”, “Curvy”, “Petite”, “Tall” and “Busty”. Likewise, each model’s full body measurements are listed, and they have a name too — somebody you can associate yourself with and relate to.

Sizeable, (2018), Sizeable Models [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.sizeable.com.au/ [Accessed 1 January 2018].

The Rising Stars

Rest assured, there is hope in the form of these fantastic Fashion startups and small businesses — many of which were founded by inspiring women, who found themselves in a situation not too dissimilar to the above.

Birdsnest

This is the very first size inclusive fashion retailer I came across, and what a fantastic job, Australian entrepreneur, Jane Cay, has done of growing her business. With a 95% female workforce in support, this Customer Experience-focused Mum is highly regarded as one of the most influential businesswomen in Australia, inspiring confidence among women, while helping to solve their wardrobe dilemmas.

The ‘Style Recommendations’ wizard is an excellent initiative, while the option to choose which size models are featured on the Product List Pages (PLPs), epitomises everything Jane’s business believes in and stands for. Not only that, you can also choose the ‘Photo View’ — “On Body”, “Lifestyle”, “Product”, or the default, “Our Pick”.

Universal Standard

Aside from an amazingly inspiring mission statement, what I love about Universal Standard is their ‘Universal Fit Liberty’ (UFL) policy.

“If a piece from our core collection no longer fits due to size fluctuation, we’ll replace it with your new size, within a year of purchase, for free.”

That’s right. You have an entire calendar year to see if your body changes. Fantastic initiative.

Modcloth

Chances are, you’ve already heard of Modcloth, having been acquired by Walmart, in March 2017. It’s also, incredibly, been around since 2002. Modcloth prides itself on offering fun, expressive and unique fashion that’s an accurate reflection of who you are — in a full range of sizes.

Model photography is represented by women of all shapes and sizes. User-generated content, in the form of customer-submitted photos, is another positive contributor, which feeds into the community spirit of the site.

Gwynnie Bee

Launched in 2011, this subscription-based, clothing rental business was inspired by the Aunt, of CEO and Co-Founder, Christine Hunsicker’s, who used to make all of her clothing for Christine, as a little girl growing up in rural Pennsylvania.

Every Monday I had a fresh box of clothes for the week. Bright prints, matching separates, trendy styles — you name it, I wore it! They always fit and made me feel confident even as I was changing size.

They’re giving the likes of Rent the Runway, a good run for their money too, while targeting a more addressable and easily accessible market, in the form of everyday clothing — as opposed to high-end fashion for special occasions.

11 Honoré

There’s a certain air of Bonobos / Everlane-like class to the design of this site. It also comes with a powerful mission statement

“[11 Honoré] gives more women the option to experience the best designer clothing and celebrate and honor their bodies, beauty and style.”
“We are building an exciting new space that is reflective of the fact that style has no size and that everyone who appreciates luxury and designer clothing should and now does have access to it.”

My biggest critique here is the fact that they’ve chopped the heads off their models. It’s perhaps an oversight on their part, but for a size inclusive retailer, you can’t underestimate the impact a user may have when connecting with that model — especially if the model reflects their own body size and shape.

Other Notable Mentions

  • Sizeable — Clothes that not only fit right, but suit all body shapes.
  • Good American — Premium denim in inclusive sizing.
  • Girlfriend Collective — Quality fashion, focused on humane manufacturing, meticulous design, and sustainable materials.
  • Eloquii — Runway-inspired fashion, for sizes 14 to 28.
  • LuLaRoe — Comfortable, affordable, stylish clothing.
  • Joanie Clothing — New and unique vintage-style clothing & accessories.
  • REBDOLLS — Unapologetic fashion for sizes 0 to 32. #SEXYFORALL
  • TUXE Bodywear — Luxurious, fashion forward bodysuits for the ambitious modern women.
  • Hear Us Roar — Feminist and female empowerment apparel.
  • Torrid — Women’s fashion in sizes 10 to 30.
  • eShakti— Custom-fit fashion designed to your exact height.
  • SmartGlamour — Body positive clothing for sizes XXS-6X and beyond.

One Last Thing…

If you liked this article, please applaud it 👏 and share it with your friends, work colleagues and followers. Remember, you can clap up to 50 times — it makes a big difference for me in helping to focus my writing on what you guys enjoy reading the most.

You’re also welcome to follow me on Medium, on Twitter, or even connect with me on LinkedIn. Thank you for your support! 😊

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.