Plus-Size Clothing Retailers Take Note – Positivity Makes Money!

Published December 5, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

As part of the + Plus-Size Plus + campaign I’m working on to improve the variety, quality and price of plus-sized clothing options from major chain retailers in Australia.  I’m focusing on the major chain retailers like Target, Big W, KMart, Myer, David Jones, City Chic, My Size, Autograph Fashion and the like because these are huge companies with a lot of buying power, and they’re the places the most plus-sized women go to first for their clothing needs.  Those retailers are the most prevalent, offer a range of price points that cover the broadest range of Australian women’s incomes, and in being the biggest companies, have the most room to give.  I believe they also have an obligation to their customers to offer ALL of their customers an equal range, prices and quality, not just the straight sized ones.

One thing I’ve been doing as I think about ways to go about this, is read the social media pages of these retailers.  Some of them don’t have any presence at all in a plus-sized clothing retailer capacity, but the specialists like City Chic, Autograph Fashion and MySize all have Facebook pages and I follow them all.  One thing I really notice is that every time one of them posts, most of the comment threads dissolve very quickly into a whole lot of body loathing.  It only takes one or two comments until the “flattering” concept comes up (usually a big old bun fight about whether plus-size retailers should bother selling sleeveless clothes) and then ends up with a mix of “We fat women shouldn’t wear *insert garment feature here*.” or “I really like that but I could never wear something that bares my *insert body part here*.”

This got me thinking about the marketing we see from plus-size retailers, the language they use about the bodies of their customers and how they could change their marketing to really encourage women to enjoy wearing clothes/fashion, which I believe would encourage women to BUY more clothes/fashion.

What I would really like to see, is one of these retailers be brave enough to come up with a truly body positive, empowering marketing campaign for their products.  Instead of playing on the whole “flattering” concept, and tiptoeing around the fact that their customers have fat bodies, how about a campaign that focuses on raising the self esteem of their customers?  Here’s what I’d like to see a plus-size clothing retailer do:

  • Get rid of the euphemisms.  No more crap about “real women” and curves/voluptuous and all of those things.  Just call themselves plus-size clothing retailers and focus on selling plus-sized clothing.  I know they can’t/won’t use the word “fat”, but let’s stop with the euphemisms that imply shame for being plus-sized.  Let’s stop pretending that your customers are not plus-sized/fat.
  • Focus on positive body messages.   Fabulous fashion for fabulous women.  Love your body, put our clothes on it.  Be confident in our fashion.  Gorgeous you, gorgeous clothes.  Messages like this.  No more talk of “flattering”.
  • Use models who actually look like the women who will be buying the product.  Let’s face it, most size 14 or 16 women, while they are catered for in these stores, don’t shop there.  You can get size 14 and 16 and sometimes 18 in quite a few straight size sections.  There are a lot of women in a size 14 and 16 who are not even going to go near a plus-size section.  The plus-size retailers are catering to those of us who cannot buy from the straight-sizes at all.  How about some models with bodies that look like ours?  Often the models they use are not even plus-sized at all.  UK blogger Lauren from Pocket Rocket Fashion has done posts this week on the topic (here and here).  I shared the first post on + Plus-sizes Plus + and the response I got back was that women want to see what clothes look like on bodies similar to their own.
  • Seeing women that look like we do is only going to make us feel better about ourselves in the long term.  Especially if these women are depicted as fashionable, happy, fun and glamorous.
  • Value your customers, understand what they want, treat them like they’re special (after all, they’re giving you their money and keeping you in business, that makes them VERY special) and understand that they have different needs to straight-sized customers, but want the same experiences.

Can you imagine how awesome, and how radical, a marketing campaign that promoted body love, self esteem and positive representations of their actual customers (rather than “aspirational” representations that would never actually purchase the stock) would be?  Particularly from a major chain retailer?  How many women would be empowered and inspired to enjoy dressing and fashion and shopping?

I know that’s a company I would want to give my money to.

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26 comments on “Plus-Size Clothing Retailers Take Note – Positivity Makes Money!

  • Actually, quite a few tall size 14-16 women shop at those stores at least some of the time because they can get the leg and sleeve length they need. When I was a size 14 on the top half and 18 on the bottom half, I certainly shopped at My Size and Autograph/1626 because of my long arms and legs. Additionally, my small top and waist/big belly and big legs shape was often not suited to straight size shops: even though I could fit into the clothes they looked terrible.

    This doesn’t change your point about the models – if anything, it strengthens the case for diversity – but I don’t want to see an actual group of plus-size shoppers left out.

    • I’m not saying that no size 14-16 women shop at plus-size stores lilacsgil, just that when the options are there for them in straight sizes, of course they’re going to opt for that first. If they can avoid plus-size clothing, they will and do. And who can blame them?

      • Yes, obviously they would opt for the better prices, better fabric, greater options in location and style and better service! I’m not arguing that at all.

        But positivity should be inclusive, not exclusive – if plus size clothing was better (like, say, Igigi in the US, one place where I don’t see just smaller sizes left in sales) of course the sales racks wouldn’t be left with tons of the smaller sizes and women running away from these shops if they possibly can! It would be a good destination!

