LARGE ASSETS, BIGGER PROFITS | Natalie in the City - A Chicago Plus Size Fashion Blog, by Natalie Craig
Natalie in the City - A Chicago Plus Size Fashion Blog, by Natalie Craig

A PLUS SIZE LIFE + STYLE BLOG

December 19, 2014

LARGE ASSETS, BIGGER PROFITS

The highest-earning plus size supermodel in the fashion industry is known by one name—not her first or last, just "Emme."The 51-year-old made her way into the fashion industry in the 1990s, when ultra-thin airbrushed models graced the covers of fashion magazines, advertisements and runways. 

Although the experience was exciting for Emme, she was not immune to prejudice: a famous photographer referred to her as a "fatty" during a photo shoot. After feeling second best compared to her thinner model counterparts, Emme went on to host TV shows, write books and helm a sportswear line through QVC. She recently teamed up with alma matter, Syracuse University, to launch "Fashion Without Limits," a program that encourages fashion design students to create clothes for plus-size women.

“It’s the beginning of changing the face of fashion so that all new designers that graduate will have their hands on size 2, 4 and 6 forms as well as 16, 18 and 20 [dress] forms so that they are comfortable with seeing beautiful apparel and fashion on all women,” Emme said. “It has to start with the designer.”

Emme is still the most visible face in the plus-size world, but she’s no longer alone. A new generation of models, designers, bloggers and retailers are devoted to making cutting edge fashion accessible to women whose bodies more closely resemble Adele than Taylor Swift—the overwhelming majority of women, according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They are making significant strides in gaining a media presence and a foothold in upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as “fast fashion” retailers such as H&M, Forever 21 and Wet Seal. However, prejudice in the world of couture still holds fast.

denise bidot, marie denee, the curvy fashionista, nadia aboulhosn, plus size fashion blogger, fashion industry, plus size fashion industry, Emme, super model, dale noelle, alexandra boos, Michael kaplan, Lane bryant, eloquii, jodi arnold, fashion to figure, mortimer singer, traub associates, apparel, clothing, fatshion, the columbia chronicle, natalie craig, journalist, natalie in the city

---- Read the full article written by Natalie Craig and designed by Andrea Cannon for The Columbia Chronicle featuring models Denise Bidot, Alexandra Boos, Dale Noelle and Emme as well as fashion bloggers Nadia Aboulhosn and Marie Denee, below or here: Large assets, bigger profits: Plus-size women, clothing, bloggers, fight to fit into the fashion industry ----
Plus sizes start at a size 12 and extend to a size 24, sometimes including size 26, designating anything below a size 12 as straight sizes. The first retailer to recognize this market was Lane Bryant, a women’s clothing store founded in 1904 by Lena Bryant. Their advertisements featured full-figured women—described at the time as “stout”—wearing their clothes. The brand continues to be an industry leader. Following Lena Bryant’s legacy is her grandson, Michael Kaplan, the CEO and co-founder of Fashion to Figure, an online plus-size women’s clothing store. 

Another influential online retailer is Eloquii, originally launched by The Limited and now privately owned. Plus-size women have been underrepresented in the industry for years, said Jodi Arnold, Eloquii’s creative director and vice president of design. Fashions can remain static because retail backers may think plus-size women don’t want to show off their bodies with intricate designs and bright colors, which contributes to the lack of variety in plus-size clothing, she said. 

“A lot of [designers] don’t try it because, from a technical point of view, there are a lot of hurdles in terms of the design and how you get garments to fit a various array of body shapes,” Arnold said.

Eloquii’s survival in the retail world is a testament to the power of plus-size fashion bloggers. Marie Denee, 33, the fashion blogger behind a plus-size fashion blog called The Curvy Fashionista, said she is happy with her body and has no desire to lose weight to be able to wear luxury brands. Most designers fail to realize that other plus-size women feel the same way, she said. The limited availability of plus-size clothing has spurred outcry from women and plus-size fashion bloggers, who currently serve as the plus-size community’s most powerful voice against the industry’s prejudice.

“Most of the time, [designers] look at a plus-size woman as someone who wants to lose weight, so why make clothes for her when she is going to lose weight anyway?” Denee said. “She is like, ‘No, I’m happy now and I have my dollars to spend, so take my money or not.’”

Denee wrote an open letter on her blog to The Limited, which closed its plus-size clothing brand extension of Eloquii a year after launching it. The March 2013 letter expressed her disappointment in the plus-size apparel market and helped galvanize support from former employees and an investor to relaunch the brand in February. 

“Eloquii served a perfect place for that business professional, for that woman who wanted to be a bit more sophisticated in her approach to plus-size fashion all while having a playful twist,” Denee wrote. “Eloquii offered a classic approach with a great mid-range price point and a great place to add new options to the wardrobe. It pains me to hear that you have decided to close the doors on your brand new brand. I do not think you realize the ramifications of your errors and how this hurts so much more than your bottom line.”

The letter, among other factors, caught the attention of Arnold, a driving force behind the relaunch of Eloqui. The Limited had asked Arnold to be the creative director behind Eloquii in 2011. As a straight-size designer, she initially turned the offer down because she was unfamiliar with plus-size clothing and knew it would be a challenge. 

However, after six months passed, The Limited asked Arnold to reconsider.  Arnold agreed to become the creative designer of the clothing line. 

“A light bulb going off like here is a wonderful opportunity to do something that has not been done,” Arnold said. “I felt like as a designer coming from straight sizes, I might be able to tackle this market without having any preconceived ideas about what plus-size women want or do not want and just approach it from a fashion stance.” 

