11/21/2016 7 Comments
The internet is ablaze with praise for fashion consultant Tim Gunn's latest video, which claims that plus size fashion is this huuuge (pardon the pun) pile of easy money, but no one will take it because of bigotry. Apparently, every designer and retailer hates fat people more than they love money.
Does anyone who knows anything about business believe this for a second? The truth is (and I'm sure Tim Gunn is fully aware of this -- probably what he's doing right now is laying the groundwork for a new line of plus-size clothes or something)... plus size fashion is an extremely difficult problem.
Here's the myth:
Here's the reality, from Dear Tim Gunn, The Designers Are Right. Plus Size Fashion is Hard, and "No Two Size 16s Are Alike:
You said it yourself: Plus size fashion isn’t a simple matter of making things bigger. It’s making a whole different set of things, with different proportions, fabrics and seams. When you tell designers they need to start making plus-sized clothing, you're basically telling them, not only do you have to paint different pictures -- you also have to trade in your paintbrush to be a sculptor.
The post continues:
"Size" isn't just determined by your weight. It's determined by your bone structure, fat distribution, height, musculature, and many other factors. The bigger you get, the more room there is for variation.
Saying that the "average" woman is a size sixteen... that's a strange way of thinking about it. Because there's more to profit than averages. There's also the mode.
There are (at least) two more facts that make plus-size clothing more expensive and less profitable than other clothes.
1. Inventory is expensive!
Tim Gunn wants stores to insist that designers make plus-sizes... and then sell sizes for every women. Conceptually, that is lovely. But practically, it sounds like a good way to lose a lot of money. Inventory is expensive. It ties up your resources, and stocking more sizes means selling fewer things.
You've got X square feet devoted to Marc Jacobs. Now, in addition to stocking sizes 0-10, which each fit a large number of women... you think retailers can also stock sizes 12-30?
Space in a brick and mortar store is a zero sum game. If you want to make money selling clothes, you have to show your customers not what they need, but what they want. If I walk into your store with $100 in my pocket because I need a white button-down, but I also see a really cute skirt and some leggings that I want, I'm going to spend that whole $100, instead of just the $30 I needed for the shirt.
If you sell sizes 00-30, that necessarily means that you will be showing me fewer things that I want. And then you make less money. And then you go out of business.
Then there's the fact that:
2. Plus-sized women look better in more tailored clothing.
Refer back to the distribution of weight in women. Most women weight between 120-160 pounds. But a few women weigh 200. A few weigh 220. A few weigh 300.
We already discussed how more women is fewer sizes is profitable, and fewer women in more sizes is not. This is confounded by the fact that the larger you are, the more important it is that your clothes are tailored. Because now, you need fewer women in more, more tailored sizes.
If you're plus-sized -- and, really, even if you're not -- what might make the most sense for you is to stop trying to find clothes that "fit you.' Instead, find clothes you like that fit you enough, and then take them to a tailor. That way, not only are you getting the most flattering clothes possible... but you're also lining the pockets of local skilled workers, rather than international designers.
The takeaway here, once again, is that way too much moral outrage happens before people take the time to critically think about an issue. It's easy to get out the pitchforks and say, "RAR!!! STOP HATING FAT PEOPLE, YOU MEAN DESIGNERS!!!" But it's really fun to step back and think about the issue from various perspectives -- including the business, math, and artistic ones.
What'd I miss? Share it in the comments!