Encouraging as it is to follow the discussion around the need for larger sizing and to observe the visibility of fuller-figured influencers and models, some questions remain around how much the market has fully embraced this long-neglected consumer. So FashionUnited spoke to Kelly Helfman, Vice President and Brand Director of WWDMAGIC, FAME, ATS, POOL TRADESHOW to get the lowdown on the advancements, hurdles and triumphs in the category’s development as she prepares for June’s market season.
Some plus-size models, including Ashley Graham, have shunned the term “plus size,” Tess Holliday has spoken out against the use of the word “curvy.” Is there a need for new terminology, or is labeling itself counter-productive?
Beauty is beauty no matter what size you are. I personally am not a huge fan of the term “plus” as to me it means “more”, “extra” or “in addition.” “In addition” to what? What you are supposed to be? I do not mind “curvy.” Curvy is a term I have always used to describe myself. Curvy to me these days has a good connotation attached to it. Many Instagram models and influencers are curvy and killing it. It really is a personal feeling how you take each label or specific adjective. We all have the option to feel the way we want over those terms.
Do you believe that all brands have an obligation to provide for the plus-size market?
I do not feel designers have an obligation to create plus lines but it sure would be nice. From a business perspective they are missing out on a tremendous market and revenue opportunity. So why wouldn’t you? Most of the brands I work with in fast-fashion are very much there and doing a great job in the plus-size market. Think about how prettylittlething.com and FashionNova are leading the way. Their message is so strong, positive and supportive. I would ask the same question about petite sizing. Women who are shorter and small by nature have a very hard time finding collections that work for them as well. It goes both ways. Should all designers have petite options?
”Body image is not going to be ignored during a women’s movement like this".
Traditionally there may have been a conflict between figure-flattering versus high fashion, but with so many plus-size influencers on social media, do you notice a moving away from dressing to “disguise” one’s size towards dressing more adventurously with the “big is beautiful” mindset?
All of a sudden in the past 2 years, it seems as if you can rock anything you desire as long as you feel confident in what you are wearing. Same goes for women of age. Women in their 60’s are dressing youthful and super forward, and their confidence is what shines through, which allows them to “get away with it”. Society and even high fashion are embracing this new way of thinking. Right now, we are embracing ALL women and celebrating the women’s empowerment moment and the fashion industry is not ignoring that. Body image is not going to be ignored during a women’s movement like this.
Is there a category in which the plus-size customer purchases the most? Occasionwear, athleisure, casual..?
Yes, work wear. Think about it. Everyone works and women of all sizes need career clothing. There is a huge demand there.
Online shopping or the in-store retail experience?
They do both just like the rest of society. No difference. No need necessarily to go try on. Once anyone finds that retailer or brand that works for them, they start buying online more.
Do you see any sign of a “trickle up” effect in which the luxury market (notoriously reluctant to expand its sizing) will follow what the other levels of the market are doing first?
Some will more than others. Some may have a few plus size options and others may have tools to order custom pieces to fit the consumer perfectly, but I am not convinced it will be overly promoted like their traditional collections. But the designers that are rule breakers and disruptors will go for it. And those are the designers we should all support.
Do you think the industry needs to reevaluate its sizing in any way to reflect the “in-between” shopper who feels forgotten by some brands yet doesn’t identify as “plus”?
I think as far as the terms, we need to come up with what works for our generation. What is today’s version of Plus. We need to grow as a fashion community and evolve as the world is evolving.
What’s ahead for the plus-size market?
In my 12 year career at WWDMAGIC and Fame, I have seen a huge increase in the percentage of brands that offer plus. Ten years ago we only had a small handful and now we have a long list of brands participating in the show with extended sizes. This June at Fame you can expect to see brands like DEX, Grey Violet, Skies are Blue and En Creme. It just goes to show how fashion and acceptance has evolved and will continue to evolve.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Photos by PRConsulting