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Melbourne Fashion Week Plus – The Political

Published September 11, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

What a whirlwind 10 days I had in Melbourne for Melbourne Fashion Week Plus (MFW+).  I think I’m still reeling a bit from just how full on it was, I know I’m still processing a lot of the feelings that bubbled up during the entire week.  I’m going to split my rundown of the week into two posts, this first one is going to talk about the politics and my own feelings about the event, and then I’ll follow up with the pretty fashions later, because I’m still putting together the photos and videos I took – I took a LOT!

I’m going to cover a lot in this post, so strap yourself in for a bit of a long read!

I had a lot of really intense feelings about being invited as a special guest to MFW+, mostly for two pivotal reasons.  Firstly because I’m not a fashion blogger in any stretch of the imagination – I love clothes, and expressing myself through the way I dress.  I love colour and texture and shape and I love the way putting an outfit on can make me feel.  But my focus as a fat activist is changing the way that fat people are both perceived and treated.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe clothing and fashion are important in fat politics – after all, access to suitable clothing is important to be part of society and because fashion and clothing can be really empowering, especially to those of us who have been denied access.  But to be invited and supported by MWF+ as an activist to be part of the event, knowing that they wanted my very political, feminist, fat active perspective to be included in the event means a lot to me.

Secondly, because despite being an almost 44 year old badass angry fat bitch who takes no shit from anyone, there is still deep inside me that heartbroken teenage girl who sobbed into her pillow because the popular girls had laughed at her and told her that she had no place even trying to wear nice clothes, because fat girls should never be seen and would never be as cool as thin girls.  There is still that tiny kernel of her in there and the thought of attending an event full of fashionistas, even be they fat ones, brought on a massive bout of imposter syndrome.  Even though I know rationally that it really matters nothing in the scheme of things in my life, those feelings are deeply formative and there’s still that moment of “All the popular girls are going to turn their noses up at me.”

The reality is, they didn’t (well, the vast majority of them didn’t, I did spot a couple of noses in the air though!) and the rational part of my brain is strong enough to remind me that I honestly don’t give a fuck!

So I flew down on the Saturday before the soft launch started and stayed a couple of days with the lovely Sonya Krzywoszyja (aka GannetGuts) and her famous kitty Dodge, who is now my BFF (best furry friend) who got me completely addicted to Melbourne coffee within 24 hours and was with me when a lovely woman in Brunswick stopped me in the street to tell me how much she had loved my appearance on You Can’t Ask That.  You haven’t lived until you see someone literally drop their phone with a “OMG gotta go bye!” and stop you in the street!  (Waves to Sarah, if you happen to read this – you made my day!)  We were on our way to the soft launch of MFW+ when that happened, and it was the first of many times I was recognised in Melbourne.  Both from within the fat community and from random people on the street – or in candy shops – I walked into a shop and the young woman behind the counter went “OMG YOU WERE ON TV!!”  It’s a really weird feeling but it’s so lovely to get some positive responses to my work instead of the usual garbage that hits my inbox!

It was wonderful to be able to actually speak to some of the designers and other people from the brands who were involved with MFW+.  I am sure some of them didn’t expect to have a middle-aged pink-haired mega fatty bending their ear on how the industry is failing so many of it’s customers.  But I wasn’t there to build people’s egos, I was there to agitate for change!  There is some amazing stuff happening with plus-size fashion in Australia, but there are also some really horrible gaps in the market that are ignoring the customers who have the most at stake when it comes to finding clothes that are suitable and desirable for their bodies.

One of the best experiences for me for the whole week was the panel I was lucky enough to be on, Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies.  Not only were my fellow panelists Sarah Harry and Meagan Kerr amazing women who approach fat activism from different perspectives but similar politics to me, but the general atmosphere of the event was incredible.  Several women came up to me after the panel and told me that they were amazed to feel welcome and included in a fashion event.  This is what we should always strive for – to right the wrongs of mainstream fashion, starting with inclusivity.

Meagan Kerr, Sarah Harry and myself at the Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies panel.

Meagan Kerr, Sarah Harry and myself at the Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies panel.

