Getting it Right; Getting it Wrong

Published April 4, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

How can two companies, both owned by the same mega company, both basically in the same business, have such wildly polarised modes of customer service?   If you don’t know, Autograph Fashion and City Chic are owned by the same company, Specialty Fashion Group.  They’re like big sister and little sister of the same company.  Both are plus-size clothing retailers.  Both are Australian based companies.  Both have an online arm of their business, that will sell overseas.  I don’t know how cross pollinated their staff are (ie whether head office actually covers both brands), but you think there’d be at least some communication across the organisation.

But it seems not.

Both retailers have a Facebook page (City Chic/Autograph), and post pictures of their up-coming stock to the page, where people comment on it.

However, how each company responds is vastly different.

When there were lots of women leaving comments on the Autograph page that they wanted sleeves, Autograph responded with a pre-run search link to all of their tops, tunics and dresses with sleeves.  When there were lots of women saying that they wished that Autograph would style their outfit shots more than to just put a model in the dress and photograph her in front of a white background, Autograph changed their images.

From this:

Lovely model, shows the dress, but a quite dull.  To this:

Styled hair, styled make-up, interesting background, nice lighting, some accessorising.

When the posters on Autographs page responded that they would like more fashionable, modern clothes, Autograph responded.  They introduced cute boots* (someone mentioned wide calf boots on their Facebook wall some time ago too), new styles, some more colour.

When I wrote a blog post critiquing the frumpy nature of a particular season’s clothes, Autograph contacted me, and as you probably know, have been amazing sending me products to review.  I know myself that in the past six months or so, I’ve gone from wearing Autograph clothes that look like this:

Which is from the first parcel of stuff they sent me, to this:

This is from their current stock, a lovely big parcel of such they sent me last week – both those boots and the top/dress I am wearing are available right now.  Let me just tell you, the boots are so bloody comfortable I tromped around in them all day (I haven’t worn ANY heel for almost two years) running through our biggest library with a vendor, walking up to the shops at lunch time, all over the place, and I wasn’t in any hurry to take them off when I got home.  And that top is lined in the bodice which makes it drape so beautifully, and is made of the lushest, soft, weighty knit fabric.  I’m not just saying that because they sent it to me for free either.  I promise, if they send me anything that sucks, I’ll tell you.

When people complained that their fabrics were thin, lost shape and clung in all the wrong ways, Autograph stopped stocking them and have moved to much nicer (and really soft) fabrics like the top above.

The list goes on.  Autograph are listening, they talk TO their customers (as best they can around the ones that one can never make happy at any time) and they make changes when people speak up.

Which brings us to City Chic.  I’ve never seen City Chic respond on Twitter to a negative comment.  They’ve only re-tweeted the positive ones.  City Chic post their stock on Facebook, and when people complain about their high prices… nothing is said.  When people say they’d like garments that they can wear a proper plus-sized bra of ugliness under without it being exposed, City Chic respond “Well, buy a shrug.” (I don’t want a shrug, I want a garment that fits my body and my underwear properly, and besides, I live in BRISBANE).  When customers said their prices were too high, they ignored it, and their prices have got even higher.

Well the straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back happened over the weekend.  When someone noticed on Friday that City Chic had quietly dropped any garments over a size 22 from their website, word travelled pretty quick.  By Friday night, there were several posts on their Facebook page exclaiming dismay at this.  They ignored it all weekend.  By this morning, a lot of people were talking about it, on their Facebook page, on Twitter, on Tumblr and various other places.  There were a lot of angry fatties out there, making it very clear that they were offended at City Chic removing the upper range of plus sizes.  Along with a lot that spoke up and said that their sizing was shoddy as it is, smaller than standard and a fit that doesn’t work for many bodies.

Instead of engaging with their customers quickly Friday afternoon, or even over the weekend (we just saw posts bragging about how they were off to London), they let it brew up, until this afternoon, when they responded with what I feel is a somewhat snarky post.  It’s long, and you can see it here. (You may have to “like” the page – it’s really long so I can’t share it here).  Basically it says that we considered our sizing and because you fatty fat fats didn’t buy enough of our stuff at full price, we cut out the upper sizing.  Perhaps City Chic need to have a wee think about just why people aren’t buying their stock at full price.  Perhaps full price is over priced.  Perhaps their sizing is wrong.  Perhaps their fits are wrong.  Perhaps the garment quality is not good enough (the three garments I bought from them some years ago when they still had some size 26 pieces fell apart very quickly).  Perhaps the styles can’t be worn successfully with a size 24 or above bra under them… the list goes on.

