Earlier this month, Topshop had people rejoicing when they announced that they’d be selling half sizes in some of their jeans.
However, last week, plus size activist Callie Thorpe questioned why Topshop ‘will go as far to make clothing for people who can already find clothes in their size across the high street, but won’t make plus size clothes above a 16’.
This is a chat I’ve had before with one of my friends who works for a small fashion brand that is often blasted for not making clothes above a size 16. They find it frustrating that people don’t realise that ‘you can’t just make bigger versions of smaller sizes’, and it’s not as easy as just making the pattern larger, due to differing weight distribution which is more apparent in larger sizes.
So, is that really the case? Could that be why Topshop don’t make plus sizes?
Well, we may never know, as they ignored my email – but I spoke to some other manufacturers to get the lowdown.
Rob Williams is from Hawthorn, a clothing manufacturer based in London, and he confirmed that the process of designing plus size clothing is more difficult than with smaller clothing.
‘It take more time to develop a shape which is an average of the plus size population, so as to not have something which only fits very specific body shapes,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Some garments are more affected by this than others. Anything which is form-fitting, for example – like slim fit jeans or leggings where a lot of the shape is dictated by the cut of the garments – are going to be more difficult for someone who wears plus size clothing to find.
‘This is because there are fewer brands who will go to the lengths of developing a suitable pattern.
‘If clothing isn’t particularly form-fitting, however – a dressing gown, for example – the sizing can usually be graded up using usual increments.’
Lucy Arnold is a fitness wear designer and owner of Locket Loves, who makes plus size activewear, and spends a lot of time doing market research and getting customer feedback, to ensure she’s producing the right product for a group that is often overlooked when it comes to fitness clothing.
‘There’s a lot more time that goes into plus size clothing, as you need to make sure the product does exactly what you want it to do for the consumer,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘For instance with fit and sizing charts I’ve been wanting to go up to size 26 but I haven’t been happy with the prototypes put forward.
‘I need to make sure the fit is right and fits comfortably, and this does need editing and changes along the way.’
Okay, so a lengthier design process must mean increased cost, right?
This is another bug bear of plus size consumers, who have complained before that their clothes often cost more – like when Boohoo charged more for a size 18 dress than a size 8.
‘It is more expensive to extend into larger sizes (sizes 18+),’ confirms Rosie Deakin, CEO of women’s swimwear brand, Deakin and Blue, who launched last year with size 8-16, but recently extended sizes on some products up to a 24.
‘This is partly because as body size increases, body shape changes differently but also because a really well made, comfortable and flattering product for a larger size may also need to rethink or tweak the design to ensure the end product still fundamentally works.
‘With our swimwear for example we asked ourselves, “Do the straps need to be wider to provide more support? Do we want the underarm fabric to come higher to ensure it doesn’t cut in? Is power mesh under the bust flattering?”
‘We then tested this extensively with a size 20 model to check we had got this right. It wasn’t simply a case of making a bigger version of the size 10 version – and if we had done that, we might have ended up with a product that didn’t work. So yes, there was additional cost involved.’
There’s also the obvious reason that larger sizes use more fabric, thus businesses want to pass this cost on to the consumer.
‘When producing more common sizes, the difference in fabric consumption between a size 10, 12 and 14 for example isn’t actually much,’ explains Rob from Hawthorn.
‘However the difference between a 10 and a 20 is considerable, so manufacturers will compensate for that in pricing, usually with sizes 10-16 being one price, 16-24 being another price, and so on.’
It’s clear that making good quality plus size clothing takes time and money – time and money that many companies don’t want to invest, for a number of potential reasons.
Maybe they’ve held focus days and don’t think there’s enough demand for their product from people who wear larger sizes, maybe they’re not aware they’ve got a potential fan base in plus size women, or maybe they just don’t want to risk investing the money.
One big brand who does think it worth investing money is ASOS, who seem to channel as much energy into their Curve range as they do their regular, tall and petite lines. I often see Curve versions of their regular clothing when I’m browsing the site, and I have to say, I do notice the added tweaks they’ve done to suit a larger frame (likewise the tweaks for the same designs in petite, maternity and tall).
‘We approach design in the same way for Curve customers, as we would any other customer, but we are aware of the variety of body shapes,’ explains a spokesperson for ASOS to Metro.co.uk.
‘We want to ensure that our customer is given the same experience and offer as anyone else, both across product variety and covering all end uses.
‘We hold regular focus days to chat to our customers about size and fit which really helps us to refine our designs and get a better idea of which styles work best for each body type.’
So, while designing plus size versions of garments isn’t as easy as designing the smaller sizes, it is do-able – as proven by a mainstream brand like ASOS managing it with success.
Size 18 teens likely don’t want to shop at Evans and may have as much interest in fashion as their size 12 counterparts, so should we be pressuring all mainstream brands to go larger? And in turn, should we expect all companies to cater for petite frames? And taller bodies?
Or is it unfair to expect a business – especially smaller, independent ones – to channel money into a line that costs them more to produce, and may/may not bring them much in return, profit-wise?
Especially when tall/petite/plus sizes are a minority?