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Outside the Margins – Fatshion and Fashion

Published December 2, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Hasn’t this week been a big one for the discussion of what has happened to fatshion?  This discussion is a very good thing, and mostly it has actually been discussion, rather than drama.

That said, there are two assumptions/perceptions that I really want to address today in this post:

1) That fatshion has been consumed by the corporate, that it has been branded and marketed out of all power.

2) That fatshion is inaccessible to people who do not have things like a fancy camera, access to designer brands, high profile status, the ability to travel, or influential contacts.

Before I address these two things, I want to acknowledge that high profile plus-size fashion visibility is most definitely white, smaller fat (14-18), young, cis-gender, heterosexual, able bodied and affluent.  Hell yes, the freebies, the plum gigs in the industry, the advertising money, and the popularity go to those with privilege.  We need more diversity in plus-size fashion.  We need more women of colour, we need more variety in size and shape of fat women in plus-size fashion, we need older women, we need variance of gender and sexuality, we need visibility of people with disabilities and indeed, most plus-size fashion is expensive and inaccessible to those without ready disposable income.  Absolutely.

But answer me this… isn’t ALL fashion guilty of these things?  Isn’t the entire fashion industry, regardless of size, guilty of these things at a base level?  Plus-size fashion companies are mirroring the EXACT thing that happens in straight-size fashion.  The entire industry needs revolutionising, for no other reason that like all of society, it favours the privileged.  A young, white size 16 woman in fashion may not be radical anymore, but it is radical that we have shifted the boundaries to the point that they are no longer considered radical.

What I believe, is that fatshion is not the same thing as the plus-size fashion industry.  They intersect of course, but the reality is that the plus-size fashion industry is not fully serving the fatshion community (or just the general fat community) to meet it’s need.  That brings me to my first point above:

1) That fatshion has been consumed by the corporate, that it has been branded and marketed out of all power.

We are seeing a slight shift in the world of plus-size fashion.  It’s not a radical one at all, but it is a shift.  Young, attractive women bloggers over a size 14 are starting to get noticed by the plus-size fashion industry.  In fact they’re starting to get noticed by the fashion industry in general.  Names like Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason are turning up in mainstream fashion arenas.  Models like Teer Wayde, Fulvia Lacerda and Lizzie Miller are being featured in mainstream magazines.  We are seeing an interest in women with bodies outside of the traditional modelling and fashion size range (which is obscenely narrow – pun not intended) across the board.

But that’s not the reality of fatshion for the vast majority.  Gabi, Nicolette, Teer, Fulvia, Lizzie and others like them are making amazing careers for themselves in an industry that until now has otherwise excluded them.  They are doing something that very few people get to do, and I believe should be celebrated for doing so.  But they are working in the fashion industry.  Fatshion is not about working in the fashion industry, it is about every day fat women engaging in dressing themselves with care and pride, despite a world that tells them they are not entitled to do so.  Yes, these women definitely do that, it is possible to engage in fatshion while working in the fashion industry.  But we should not be holding them as a standard that all fat women should aim for by engaging in fatshion.  Realistically, there is only ever going to be a tiny, elite few who get to do that.

Fatshion is not the same thing as the fashion industry.

What is amazing about these women is that they are pushing the boundaries of what the fashion industry means.  A mere two years ago, these women were struggling to be seen, to progress in their careers.  They’ve worked hard to get where they are and they have been propelled by fatshion, both directly and indirectly.  By engaging in fatshion themselves, they have become visible in an industry that almost always renders women over a very small size range invisible.  It has made them stand out in an industry that is pretty bland really.  However, fatshion in general has also had it’s role in propelling these women into an industry.  The snowball effect of more and more people engaging in fatshion and visibly interested in style, clothes, accessories and expressing ourselves through those things has meant that it empowers others to do so as well.  This then rolls on to the money spent in the fashion industry.  The fashion industry notices this change, and then responds by trying to make more money by cashing in on this expanding marketing.  It’s the nature of the beast.  The more visible those of us on the fringes are the more the boundaries are pushed.  The more we make it clear that we care about where we spend our money, and that we will spread word of mouth, both positive and negative, the more the fashion industry tries to cash in on us.

