One of the most controversial aspects to Fashion has to be the models, how young and how THIN they are. It’s a subject that has led to many debates on the ability (or inability) of the fashion industry to evolve, bearing in mind the ever evolving consumer markets that are served globally.
I recently came across a really interesting subject that relates to models that aren’t categorically size zero, perfect model size, or “plus size” models. This group of models is apparently now being called “in-betweeners”, because of course the fashion industry is designed in a way that insists that women are boxed in only two categories, “standard model size”, and “other”. And if you don’t fall into any of the two categories, another “apt” category will be created as an attempt from the industry to embrace the breadth of shapes and sizes of modern women. We will take this category, for what it’s worth.
With brands accessing international markets, the global consumer and the growth of online shopping, the question is whether or not the fashion industry, globally, has made enough effort to understand that the appeal in clothing does not end at the runaway, but carries on post the fashion weeks, to the manufacturing, to the in-store mannequins and lastly to the point of purchase. The issue with the lack of representation for women beyond size zero, or what the industry calls “standard,” goes beyond the marketing and promotion of fashion brands, but all the way back to design schools. In the absence of any fashion design qualification on my part, research has told me that most design schools lack mannequins bigger than traditional sample sizes. So from the time design students start developing their craft, they aren’t even trained to think about women beyond the standard runway sizes, which is usually a size zero. This should explain why most fashion brands default to the use of what they view as “standard” models, often referring to a size unrealistic for most women across the globe.
It’s always interested me how a campaign using a model bigger than size 8 is often referred to as a “real campaign for real people”. What does this even mean? Why do brands find themselves wanting to justify the use of normal and relatable human beings with disclaimers such as “real people” on headlines and by lines, supported by extremes of either tiny or huge marketing budgets, depending on how loud the brand wants to shout about the “real people” campaign?
Equally interesting for me is why the use of average figured women is made to seem like a campaign that calls for an award entry that deserves a special marketing budget, and almost requires a different promotional approach and tactic? The sooner designers and brands start to look at women as women, as opposed to “mechanics” to drive sales and increase market share, the sooner the fashion industry will begin to unlock the value that truly lies in women as those with the most purchasing power and share of voice.
The latest trend with small waists, curves and ample booty has also seen a cross over between thin and “plus” sized women, which I can only imagine causes the greatest confusion and disdain with designers and their measuring tapes. The world over, women are dictating what’s appealing to them, the shape they want to be in, and this is only a window into the fluidity that comes with women. A fluidity and dynamism that needs to be celebrated and accounted for, especially within fashion as a daily consumption.
While we shouldn’t really be going out of our way to celebrate brands that cater to ALL sized women, it looks like consumers now have the burden of applauding some of these brands that are leading this charge, and whether or not the models on the runways are thick or thin, the litmus test is the availability of varied fashion items for all women at point of purchase, in designs that accentuate and flaunt the body shapes of every single one of these women.
Surely, the fashion industry has nothing to fear from using average-sized or fuller figured models in its marketing campaigns, in the same beat that it does skinny models? If a commercial opportunity exists, and there is the chance that average and fuller figured sized models could sell equal if not more products, this should be a no-brainer for brands and designers.
Ultimately, discerning consumers will continue to support the brands that are authentically inclusive and some of our local designers have started displaying this. Such a move can only benefit the fashion industry in South Africa, and make huge calendar events such as the various fashion weeks’ even worth everyone’s while.