Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Design Journal: Plus Size Personality


The other week my tutors asked me to go do some market research on the highstreet to see what I was interested in and possibly where my brand would fit in terms of market level and style. I found that this request really threw me and for a while I didn't know where to begin. I just felt really lost on the high street and it took me a while to realise why; for so long I've had the option of a handful of shops, and suddenly I am free to walk into any shop regardless of my size or budget for design and research purposes. I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels like this, but when I go shopping I feel there's these invisible red crosses over the doors that stand for 'no fat people allowed'. Obviously we ARE allowed in, but the majority of shops on the British highstreet do not sell my size and I feel unwelcome. (this could be my own paranoid thoughts, but I also feel like people and sales assistants literally size me up in smaller shops as if to say 'why the hell is she here? she couldn't even get her toe in a pair of jeans!' and it makes me feel self conscious despite being confident at my size) So when I did go to look at the highstreet, for the first time in a long while, I felt really overwhelmed. I still didn't feel comfortable in any of these shops, and I just felt out of place. 

When people ask me 'if you could shop anywhere, regardless of size, where would you shop?' I find it difficult to answer. I feel as a plus size person I have had to make so many compromises in terms of fashion and style for so long that suddenly having to make a real choice is just alien to me. I've never been able to fully express my style or personality through clothes, I'm limited to a few shops that sort of represent me, then I have to filter through the garments until I find something that I could try and make work. I think particularly over the last year my confidence has been knocked, both with my personal style but also as a designer. I feel like I've squashed my sense of style because I've given up trying to find garments in my size that are suitable for my personality, and this has effected my approach to designing. It has always been my dream to start up my own business selling feminine, vintage inspired clothing with a modern twist, to plus size women that share similar style aesthetics to me, but I just felt that this idea was shot down as ridiculous and unconsciously I had decided it wouldn't work. 

This week I have been researching 'brands within brands' - such as brands that sell at other companies e.g. Scarlett and Jo at Evans, or Alice & You at ASOS Curve. It is really great that more and more of these brands are starting up and all have different styles that hopefully cater to multiple different groups of plus size women. I discussed in my last blog post how often the fashion industry groups the 'plus size niche' as one type of generic woman regardless of our age, budget, style etc. I still feel this is a problem, however there are some great brands coming through with a really strong idea of who their customer is. 

I know I discussed Carmakoma last week, but I just really admire how strong their personality and customer awareness is, and I think it's great that they're targeting such a specific plus size customer whose needs might not be provided elsewhere. I think this is what the industry needs to realise, that the term 'plus size' is not an umbrella for one woman with one personality. We are all very different with very individual needs and it's time to start providing for them. 

I honestly don't know where I would shop on the highstreet now if size was not an issue - possibly Topshop and Urban Outfitters. I would like to be able to wear young clothes whilst I'm still young, because I feel plus size clothing can be quite old fashion and would never even be designed for someone my age but half my size. I'd love to be able to pick what trends suit my personality, or be able to wear more daring clothes, or fun colours and pretty prints. But if I could really shop anywhere I would probably be down Shoreditch every weekend buying vintage clothes and mixing it in with modern garments to create my own style. But I had forgotten that vintage is what I love because that option has never been there for me. Unfortunately the majority of vintage clothing comes in very small sizes due to the fact that women were smaller back then, and possibly to do with how structured their underwear was. That's not to say that plus size women can't wear vintage, because my friend Isha has a knack for finding clothes that fit her. There are also a few vintage style brands that having started to sell plus size, such as Voodoo Vixen who is also at Simply Be. However, I still don't feel catered for. I am looking for vintage clothing that is for a modern woman, and is more day wear that will fit in with a regular wardrobe. I'm not necessarily interested in creating or wearing pin-up/rockabilly clothing (as much as I still love it).

I just to share with you some images from Re/Dress, a plus size brand in the US that stock vintage and modern clothing, and I am in love with their lookbooks. I have never seen such amazing photography and styling of plus size people before, and it's great to see them looking happy, fashionable and full of personality. I just love the way they are represented, and the amazing vintage inspired style they are wearing, and this is what I want to achieve with my own brand (and personal style). I also really admire Modcloth, who I'm sure you've all heard of, as they are also a vintage inspired company who have really embraced the plus size customer by creating a huge range in larger sizes - and they are probably the closest brand to my personal style that is available in plus size, and I would love to buy all my clothes from there. (but I can't afford the cost of shipping etc. as a student right now)

So what is your opinion? Do you feel your personality is represented in the clothing options available to you? Currently on the highstreet there are shops such as Monsoon and Allsaints who have such strong personalities and a very focussed customer who they tailor trends to suit - is this something you is feel is missing for the plus size community, or your personal style in general? Let me know what you think, anything you have to say will be helpful towards my work.

Thanks for reading.