River Island is one of my favourite high street fashion shops. I’ve always admired their clothes… From afar. Even as a teen I was always one or two sizes too big to actually shop there. So the news that they will be releasing almost a hundred plus size items got me really excited. And then came their press release, announcing RI Curve. Here are some tweets that summarise the disappointment better than I can:
so basically River Island is making a collection in three whole sizes they didn’t already make :( theoretically exciting but sad in practice
— Bethanyhem (@ArchedEyebrowBR) December 17, 2015
Why did you decide to stop at a size 24 for your new plus size collection @RiverIslandPR? That’s still excluding a lot of people.
— Carol of the Mels (@mellymeep) December 17, 2015
— K.G. (@AnneModicum) December 17, 2015
RI Curve’s development has taken the exact same trajectory as boohoo.com, Missguided, Dorothy Perkins, Mango and Forever 21’s plus size collections before them: initial excitement, puzzlement at the misuse of body positivity slogans/”real women”/references to curves in their teaser campaigns… And finally, the disappointment when the official announcement comes around, because they only service a smidgen of women beyond size 18. Bonus points if it’s only available in a sprinkle of shops – everyone else has to order online (a.k.a. pay the Fat Tax).
In RI Curve’s case, the collection stops at a size 24 (a US20), and will be available in ‘top stores’ only. So, you guessed it, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to waltz into your local River Island with your head held high and try before you buy.
Only time will tell if they complete the set and end up revealing 75 sad, lifeless imitations of their main range.
Look, I’ve got no doubts that the team are working as hard as they can on this, that they believe in RI Curve and want it to succeed. And I genuinely think the collection will be fairly trendy, given River Island’s brand. Indeed, the working illustration looks great! (Although blazers and jeans are not my thing.)
But this just cements – for me at least – that there is still such a cognitive dissonance between what fat consumers want vs what the fashion industry are willing to give them.
What does a fashion-conscious fat babe want? They want to wear the same cool, on-trend and downright fabulous shit their friends wear. Surely the logical solution for a fashion retailer looking to harness fatties’ spending power is to introduce larger sizes to the clothes they’re already producing?
But, fashion brands don’t. They won’t – and they insist it’s because they can’t. So they dance like fuck around the issue and act like it’s the same thing.
Personally, I believe their resistance has more to do with brand management than any logistical excuses. Fashion-focused retailers have thin women as their main demographic, for better or worse. That is who they’re looking to please. That is who they are: even in plus size only retail head offices, it’s really rare to see someone who is actually plus sized. And as any fat person who’s walked into a mainstream fashion shop will know, thin women do not welcome you with open arms on the shop floor. (Obviously #notallthinwomen, and all that malarkey. But way, way more often than many think.)
With that in mind, is it any wonder attempts at opening established fashion brands up to big(ger) customers has to be kept separate, and dulled down? Think about it. If your brand rests on a very particular demographic who famously do not want to be associated with fat people, are you going to enable those same fat people to parade about wearing exactly the same outfits? (My god, I wish someone would. That’d be brilliant, wouldn’t it?) If you’re a multi-national retailer, are you going to create a PR nightmare and go up against the likes of Jamie fucking Oliver and fucking Jamelia (lol), to create nice clothes for fat people and ENCOURAGE OBESITY?! No, I guess you wouldn’t.
This is exactly why Beth Ditto’s new collection is so important – there are no restrictions like this. No advertisers or industry bods to consider, or market research featuring solely women who hate themselves to base their final designs on. It’s by fat people, for fat people. It makes all the difference in the world.
Straight size fashion brands want fabulous fatties’ money but they want to assuage their core customers’ fatphobia at the same time? Maybe they’d be better off leaving us to it. I’d rather that than one patronising, separate-and-inequal collection after another.
All in, or out.