In a world of Instagram influencers and social media marketing, there appears to be a trend emerging in the fashion world far beyond what purse or shoes your favorite Instagrammer is flaunting; instead, appealing to a topic of more depth.
“Bloggers and models wearing a 'plus' size have created a space for women to identify with, support and raise their voices demanding more from the fashion industry," says Erin Cavanaugh, co-founder of See Rose Go, on the increasing popularity of social media and the space it created to progress plus sizes in the fashion industry.
“Growing up, I often heard that retailers did not carry or produce clothing in larger sizes because they believed plus size women were not interested in fashion," shares Nadia Boujarwah, CEO, and co-founder of Dia&Co, the world's leading digital-first, plus size fashion company. “I knew this wasn't true for me, and believed millions of other plus size women wanted to participate in fashion as well."
Boujarwah speaks to the long rooted misconception, engrained in both the fashion industry and modern society, that attributes the untapped market as a result of low demand from plus size women.
“What creates the gap is not the women, but the retailers and the fashion brands," explains Cavanaugh. “The quality and style options offered to women wearing a size 14 and up is extremely lacking compared to the straight-size options."
This is why Cavanaugh set out to create a brand focusing on quality, fit and style for curvy women with See Rose Go.
As both Cavanaugh and Boujarwah entered the market to trigger the supply chain with their respective digital platforms, they noticed that social media was an additional, and significant, tool in sharing their brands' mission. While both women worked to increase supply in plus size fashion, users of Instagram laid the foundation of the body positivity movement, thus allowing for the application to exist as an efficient platform to share this newly introduced supply for plus size consumers.
“We see women who would have never been picked up by a traditional modeling agency now have hundreds of thousands of followers globally," says Eugena Delman, co-founder of Mimiell, the e-commerce business set to launch this April, focusing exclusively on sizes 12-18.
Instagrammers like Tanesha Awasthi and Diana Sirokai embracing their size is seemingly the influence that the fashion industry needed as a sort of precedence, especially when considering consumers' attraction to, and interaction with, these public figures.
“Twenty years ago, we would rarely have seen a plus woman as attractive and confident, so this medium has definitely given a voice to plus women everywhere, while also creating a community of support and friendship," says Delman.
Alexis Mera Damen of Alexis Mera uses the brand's Instagram to create a community for her line of activewear, and yet, while she agrees Instagram plays a role in accepting plus sizes, she strays away from using this term 'accepting.'
“I'd say it's played a huge role in empowering women who wear larger sizes to own it and be proud of who they are," she says. “It's not like plus size was 'unacceptable' before."
The act of sharing body positivity on social media has also opened the discussion to transcend borders in the international communities who may not have been as vocal about it prior to Instagram. “Globally, similar sentiments are present but reside in smaller pockets, rather than a movement," says Cavanaugh. “A few of our favorite plus size influencers are European, who have this super cool, modern and confident vibe about them and a tone of voice to be recognized."
This increase in empowered women embracing their bodies has brought the body positivity movement to the forefront, noticeably taking life outside of the screen as Fashion Week strives to adapt to consumer reactions of shattering the former image of the 00 ideal. This includes NYFW's Fall 2017 show that made history with the diversity of its models, the inclusion of all sizes and educational panels.
“Women and young girls now have their own icons on social media; they can see women who look like them in all walks of life," adds Alex Waldman, co-founder of Universal Standard, a women's modern essentials line focusing on sizes 10 to 28. “This movement shows women that they don't need to be a certain size to know they are beautiful."
Where Does The Label Fit In?
Even as the fashion industry continues to 'normalize' the plus size label, these social communities are recognizing that 67 percent of American women are size 14+, making the term 'plus size' debatable. “Why can't it just be regular size?" asks Damen. “What we are calling 'plus' is pretty much the average size in America."
On the other end of the spectrum, Cavanaugh points out, “As a descriptor, it [plus size] has contributed to banding a group together under a supportive identity, giving a more amplified voice to the tribe. The voice is imperative in the cultural shift we are now seeing in the fashion industry." Whether or not the label tends to hinder, or help, the body positivity movement, is subjective to the consumer, yet is still something retailers and brands need to consider while working toward inclusion. Regardless of how the term 'plus size' transpires during the movement, fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogger Tillie Eze of It's Tillie! argues that designers need to remain authentic during the transition, highlighting that some labels won't be able to produce for the plus size demand.
“Everyone is trying to get in on being body positive— as we've seen, it rakes in money— but very few are actually taking the time to construct proper styles, fits, silhouettes for plus-size body shapes," she says, providing the example of J.Brand dressing Ashley Graham (considered a plus-size model) when the label only goes up to a size 12. “Stop using these women and body shapes to be something you aren't at your core," says Eze. Perhaps this is why Instagram and social media have been so effective in shifting the perception of this landscape because of the authenticity that these models showcase in their accounts— authenticity they are praised for with millions of followers and interactions. “[Social media] has been a catalyst into movements such as body positivity, helping to provide women the self-recognized 'permission' to wear what they want with confidence," concludes Cavanaugh, “In turn, sparking the industry to create the style and clothing she is demanding."
This piece was originally published on April 8, 2018.
WRITTEN BYJillian Dara Rinehimer