Fatshion has not been consumed, nor is it powerless.  The boundaries of the fashion industry have simply shifted slightly to include a tiny few more.  Fatshion’s job is not over, nor will it ever be.  Someone is always going to be marginalised, and it’s our power to use fatshion to constantly push, stretch and pull those margins to include more and more people.  Fatshion is powerful and valuable.  I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for fatshion, and my engaging in fatshion is often what opens the doors for people to come and investigate my activism.

This brings me nicely to the second point above:

2) That fatshion is inaccessible to people who do not have things like a fancy camera, access to designer brands, high profile status, the ability to travel, or influential contacts.

There seems to be this perception that the only people engaging in fatshion are those like the aforementioned high-profile women.  That fatshion is somehow closed to everyday people.  If you think that’s what fatshion is about, I say you’re not looking hard enough.  The vast majority of fatshion bloggers are people with everyday lives.  Jobs, families, commitments and restrictions are all present in most fatshion blogger’s lives.  Again, fatshion is not about being directly involved in the fashion industry.  Fatshion is about participating in something otherwise denied to fat women. It is about visibility, celebration and creativity.

The assumption that engaging in fatshion requires the best of everything, or the most privileged of people, is erroneous.  Otherwise I wouldn’t engage in it myself, at 40 years old and size 26AU and beyond, using my phone to take photos in the bathroom mirror at work, and shopping on a $25 per week clothing budget (sometimes less).  I’m not even a fatshion blogger, one doesn’t have to be to engage in fatshion.  I use my fatshion as one of the aspects of my activism, to change how people think about how fat women present themselves and how we should look.

When I look through my Fatshion folder in Google Reader, I see so much more than just a few high profile plus-size women in the fashion industry.  I see canny thrift shoppers, skillful re-stylers, talented crafters, and most practice a make-it-work philosophy.  I see a smattering small-time designers creating amazing things for women with bodies like their own.  I see photographs taken on smart phones, budget digital cameras, webcams and borrowed cameras.  I see single Mums, carers, women who work from home.  I see bloggers who work long hours in regular jobs, some who have several jobs.  I see some who have continued through illness, injury, unemployment and tragedy.  I see etsy hunters and eBay stalkers. I see swappers, sharers and sellers.  I see those who take fatshion to an artform, living their lives as works of art.  I see women of colour, women with disability, a rainbow of gender variations and sexualities.  I see women of all ages, from those fresh out of high school through to those with “advanced style”.  I see every size from 16 through to beyond what is available commercially in plus-sizes.  I see high fashion, high art and popular culture interspersed with alternative style, radical looks and vintage kitsch.  I seldom see high end designer pieces, but I see vintage, budget mass produced and hand-made all used with personal flair and creativity.

This is what fatshion means to me.  While I admire the few who have made it into the mainstream fashion industry and continue to push it’s boundaries, they’re not what I take my inspiration from.  They’re not why I take pleasure in fatshion myself, and not how I use fatshion as activism.

Fatshion is so much  more than mainstream fashion up-sized to fit a size 16 or 18.  Fatshion belongs to us, not to the fashion industry.  Fatshion will always be outside the margins, and will always be radical.  Fatshion belongs to here and now, not the past.  Fatshion is about finding your own style and rocking the hell out of it, flying in the face of a world that tells us we should never be seen.

How NOT to Market to Fat Customers

Published October 27, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Can you believe it, I’m actually a little bit speechless.  I know, ME, speechless!  That almost never happens right!