I’m a firm believer that not only can we be better at inclusive and ethical fashion, but we already are.  That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement – there’s a lot of room for improvement.  But I do see that fat fashion is willing to question where our clothes come from, who they are accessible to, who made them, who is making money from the customer and why some customers are left out.  We’ve taken more steps towards building a more equitable industry.

There are two areas that we do have a lot of work to be done though.  Size representation and affordability.

Unfortunately way too many “plus-size” brands are excluding the larger sizes still.   There is no valid excuse for this.  I hear a lot of brands say they want to expand into larger sizes, but the truth is that brands should be STARTING with the larger sizes.  This is the most under-represented demographic and a clientele that is clamouring for options.  Want to jump ahead from the competition?  Provide what your competition isn’t providing.  It was dispiriting to see so many brands at MFW+ who simply do not cater to my size, a 26/28AU.  The few who did really stood out and they have a captive audience of women who literally have almost no other options.

I know the MFW+ team worked really hard to find brands that both included larger sizes and would use models over a size 16, and that there are simply very few out there.  The thing I want to say to all of these brands who refuse to cater to larger sizes is that you’re not doing anything revolutionary by creating a plus-size range that only goes to 20 or 22.  There are so many brands doing that, just in Australia alone from all kinds of types of fashion and price points.  Size 16 or 18 or 20 is in no way cutting edge, revolutionary or radical.  It’s the status quo and it’s incredibly disappointing that so many of you do not have the courage to step up and do something really radical, which is create beautiful clothes for larger fat women.

Affordability is the next issue.  Now this isn’t a criticism of the brands who are providing quality clothes at a good range of sizes directly – they’re needed.  We need premium product.  But the issue is, we also need product from ALL price points – and that means high end fashion as well as a range of budget options.  As much as I would love to throw down $300 – $400 on a dress, it’s simply not possible.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have premium product out there – it means we need the diversity that is available in straight sizes.

I guess that is what it all boils down to – diversity.  Diversity of style, diversity of size, diversity of price point, diversity of range (ie everything from activewear to formal wear and all in between!)  Until we see diversity, the plus-size market is failing it’s customer.

The second panel on the Sunday was an industry one, comprised of brands and the head of a model management company.  I’m not going to name names, but frankly it was SO frustrating to have the head of the model company speaking over all of the designers, pushing to “drop the plus” and crowing that she was a “proud size 16” who wants to get rid of the labels, without acknowledging the reality that larger women do not have the options she does.  All of the brand reps there mentioned that they couldn’t get professional models over a size 20 and that they mostly sourced amateur ones to use, and the woman from the model company kept saying that no brand wanted models over a size 20, and then when the brands said they do, she told them that they should use “professional models because they’re so much better”.  That would be the professional models you don’t have because you say they won’t get work, forcing the brands to use amateur ones.   Frankly I was glad when the panel was over so we didn’t have to listen to her voice any more.  I felt deeply for the other panelists and for the panel chair!  I was so glad to be sitting next to the delightful Kobi Jae of Horror Kitsch Bitch so we could groan in frustration together!

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I mean, damn, look how cute we are! #SpaceChips

And then of course, there were the runways, with all those fashions.  I had so many feels.  While yes, it is disappointing and frustrating to be excluded from so many brands because they refuse (or consider it too hard) to cater to my size, there is something incredibly powerful about seeing fat bodies walking down a runway.  MFW+ worked like hell to get a diverse range of bodies down that runway, and while I know they got considerable resistance from some brands, to see women with bodies that looked like mine, or shared some of the features of mine was so powerful.  Round tummies, thick thighs, dimples, wide hips, big boobs, round faces… they were all gorgeous!  It felt so good!  All of the models, professional and street style, did an amazing job and kudos to the MFW+ team for their hard work to really make a difference.

So there you have it, a rundown of my thoughts on the political side of Melbourne Fashion Week Plus.  I am still working all on my photos and videos of the runways so I can share with you the actual fashion, but it’s important to talk about the way that plus-size fashion is changing the world and the way fat women can represent themselves.