What really galled me is their admission that they use a size 16 fit model.  What??  A size 16 fit model for a range that was going up to size 24??  Ok, find someone who you know is a size 16.  Now look at my body in the picture above.  What the hell are they thinking to use a size 16 fit model for the upper range of plus sizes???  There is a positive plethora of differences of shape and proportion between a size 16 body and a size 26 body (and all sizes in between).  A smart company would have two fit models, or even three for plus sizes, because they vary so much more than straight sizes do.

I actually emailed them on Friday afternoon and left some constructive criticism (and an expression of dismay) at their cutting off their sizes at size 22, and how their clothes were poor construction/overpriced/cheap fabrics/sized strangely.  Guess what I got in response today?  The explanation that they posted on Facebook, cut and pasted into an email.

Great customer service huh?

All this, PLUS I discover that they go to size US28 (about a size 32Aus) and offer cheaper prices to customers in the US.  But customers in their own country don’t get that, oh no.

As I say to all plus-size retailers that I give criticism to – I want to give them my money.  I want to become a loyal customer who tells everyone how awesome they are.  I want to spend too much money on their clothes and complain I’m broke.  I want to hang about their shop on a twice weekly basis, annoying their staff asking when the new stock they’ve been advertising on Facebook comes in.  I want people to see me with their shopping bags, to ask me where I got that cute top/dress/boots/pants/skirt.  I want my straight sized friends to say “Damn, I wish those fit me!”  Again, I want to give them my money.  And lots of it.

But they don’t seem to want me to do those things.  They don’t want to size clothes to my body, they don’t want to provide clothes that last, or are of pleasant fabrics, and the certainly don’t want to offer a price that is reasonable for the product they are selling.  It is very, very clear they don’t want my  money.

So until they prove that they DO in fact want my money, I’m going to give that money, and praise, and word-of-mouth advertising to companies who do.  Like Autograph Fashion**.  Who LISTEN to their customers, make attempts to make them happy, and acknowledge that their customers include those who are very fat, and that they need to create clothes that adequately fit those very fat bodies.

City Chic – learn from your big sister.  She has much to teach you.

* City Chic have almost the same boots as the tall riding boot from Autograph.  Autograph’s cost $99.99.  City Chic have them at, wait for it… $299.95
**I hate having to add this caveat, but there has been a very vocal claim that I am “selling out” by praising Autograph because they send me free products.  If Autograph get it wrong, I am going to say so, free products or not.  Just as loudly as I call City Chic out here.

24 comments on “Getting it Right; Getting it Wrong

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one that found there responce a little snarky! It really is hard to believe that in the end they are owned by the same company when each are oh so differnt behind the scenes. I occasionally go into Autograph to have a squizzy, a year ago you’d find the odd awesome piece of clothing. I went in on the weekend and could have walked out with half a dozen items. They have taken the time to listen and they will be rewarded for it. I’m rather disappointed in CC and this whole fiasco. A size 16 fit model is crazy, one of the reason why I think ASOS Curve did well is because they did bring in a fit model to change there already existing designs in a way to cater to larger ladies. I know I’ve certainly tried on things I’ve loved on the hanger but just did not transfer well onto my body and I’m generally a size 22!

    • I have had a few people tell me that they thought the response was snarky too. Certainly made me cringe.

      Yes, when they make a size 22 the largest size, even those of you who usually fit into a 22 are hit, because if something is cut wrong, a poor fit or sized slightly off, it’s out of league for you too.

  • Normally I wouldn’t chime in, but it seems that they’re just making an excuse to aid their brand separation, moving city-chic to try to appeal more to the mainstream, young, “in denial” girls, while pushing larger sizes to their other brands.

    Size 24 is my best selling size, and in my survey size 22 was the peak of the bell curve. Also my data is online based and biased, but the correlations shouldn’t be that severely different should they?