But I’ve got a doozy for you folks.  You may have seen a campaign going around the fatosphere and fatshion world calling for support and funding for a Kickstarter loan for a new company called Cabiria Style.  A new “plus-size” startup fashion company, really pushing hard for people to donate to their Kickstarter and promote their new company.  Now I’ve had a busy week, so I saw the tweets and stuff and thought “Cool, I’ll have a look at that later, always good to see new plus-size brands starting up.”   I finally got a chance to have a look today and was disappointed to see that the person behind this company only intends to cater up to size 24US – I take a 28-30-32US depending on the brand.  Happens all the time, gives me the shits, but yeah, I’m used to it.  I saw that someone had asked if they intended to extend their sizes in the future so I retweeted the question and said that it was important:

https://twitter.com/Fatheffalump/status/261984362222985217

I made it clear that it isn’t fair to ask me to support or promote a company that excludes me, especially when they promote themselves as an “inclusive” line.  I expected to get the usual line about how “we hope to expand our sizes in the future”.  At least it’s an acknowledgement that they don’t go up to the higher sizes, even if it is a bit of a fob off, right?  I mean, indie designer, baby steps, fair enough.

What I didn’t expect was a whole lot of hostile attitude about how it’s too difficult/expensive to do higher sizes and that our questions as to whether we were included in the sizing were “criticism” of the company/range.  Apparently, simply ASKING if the sizes will be expanded is a “personal attack”.

Oh boy, there is some really fucking entitled bullshit that has come from this woman.  I’ll let the tweets do the talking (she has blocked me because you know, calling her out on shitty marketing and excluding people in an “inclusive” range is such a horrible thing to do – so I have to copy and paste):

@fatheffalump there is an entire section on why to donate if you’re not plus size. Many of the donors are not plus size.

Umm… I’m not plus-size because I’m over a size 24US?  What the fuck am I then?  I’m “too big” to be considered “plus-size” but you still expect me to donate and promote your range?

@fatheffalump I’m making higher quality options than most. Pretty different in another parameter.

This is her response to how she is not doing anything new and different by only doing to size 24US.  What use to me is “higher quality” if you won’t include me in the sizing?  What kind of logic is this?

@fatheffalump if you look at the photos you may notice I shop in the plus section myself, and not everything fits.

This is supposed to justify that NOTHING fucking fits in her range for me or any other person over a size 24US.  So I’m supposed to consider this justification for excluding anyone over a size 24US to the range.

@Fatheffalump The options are to buy the clothes or not. Same as everyone else. Buy this apple.Don’t buy that pear. Options.

What fucking options?  Buy WHAT clothes?  You’re not providing them in my size!  Where the fuck is the logic here?  “Buy this apple, but if you’re a pear, fuck off we don’t cater to you – there, you have options now”.

Look, I know it’s not easy to start up as a company.  I’ve done it myself.  There’s a reason I’m no longer self employed.  But there’s one thing you need to remember.  If you want people to give you their money for your goods or services, you’d better fucking include them.  How difficult is that to comprehend?  If you don’t cater to them (and hey, not every business does, such as life),  DON’T EXPECT THEM TO GIVE YOU MONEY OR PROMOTE YOU!

And if you are a company selling size 12-24, don’t call yourself inclusive, don’t promote to the fatshion/fatosphere and don’t call yourself “plus-size”.  You are an inbetweenie company.  Go market to them.

So I’m doing the opposite of promoting this company.  I am urging you, my somewhat considerable following of thousands of awesome fat people here on Fat Heffalump and on my social media platforms, DO NOT spend your money with Cabiria.  In fact, if you have pledged a donation through Kickstarter – go cancel it.  Never shop with them, ever.  Withdraw your funds whatever size you are and show this person that if they want to be a success, perhaps they should invest in some marketing training before anything else.

Instead, I would like you to go buy some brilliant clothes from the following small companies:

  1. Domino Dollhouse – when DD first started I asked Tracy about catering to larger sizes, she told me she was working on expanding that in the future.  It took a little while, but she did, and she is now doing AWESOME things.  Hat tip to Tracy and Domino Dollhouse.  I hope you’re raking in the $$ Tracy!
  2. LucieLu – they go to 5X and are a really gorgeous quality.
  3. No Xceptions – Up to size 32AU.  Small range, but HOT prices and excellent customer service.  Extra points for being an Aussie company.
  4. Sweetooth Couture – Up to 6X.  Gorgeous.
  5. eShakti – yeah not exactly small and they don’t ship to Australia yet, but hey, they do gorgeous clothes in good quality and have no size limit (costs about $7.50 extra to get custom sizing – less than 8 bucks to get custom sizing – how awesome is that?!)
  6. Cult of California – up to 5x.