Within the last five years, H&M, Forever 21, Wet Seal and other retailers have rolled out plus-size lines that provide a different approach to apparel for full-figured women. Denee said plus-size clothing lines are becoming bolder with silhouettes, colors and patterns, straying away from the basic look of what plus-size fashion used to be. 

Demand continues to grow. According to a July IBISWorld research report, the women’s plus-size apparel market experiences an annual growth of 3.2 percent and an annual revenue of $9 billion. 
Furthermore, 21 percent of plus-size women spend $150 or more per month on clothing compared to 15 percent of straight-size women, according to online retailer ModCloth, which hints that plus-size women shop more than their slimmer counterparts.

The profits are too big for luxury lines to resist, but some don’t advertise their plus-size ranges in fear of losing cachet. Michael Kors created a plus-size line in 2007 to adjust to the budding market, but the line’s existence receives meager publicity apart from on its website. Representatives from Michael Kors declined to comment regarding the brand’s plus-size line. But visibility is increasing in other quarters. 

This year at New York Fashion Week, international plus-size model Denise Bidot was booked for two non-plus-size shows. She strutted down the runway beside her straight-size model counterparts. 
“It was such a huge moment in fashion,” Bidot said. “Here we are at New York Fashion Week. This is the top of the top of the top, and I was allowed to walk alongside other models that were not necessarily curvy. There was a moment maybe in fashion where plus-size women weren’t really accepted, but that moment is definitely not now. People are definitely noticing what needs to happen and they are making it happen now.” 

Since 2009, models, bloggers and magazine and newspaper editors have attended Full Figured Fashion Week each year to celebrate the curvier women of the fashion industry at a show that resembles those in Paris and New York. 

“I felt such a sisterhood being there among these women who are finding their place in the industry the way I have been,” said Alexandra Boos, a former plus-size model and director of New-York based True Model Management’s “Curves” division. “Many of us in the industry have been fighting for equality. It is exciting when you come together and you meet the other women and bloggers who are trying to make a change and propel us forward. It is extremely empowering.”

The blogging community has inspired a revolution in the industry and the creation of clothing brands dedicated to plus-size fashion, said Nadia Aboulhosn, a New York City-based plus-size fashion blogger. They wield enormous clout, which she acknowledges is something of a surprise but is actually quite understandable given the power of the Internet.

 “As fashion bloggers, we are more relatable than celebrities because we are everyday people,” Aboulhosn said. “Social media has taken a big role in it, especially with people like myself sort of changing people’s mind.”

Yet shaming persists. Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of Chanel, collaborated with H&M to create a clothing line 10 years ago. When the company chose to produce the line in plus-sizes, Lagerfeld was quoted as saying, “What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people.”
Luxury designers such as Lagerfeld may think extending their clothing lines into plus-sizes and using full-figured models to showcase their designs will negatively impact their brand equity, said Mortimer Singer, CEO of Marvin Traub Associates, a retail business development and strategy consulting firm.

“[The plus-size] customer has historically been underserved, but she is a very significant part of the population,” Singer said. “A large group of American women is over a size 12 and therefore the market is significant, but they have historically been underrepresented.” 

Not only did Lagerfeld air his prejudice against designing clothes for women above a size 12 during an Oct. 4 episode of “Le Grand 8,” a French TV show, but he also shamed full-figured models on the catwalk when he said, “The hole in social security, it’s also [due to] all the diseases caught by people who are too fat. No one wants to see curvy women on the runway.” 

Such resistance has contributed to the widespread stigmatization of “fat” bodies in fashion.  
“If [designers] don’t want to use plus-size models, then by all means, that is up to them,” Aboulhosn said. “Even if you don’t like fat people, you are missing out on a s--t ton of money. If you were a real businessperson, you would understand that this is a huge market, and there is a lot of money to be made on it.”

Consumers and fashion bloggers are challenging this discrimination of full-figured bodies by reviving the Plus-Size and Fat Acceptance Movement, which has gained momentum off and on throughout past decades. The movements celebrate the curvier women of the fashion industry through social media and blogs and provide a community for full-figured women. 

“[The movement] is so important because every woman wants to feel seen and accepted for what she is,” Boos said. “If you are able to offer her wonderful fashion then she would feel better about herself, and that motivates her to be the best she could be. The importance cannot be overestimated.”
The two movements that  have recently sparked conversation about what the real American woman looks like compared to the models seen on runways and in advertisements.

Modeling agencies have incorporated plus-size or curvy divisions within the agency to accommodate the rise of plus-size models used during runway shows and in advertisements. True Model Management’s “Curves” division features 11 models of varying ethnic background and size. Dale Noelle, president of the agency, said some brands will only work with the agency’s curvy models.
“It benefits our division because we are very all-inclusive and it makes us more diversified,” Noelle said. “We really represent the world, and we have been put in high regards for the full figured models. People have come to us now because they know now that we represent all.”

The heightened profile of plus-size models is good for business and has aided in the acceptance of full-figured models and clothing. When Kaplan started Fashion to Figure 10 years ago, the plus-size apparel industry boasted 60 million consumers. The industry has grown to more than 70 million consumers because of the consistent rise in positive self-image that women in the U.S. are developing, Kaplan said.

“The ball hasn’t moved nearly enough,” Kaplan said. “We still have many body issues and self image issues in the U.S., but with the increase in the ubiquity of media, generations of women now are growing up not so tied to that keyhole stereotype of a Vogue cover model and thinking from society’s perspective that is what you are meant to look like.”
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