From H&M to New Look, so many high street stores now have a plus-size range suitable for shapelier shoppers. Although the majority of catwalk, and high street, models tend to be incredibly slim, is the fashion industry really changing its attitude towards body shape, and embracing the real woman?
Diversity at Debenhams
Debenhams are leading the way with their diversity campaign which showcases a plus-size model along with a paralympian and 69-year-old. They’ve really broken the fashion mould, but the real questions are; why is there a mould in the first place? Why are plus-size models labelled as a sub-category in the modelling industry? Surely women’s clothing is best promoted on real, everyday women? Of course, it’s understandable that models are conventionally striking looking so that the clothes fall well on their bodies, but it cannot be denied that size zero models have a negative effect on the self-esteem of so many women young and old.
The ‘Summer Look Book’, Debenhams’ summer campaign this year, really highlights a healthy body image and self-confidence no matter what your shape. “To showcase the range of sizes and labels at Debenhams this season, we chose models to inspire us with their own unique looks and personalities,” said fashion commentator Caryn Franklin. She worked on the project with Debenhams and said in a statement:
“I loved seeing the way that clothes emboldened each woman and man and being on a shoot where no two models were the same.”
In 2010, Debenhams were bold enough to ban airbrushing in one of their swimwear campaigns, and included a wheelchair user in another campaign, proving that they are no stranger to portraying diversity in the fashion world. The store’s director of PR Ed Watson said “Our customers are not all the same shape or size so our latest look-book celebrates this diversity.”
Abercrombie & Titch?
There is no need to alienate customers and make them feel unworthy to purchase and wear clothes from a particular store, whether financially or based upon appearance. But it seems not everyone shares this mind-set. In an interview in 2006, Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jefferies stated that; “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” Well there’s a controversial marketing campaign if ever I saw one.
In fact, Jefferies was attempting to justify why the store does not stock XL or XXL for womenswear despite the fact that their closest competitor, American Eagle stocks larger sizes. Clearly they’re aware that 67% of their market are plus size. But Robin Lewis, co-author of ‘The New Rules of Retail’ and CEO of newsletter, The Robin Report, said that “He [Jefferies] doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that”. Yet the fact is “larger people” do purchase Abercrombie & Fitch attire, and the definition of beautiful is not utterly dependent on weight. Margaret Bogenrief from ACM Partners added that “Ignoring this ‘revolution’ could be costly for businesses.”
With over 2,600 stores in 43 countries, Swedish owned H&M seemed to be taking the real approach to marketing by using size 12 models, Jennie Runk, and mannequins in some branches for this year’s swimwear campaign. But the model mysteriously could not be found on the website or on posters in store windows. How odd. It appears the store opted to pull out of the campaign at the last minute and make use of their abundance of super-skinny model stock instead.
The average British woman is a size 14-16 according to a recent survey by the London College of Fashion, despite negative connotations due to exposure to slim models the fact is, it’s reality. Surely if fashion heavyweights aim to retain their target market’s interest, they need to embrace this reality and make sure their products are suitable for as large a market as possible? ?Both individually and with respect to numbers.
As harmless as employing conventionally good-looking, light-weight models can seem, 1.1 million people in the UK are affected directly by an eating disorder, and images projected in the fashion industry are having a negative, knock-on effects on this figure. Models are essentially clothes horses, granted if the clothes are made to look good on somebody else a consumer may be more likely to purchase, but there’s no reason why they can’t mirror the buying public a little more closely.