Give these companies your money.  Buy their products, promote the crap out of them and let them know they’re doing something right.  If you know any other small companies that do past size 24AU, please leave them in the comments.  Let’s show these companies that they are asking for our money and custom, they do not have the right to demand it.

And if you’re looking to start a plus-size clothing business, here’s a few hot tips for you:

  1. Size 12-24US is not special any more.  Don’t label yourself as unique or inclusive if this is all you do.
  2. Market up to your customers, not down to them.  If you want their custom and their money, treat them as valuable and they will reciprocate.
  3. Stick your neck out.  Don’t start at a 12 or a 1X.  If you can only afford a size range of 3 sizes, how about starting at size 3X and going to 6X and then expanding down later.  After all, it’s a bloody captive market, there’s FAR less competition out there for you if you do that than the 12/1x – 24/3x range.
  4. If you get questions or feedback, answer the questions, be honest and don’t take it personally.  If you turn it into a “You’re picking on me!” when people ask if you’re intending to expand your size range or say that they’re not willing to support a company that doesn’t cater to you, then you’ll lose ALL of your customers, not just the ones you are ignoring.  A simple “We are currently only offering to size 24″ would have been annoying, but fair enough.  “We are currently only offering to size 24, but hope to expand in the future.” would have been lovely.
  5. You are not doing anything new or offering options to someone you do not cater to.  Don’t piss on our legs and tell us it’s raining.

An Open Letter to Leona Edmiston

Published May 19, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Dear Leona,

Thank you.

No sincerely, thank you.  Two days ago, for the first time in my almost 40 years of life, I purchased three designer garments for myself.  And they were from your Leona+ line.

Now I had heard some time ago that you were extending some of your ranges into plus sizes, and I was absolutely thrilled.  I love the beautiful clothes you produce, the fabrics are always delicious, the prints gorgeous and the styles both beautiful and woman-body-friendly.  My boss rocks a Leona frock like nobody else, as a tall, slender woman and I’m always envious of the gorgeous prints and colours she has access to.  But I was dismayed to hear that they only went to about a size 20AU when I did some research.  Yet again I was feeling like I’d been slapped in the face and told “Not for you, you’re too fat for us to make anything for you, you deserve nothing.”

But recently some lovely fellow fatty friends on Twitter told me that there was a line in Myer that went up to an XL, which was about the equivalent of a size 24AU.  So, always looking for more clothing options, I went for a look, but wasn’t hopeful because I’m usually a size 26AU.  And lo and behold, there they were, on a sale rack – these mythical Leona Edmiston dresses that go up to a size XL.  I tried them on in an XL – and they fit my size 26AU body beautifully.  Like they were made for me.

I had to have them.  Being on sale, I could afford to splash out and get three.  It was a tough choice, but these are the ones I chose (apologies for the make-do photos, I haven’t worn them yet!):

The purple in it matches my hair perfectly.

Looks so cute with leggings or opaque tights and boots.

My favourite of the three – love these colours.

I also had a look at the new season stock which has just arrived, which instead of being sized in the S/M/L/XL method, actually has it’s sizes on it (14 or 16 to 24).  These look gorgeous as well, and I’ll be heading back when I’m ready for some more shopping to increase my Leona wardrobe.

But pretty dresses aside, I want to thank you for something very important to me as a fat woman.  I want to thank you for enabling me to participate.  While many people pooh-pooh fashion as frivolous and shallow, the reality is that in our culture, how we present ourselves, and how we participate amongst our peers is incredibly significant.  I have written before about the power of clothing and fashion to mark us as “other” in our society, when we are not able to participate in the fashions and cultural movements of our peers.  From feeling like we do not belong amongst general society, to experiencing workplace discrimination because are not able to dress ourselves as professionally or dynamically as our thin peers.

Like it or not, fat people are part of the community.  We have lives that we need clothes for.  We want to be able to express ourselves through fashion like everyone else.  And we also like to shop and spend the money that we earn on nice things.

