Tags: Celebrity Endorsements, Emergence of Plus Size Clothing Brand, Increase in Plus Size Runway Models, Industry Insiders

For all of the progress being made within the fashion industry in the body positive and size inclusive movements change has been slow to come to some areas. The runway is the last holdout in terms of including plus size individuals. Adequate representation is still ways off, but the fall 2017 installment of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) made it clear plus-size runway models are here to stay!

Lack of Options

The fashion industry as a whole has largely ignored plus-size individuals and runway models. The clothing available in the plus-size range has historically lacked style and quality. The fit is typically inadequate because it is simply scaled up versions of smaller sizes. The construction is normally sub-par and for shoppers who have ethical concerns about their clothing that pretty much eliminates the few options available. In the past, the clothing has failed at a design level, because it was not created with a plus-size body in mind.

High Fashion Shies Away from Plus Size

The few clothing lines that have created plus-size offerings have mostly been in the ready-to-wear market. High fashion brands have traditionally been reluctant to offer plus-size clothing. No plus-size clothing means no plus-size runway models.

Some brands are slowly testing the waters and offering a limited line-up of larger sizes or creating divisions within their brand that cater to plus-size consumers. Overall, a negative mindset surrounds plus-size people in the high fashion industry, and some brands simply do not want plus-size people wearing their clothing due to this negative association.

Within the fashion industry, there are unwritten rules surrounding plus-size clothing. The notion is that plus-size clothing should be used to hide or camouflage the body. Many brands, particularly in the high fashion segment of the industry hold these assumptions to be true. They do not listen to or design for plus-size individuals because they assume the plus-size demographic will not wear clothing that is not loose and billowing and avoids patterns and bright colors.

High-Risk High Fashion

Plus-size fashion influencer Gabi Gregg explained, “People feel that it’s a risky category because unfortunately, some still have this old-school idea about what plus-size women will and will not wear. So they’re still kind of stuck in the past. In some cases, especially for the higher end of fashion designers, I do think there is still some fatphobia and some fear there that they don’t want plus-size women wearing their clothing.”

Until recently, designers were not creating plus-size high fashion. Without fashionable plus-size clothing options, the lack of plus-size runway models made sense. Agencies did not employ larger runway models and marketing campaigns also ignored this demographic.

Body Positive Movement Sparking Change

In recent years a body positive movement has been gaining momentum. Frustrated by the lack of options individuals have been speaking up both literally and with their actions. Social media has made it easy for individuals to engage with brands and give real feedback. Consumers have also been able to give the industry direction via their purchasing decisions. Project Runway has contributed to the cause by featuring size inclusive runway models, ranging from size 0 to size 22 in season 16. As size inclusivity is coming to ready-to-wear brands and cropping up in marketing campaigns and media this change is just beginning to break into high fashion.

Token Runway Models

Plus-size models in runway shows are not unheard of, but still not very frequent. Designers like Christian Siriano routinely include a diverse lineup of models, including plus-size runway models. In his fall 2017 show Siriano cast an impressive 12 plus-size runway models. Siriano is mostly an exception when it comes to casting diverse runway models.

Historically runway models in fashion shows were exclusively thin. In recent years a show may feature one or two plus-size runway models. Overall the casting has not been diverse. The few plus-size runway models present appeared alongside rail-thin runway models and were considered tokens. Just a few plus-size runway models were included to give the illusion of diversity, but the practice was more tokenism than inclusivity.

Some high fashion clothing lines do not make clothing above a size 10. In these instances, it makes sense that these brands would not feature larger runway models because there are no clothing options for them within the line. Exclusively creating clothing that is not plus-size is an interesting decision, as these brands are immediately eliminating themselves from the majority of the market. The average American woman is a size 14. When fashion brands fail to create clothing in the plus-size range they are limiting the ability for their brand to succeed.

The absence of plus-size runway models is all the more confounding for brands that actually create plus-size clothing. Stella McCartney and Burberry both feature clothing above a size 14; however, to date, both brands stick to featuring the traditionally sized runway models. These brands have the option of sending plus-size runway models down the ca alk, but choose not to do so.

Runway Models Extend the Reach of a Brand

Creating clothing for plus-size individuals expands the reach and marketability of a brand. Featuring plus-size runway models in shows is valuable in terms of showcasing the clothing. It is also a great public relations move. Shows that vary from the norm and feature plus-size models create a buzz and generate press. Brands are hailed as supporters of the body positive movement. Articles are written and shared across social media. This expands the reach of a brand beyond the runway and creates awareness for a clothing line it may not achieve otherwise.