    • I think that this is actually replicated in City Chic stores. I’m a 22 in tops and 24 in pants and whenever I go to CC for a top – since hey, you’re almost too fat even for the fat store! – it can often be a struggle to find tops in my size because they’re almost always sold out. Conversely, they have tonnes of stuff left on the racks in sizes 14 – 16 since whose really going to pay such ridiculous prices for clothes that are, quite frankly, poorly-made and over-priced, when there are still a fair number of options out there for them?

      More than anything this proves that CC are clearly not looking at who comes into their stores (either online or in person) since if they had ANY idea they’d realize that, if anything, they should be sizing up instead of down.

    • I think you could be on to something Timothy. Sadly it excludes swathes of younger women who are a) larger than a size 22, b) want to be fashionable and youthful in style as their peers and c) could be well cashed up and wanting to spend.

      From what I see in stores that do go from 14/16 up to 26 or beyond, size 20 and 22 are usually the first gone, with the sale racks always holding the smallest sizes in multiples, while maybe 1 or 2 at 24/26.

  • Just for the record, this is one American who buys almost all her clothes by mail order & I would not buy anything from City Chic..ever. I can find clothes I Like which fit in quite a few different places, & I am damned if I will ever again give my money to those who do not respect me & make an effort to listen to the customer base & provide what we really want & need.

  • When they had a big sale not too long ago, I wanted to buy something but couldn’t find anything in my size (US 26.) So they didn’t get my money. Maybe my money doesn’t spend? I don’t know. Sad, though.

  • We have the same problem in the United States with Charming Shoppes and their Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, and Catherine’s stores. Lane Bryant used to carry sizes up to 5x/6x in tops/dresses and had 2 different catalogs (one for the store, and one for online only, the online catalog had items that weren’t in the stores). Now, LB carries nothing over a 3X in tops/dresses, and I don’t know if their online catalog carries anything that’s in the store now because I can’t shop LB for anything, they don’t carry anything to fit me. Fashion Bug has gone the same way as far as sizing goes – they carry up to a 4X (a small 4X at that), but at least their catalog stock is pretty much the same as their store stock, if it hasn’t all sold out. Catherine’s has been called the “old lady’s” store of the 3 for years, it’s had a reputation for being where your mother/grandmother would shop as far as the styles they carry. However, they are updating their styles somewhat (I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on tops I’ve bought from Catherine’s, and those compliments came from women much younger than my 57 years of age). At least Catherine’s carries sizes up to 5X, and 6X in some things.
    Lane Bryant seems to want the smaller, hipper, richer fats shopping there, Fashion Bug wants the smaller, hipper, not-so-rich fats shopping there, and Catherine’s seems to want most fats shopping there as long as they can afford the clothes (and I only ever shop the clearance racks or the tops with the Perfect Price, which range from $14.99 to $28.99). The funny thing is, from what I’ve read in the news, LB and FB have had sales drop off a bit in this recession we’re in, but Catherine’s sales have stayed steady or grown a wee bit. Wonder why that is (said with tongue firmly in cheek)?

  • wow! your post got me sooo mad!!! I just ordered from city chic for the first time ever 2 weeks ago, and it was only because of a big sale they had. Before that their clothes have always been just completely out of my price range, even though most of their clothes aren’t THAT amazing or different from what I can buy at say Forever21, except that Forever21 goes up to a size 20 AT BEST, and I don’t know if they are available outside the U.S.

    • Forever 21, like most US brands, are unaffordable for Australian shoppers due to the massive shipping charges. Unless I can go in a group order, I can’t justify buying from them (or Torrid).

      • US stores that offer international shipping are notoriously highly priced with their shipping. Torrid charges $77 for a parcel to Australia. I KNOW it doesn’t cost that, I have a friend who works for UPS and business accounts can get amazing deals on bulk shipping. $77!! I can buy three or four items of clothing on sale from brick and mortar stores for that!!

  • Oh my goodness!! You totally and completely ROCK that leopard print top AND manage to shatter the comments of all the people on the FB page that fat women shouldn’t/can’t pull that off. It looks so great on you and it is so wonderful to see it on someone my size. Those boots are fab as well, thanks for this post!

    • Thank you hon! I am so in love with that top, it’s cute and fits me well, AND it’s really soft, lovely fabric. I have another dress I wore today that I have a photo of me in, I’ll have to put it up soon.