So when a designer like you expands their range to include us, it enables us to participate culturally where we have not been allowed to before.

Now I know that this isn’t your primo designer range – this is a range that you have released with Myer.  But that’s ok – it’s an option that wasn’t there for us before.  Like your affordable Ruby range, it gives another group of women an option to participate in fashion and expressing themselves through style.

I hope that you continue to offer beautiful Leona Edmiston dresses to women of all sizes, even those of us at the upper end of the range.  I hope that sometime in the not-too-distant future you start showcasing this range on your website.  And I hope that you sell lots of these beautiful plus-sized dresses to fab fatties everywhere, and expand the range to more fabulous and fashionable colours, prints and styles.  We’re tired of hiding away in drab, shapeless, dark coloured clothes.  We want to be out there expressing our fabulous selves with up-to-date, on-trend fashions.

We want to participate.

Best wishes

Kath aka Fat Heffalump

Miss Piggy and Plus-Sized Fashion

Published November 8, 2011 by sleepydumpling

I’m pissed off and it’s because of Miss Piggy.

Well, not Miss Piggy herself.  Miss Piggy is fabulous and a perfect example of strong self esteem and a rocking attitude.  I mean seriously, what’s not to love about Miss Piggy right?

Look at her - fabulous!

No, what has me pissed off is the number of fashion designers clamouring to dress her.  From Prada to Marc Jacobs to Jason Wu, from Prabal Gurung to Brian Attwood, Suno and Opening Ceremony, a whole host of designers have got together to design Piggy a wardrobe for InStyle magazine’s November issue.

So Piggy looks awesome right, in all her high fashion.  Here, check out a few:

Miss Piggy in Prada

 

In Jason Wu

 

In Prabal Gurung

She looks fab right?

But aren’t designers always saying that they can’t design for fat bodies?  Aren’t they always saying that scaling things for bodies outside of a sample size is too difficult, that when you change the proportions of bodies, the clothes don’t translate?

Oh Marc Jacobs talked about it for awhile, around August last year (2010) there was a lot of press about how he was going to design for plus-sizes (his range currently goes to 16) but I’ve not seen any evidence of it yet.  But his clothing certainly does translate well in different proportions, check it out:

Marc Jacobs on Piggy and on the Runway.

Yep, I’m pissed off because designers (both high fashion and down through the chain) keep saying that their clothes don’t translate outside of sample sizing, but then they clamour to design for a puppet… that is a pig.  So they’ll fit Miss Piggy’s fat body, but not a human woman.

What the fuck?

You can’t tell me any of those outfits worn by Miss Piggy above would not translate to a plus-sized body.  After all, Miss Piggy IS a scaled down plus-size body.  Surely it’s harder to translate an outfit for a fat pig puppet of a couple of feet tall, than it is for a human woman of a similar height to the original sizes?

Of course, then there are those who say that making fabulous clothes for fat women is “promoting obesity”.  As if you can promote this shit.  As if you can promote being publicly vilified by the media, discriminated against by health care professionals, the workplace and airlines, being labelled as lazy, dirty, smelly, greedy, just because of the size of your body.  As if anyone who is not fat sees a fat woman in a fabulous outfit and goes “Wow!  I want to put on a whole heap of weight so I can wear her outfit!”  After all, I love the clothes Miss Piggy is wearing in the photos above, but I’m not going to go out and have a snout grafted onto my nose to look like her, am I?

I think the real reason that many designers don’t design for fat women is simply because they are repulsed by us and don’t want their brand name associated with people that repulses them.  I wish they’d have the guts to just say that, instead of couching it in concern for our health (yeah right, as if they’re concerned for the health of the scores of young women starving themselves to fit into their tiny sizes), or pretending that it’s not possible at all to design clothes for fat bodies, or by suggesting that if they do, their thin customers are all going to rush out and gain weight so that they can wear a larger size.

The next time a designer says they can’t design for a plus-size body, I want someone out there to ask them to design for Miss Piggy and see if they take it up.  Because to me, it’s a fairly clear indicator of their attitude towards fat women if they’ll design for a fat pig puppet but not a fat human being.

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