Celebrity Endorsements

The front row of shows at NYFW has become known for high-profile attendees. Body diversity is becoming more acceptable in the entertainment industry. A new crop of celebrities are attending shows and promoting designers that create clothing they can wear. Celebrity endorsements can help create interest around a clothing brand and allow the brand to reach a wider audience. This support will give brands a reason to promote size inclusivity and should attribute to a further increase in plus-size runway models. 

Beth Ditto

Many plus-size runway models have found themselves thrust into the celebrity spotlight. There is certainly a lot of competition within the industry, but plus-size runway models were at first almost an anomaly that garnered extra attention. When runway models Kate Upton and Ashley Graham landed high profile jobs and magazine covers it was big news. These models, as well as the up and coming plus-size runway models are making names for themselves and promoting the cause of size inclusivity.

Businesses and Designers Not on the Same Page

The plus-size market is estimated to be a $20.4 billion business. Many brands see the value in creating clothing for an underserved market that happens to be in the majority. Despite the business opportunity some designers are still resistant to design plus-size clothing. Whether it be the result for preconceived notions or brand elitism there is a divide. “It’s definitely a high street thing at the moment,” explains Anna Shillinglaw, an agent at Milk modelling agency, who employs numerous plus-size runway models. “Brands are doing it now because they realise it’s a million dollar industry, but I think that designers aren’t there yet, some of them only go up to a certain size.”

More brands than ever are not just creating, but embracing fashionable plus-size clothing. These are brands dedicated to the design and creation of plus-size clothing that fits and is fashionable. These lines feature marketing campaigns and lookbooks to help sell the lines, as well as participating in shows and featuring their designs on plus-size runway models.

Quality Design Creates Opportunities for Runway Models

Plus-size clothing design needs to be purposeful and deliberate. This is a skill that some designers execute beautifully while other designers struggle. Without quality design that take the plus-size body into account, as well as style and function, many brands are ill equipped to participate in NYFW and feature plus-size runway models.

Plus-size fashion brands, like Elloqui and City Chic design specifically for plus-size consumers. Specialized brand Jaanuu creates fashionable and functional plus-size scrubs for women in the medical field. The people behind these brands have heard the complainants and experienced the lack of options. They are looking to fill a void other brands choose to avoid.


Change Happening

The runway has not always been the most hospital place for non-traditional runway models, and truth be told the fashion show community is still not embracing inclusivity. However, there have been significant changes. Year over year things continue to change and it is likely this change will continue to advance.

Brands Embracing Inclusive Runway Models

The 2017 edition of NYFW featured the mot plus-size runway models of any earlier show. In total 27 plus-size runway models took to the stage. The number of brands that featured plus-size runway models was also a sharp increase over previous years. Christian Siriano, Michael Kors, Tome, Chormat, Prabal Gurung, Oak, Tracy Reese, J. Crew, Who What Wear and Gypsy Sport all featured plus-size runway models in their 2017 fall shows.

Runway Models Leading the Way at NYFW 2017

Some of the better know runway models, such as Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence walked the runway as part of NYFW, as well as Candice Huffine, Marquita Pring, Precious Lee and Georgia Pratt and others. This was a significant increase over earlier years, and adds a level of body diversity that was missing from earlier shows.

Model turned designer Jordyn Woods showcased her collaboration with Addition Elle at NYFW. This streetstyle line was designed exclusivity for plus-size customers and features a variety of stylish pieces, including a large selection of denim items. Woods joined other runway models as she participated in NYFW. As Woods explained in an earlier interview with Teen Vogue, “There’s not a lot of clothes out there for girls that are bigger, there’s not a lot of trendy things out there, and I want to change the way people look at the plus-size industry.”

No Longer a Movement

It may no longer be accurate to describe the plus-size movement as a movement. It is reality. The average American women is a size 14, which falls into the distinction of being plus-size. Brands are starting to recognize that this market is inadequately served and underrepresented. There is a demand for quality clothing that fits and consumers want to see people who look like them in advertisements and on the runway.

The fashion industry has been working to catch up to where consumers are at.  Now the runway needs to catch up to the rest of the industry. Designer Michael Costello commented that showcasing plus-size runway models is not a trend. “This is where we are in today’s world.” Plus-size runway models mirror the real world and show the diversity available and talent of designers. Runway model Candice Huffine explained, “It’s not a fad, it’s not a trend. No tokenism. This is our normal, this is our world, this is life. If you’re going to design for women, it HAS to be for ALL of them.”

Progress is happening and it is exciting to witness. There is still more work to be done. More designers and brands are creating quality plus-size clothing. Plus-size runway models are becoming more accepted and common to see. It is also exciting to see these runway models become household names.

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