  • CC really doesn’t seem to care about the frustrations of their customers, especially those that wear a size 24 and up, do they?

    Lane Bryant, like Vesta said, also seems to be abandoning shoppers who wear a 26 and up, and especially those that wear a bra size beyond 48 DDD. I told a sales clerk in one store when she mentioned the “buy one bra get one free” sale that I can’t buy bras anymore in their stores since they don’t carry extended sizes. (I now have to wear a 44H in their bras and since I haven’t gained any more excess weight, I believe they have made their bras smaller). Naturally, the clerk responded with “you can buy online,” and I told her I have to try on bras before buying. Their online selection isn’t good either—most of the bras in F, G, and H are either sold out or carried in only one style. I’ve actually had more success, clothing wise, at Lane Bryant Outlet, which carries more 26/28 and stocks the basic pieces the regular stores won’t, like solid tops and tunics.

    There’s an assumption that deathfat women don’t want to shop for clothes because they’re ashamed of their size and they’re too poor to do so. That may be the case for some, but not for me. I love to shop and when I have disposable income (which isn’t a lot of times) I buy clothes. I think CC and other stores who want to ignore an entire population of fat shoppers should consider other reasons why extended sizes aren’t selling, and I think most of it has to do with them, not the shoppers, considering every place else it seems 26 and up always sells out first.

    • There are pages, and pages and pages of complaints on their Facebook page, and not just about the sizing, and they do not acknowledge any of them. I was looking last night and was completely astonished at the number of complaints and that none of them have been acknowledged.

      It’s a terrible stereotype if they’re thinking that Super Fats don’t want to shop and feel good about shopping and spend their money. One only needs to Google plus-size fashion blogs to see how many Super Fats there are out there shopping, blogging and participating in fashion – and for each of those bloggers, there are HUNDREDS of everyday women who wish to do the same.

  • Am I being too cynical or is this partly to do with the insane thinking “if we make the clothes ugly/unaffordable fat women will lose weight”?? I mean “plus size” stores have known for years about these issues and things are getting worse not better (granted Autograph has improved). I read somewhere fairly recently an argument that stores catering to fat women should cease to exist as they make it easier for fat women to stay fat. How f’ing disgusting is that??? Wish I could remember where I read it – might have been that stupid biatch SO’B?. On another note – I got the brown riding boots from Autograph too and they are awesome!

    • Found it! Different IP meant it went to the moderation queue for verification.

      I think that was Susie O’Brien. Sounds like she’d prefer us to all go around naked. She wants to see our fat in it’s natural state, woohoo! We should all send her photos of nude fatties.

      I think some stores are getting better, and we’re certainly seeing more independents and the web shopping opening up. In the past 5-10 years I’ve certainly seen my own options expand considerably. I used to have the choice of Target, Big W and K-Mart. Now at least here in Australia there are a few plus-size retailers (even if CC fails terribly, MySize, MaggieT and Myer are overpriced and boring – at least they EXIST). That doesn’t factor in the online shopping I now have available to me.

      I don’t think it’s as dire as shoddy clothes being a weight loss incentive, I think it’s a complete lack of understanding of their customers. They feel a certain way about how fat women should dress, and therefore they think fat women will feel that about themselves. That’s where the major gulf is.

  • I was reading your blog at work today and posted a reply – but it isn’t here. Did I say something wrong?

    • No Janine – not sure what happened to your comment. I saw an email saying there was one, but it’s not here? I’ll tinker around with WP and see if I can find it.

  • Hey there – thanks for seeking out my post. I agree with you – it’s probably not as dire as I said – have been having a few down days so that probably clouded things. Meant to say before – that outfit looks great!!

  • This is a really interesting post, and thank you for bringing this to my attention. I had never heard of Autograph Fashion before but will probably check them out.

    I’m a Canadian and have actually just recently placed my first two orders at City Chic. I was pretty impressed with the prices, because I bought everything on sale, but their sizes are so strange like you said. I am an 18-20 but bought most things in the XL/22 size and still things weren’t the best. Also, although their size chart says they go to a 4XL/28 US I’ve never actually seen anything on the site do so, most stops at the XL, but as this fits small, it’s more like an 18-20. This kind of thing makes me so angry.

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