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.