        • Never did I suggest that positivity shouldn’t be inclusive. If plus-sized clothing were on par with straight sized clothing, then we’d have a different story on our hands. But it’s not, and I’m aiming to address those who have NO choice first, and that then transfers on to those who do have more options. Everybody wins in the long term.

          Ultimately I would like to see no segregation of sizes. I’d like to see the complete range all together, offered without compartmentalising any point on the spectrum. But that is a long way off I think, so I’m working on those with little to no options but what is already there.

  • If I saw that type of positive marketing, I would definitely want to visit that store. ESPECIALLY if the marketing included the models (who look like me) being happy and glamorous, looking like women I want to be.

    • Exactly! It drives me nuts that they equate “aspirational” with “thin”. Instead, maybe we aspire to look good, feel good, have nice clothes and accessories, enjoy a shopping experience… all the things that straight sizes have at their fingertips.

  • We need to strongly convince the people in charge of the plus-size brands that we want this, every time I’ve seen an interview or comment from one of them it’s “oh but we always get complaints if we don’t use thinner models”. Oh yeah, from who? The focus group IN YOUR MIND?

    I’d love to see more encouragement for plus-size designers in fashion design schools too. Perhaps plus-size retailers could offer scholarships or other support and incentives?

    • I think they get complaints from people who aren’t actually fat. The fat haters don’t think we should be seen ANYWHERE.

      I love your idea of scholarships or other schemes to designers in fashion design schools!

    • @ MadamQ…I like your suggestion to encourage our young designers to think plus size clothing. I also think that Fashion Institutes need to hire teachers who understand how to make patterns for plus size women. We are everywhere – teachers, students, parents, principals, etc.

  • I totally agree. Even though I don’t follow fashion I still read fatshion blogs just because of the mood lift I get from seeing women with bodies similar to mine looking good and enjoying their lives. If a plus size retailer used similar images in their marketing I would love it. Not to mention how useful it would be to get a better idea of how the clothes would look on me instead of a size 14 model whose proportions are in line with the dominant beauty paradigm.

    • Even if you’re not a follower of fashion, you still need to buy clothes right? So every woman needs to see positive representations of women with bodies like hers, and hear positive messages about her self worth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that with models that actually looked something more like us?

  • I’ve been to two blog conferences in the US this year where plus size retailers are struggling to address exactly those questions. A major portion of discussions with “Just My Size” revolved around “what should we call you?”

    KMart/Sears/Macys has started to roll out improvements due this spring in the US, and I know that City Chic and PlusSizeFix have established US stores just because so many US residents were buying from them regardless of exchange cost.

    Definitely raise your voice on this, and look closely at the social media interaction. At least two retailers openly admitted that social media confuses them horribly, so pointing out ways to make it work for them would also be useful.

    • Oh believe me, my voice is being raised! I’m working with one retailer at the moment to let them know what issues I’m finding and where I think what they are currently doing is problematic. I hope to add more to it down the track.

      Personally I’m happy to be called “fat” but I know that the average fat woman isn’t the same. Plus-sized is good and clear and doesn’t seem to upset people like other terms do. So long as we’re not going back to “big and hefty”!

  • Never did I suggest that positivity shouldn’t be inclusive

    I’m not saying you did, and I’m sorry if the way I phrased it made it sound that way! I think the whole idea is very inclusive and should remain so.

  • It is a delicate issue for most women, because most fat women are ashamed of being fat. I can understand why retailers are perplexed. A store named Torrid opened for business in the US some years ago (selling larger clothing to a younger crowd), and there was a great deal of public anger directed at that. Imagine fat teens wanting to look good! Why, they should waddle around in polyester garbage bags! Otherwise, you’re just encouraging them to stay fat! The sad thing is that so many fat people feel that way too, and how do you sell nice clothes to someone who feels she should wear ugly cheap shapeless ill-fitting garments until she loses lots of weight?
    My favorite plus-size clothing ads are the ones that show fat people doing cool things and enjoying life. Perhaps a woman in a business suit giving a presentation or defending a client in court. A woman in an elegant dress flirting at a cocktail lounge. A woman wearing exercise gear engaged in a sport or riding a bicycle.
    About the too-small models – this is not a problem unique to us. It occurs in straight sizes too.

    • Ahh Torrid, how I fell in love with you when I was in the US! Torrid seemed the most fat positive of the actual stores when I was in the US. They had funky music, modern styles, really friendly, outgoing staff, and none of that “Let’s not actually mention that your fat m’dear, hmmm?” kind of marketing that a lot of the others seem to have. It was by far the most fun shopping environment and I really went on the hunt for good plus-size clothing when I was over there.

      Oh yeah, the old “glorifying obesity” argument. Heard that one before!

  • I totally agree with what you said here:

    “I believe they also have an obligation to their customers to offer ALL of their customers an equal range, prices and quality, not just the straight sized ones.”

    It’s about combining a stock of trendy fashions with mature plus size clothing for women so that women of all ages and sizes can find what they’re looking for.

    [Unauthorised advertising link removed]

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