Fashion is Trying to Make a COVID Pivot. It’s Not Enough

By Founder Nadia Boujarwah

 

September Fashion Week marched on, but this year’s runways looked very different. Designers, the true creatives, made a nimble pivot and innovated to safely put on their shows — with outdoor presentations, virtual attendance and more. 

What didn’t look different is what was absent from the shows: a true representation of the full spectrum of size. A representation of models who happen to have larger size bodies. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but when I see someone that I can identify with being celebrated, not just in spite of their body but because of their body size, it gives me hope.  

Fashion has come a long way in the last decade, but it is continuing to fail the plus-size community. The 100 million women, like me,  who wear a size 14 and above don’t have a shopping experience or clothing options that fit their unique style goals and dynamic lives.  It’s part of a societal problem that marginalizes the plus size community and is bigger than fashion — and it contributes to the way that we feel about ourselves and think about our bodies. 

It’s also just plain bad business. Though 67% of women in the U.S. are plus-size, the plus-size clothing market only accounts for 17 percent of total apparel purchases. Only 22% of the designers that showed at New York Fashion week in February produced up to a size 20.  And a size 20 is not truly inclusive of the plus size category. Though a handful of mainstream retailers have expanded into plus sizes, there’s a vast untapped market out there for the reaching. In fact, when Christian Siriano added plus sizes to his clothing line he tripled his business. 

plus-size fashion history new york times ad move fashion forward

It’s not as though traditional retail is thriving right now: COVID has had an apocalyptic impact on apparel. Monthly clothing sales in 2020 hit its lowest point in 30 years. To make matters worse for our community, our analysis suggests 30% of brick-and-mortar plus-size retailers have announced plans to permanently shut, including all Catherines stores and many Lane Bryant locations, adding to the list of other chains that have shuttered stores like Avenue and Fashion-to-Figure. The market for plus-size shoppers was limited already; where do these shoppers — and their significant spending power — now turn?

In Dia’s early years, we spent two years talking to women from across the country. We learned that each is in a unique place in their style journey, but that we all share common passions, life experiences and goals. Fashion helps us understand our power. We are worthy, we belong and we know what we want. And that we are 100 million strong, living full and deeply felt lives, and our style options should reflect that. 

In 2017, we called out the fashion industry for ignoring our needs and desires. So we asked them to start designing for women of all sizes. And we left a phone number in a full-page New York Times ad so that anyone looking to tap into this vast and dynamic customer base could use our learnings. The launch of #movefashionforward in that ad shifted the conversation about size inclusivity from talk to action, by offering designers practical support. Rebel Wilson’s clothing design team saw the ad and called right away, and we collaborated on a collection.

In 2018, our #teeupchange movement, in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, funded size-inclusive fashion programs.

Fashion helps us understand our power. We are worthy, we belong and we know what we want.

And Dia is continuing to disrupt this space. 

The Covid crisis has changed the traditional retail shopping experience, but as a digital only retailer we had already pioneered a different way of shopping. We have partnered with or designed over 100 brands, in sizes 14-32, that have the best fit, the best quality and the best value, and design pieces ourselves, too. We know which fabrics, cuts and styles wear best on every body shape. We created a way to get truly personalized service — online — because we have felt the sting of searching for something fabulous to wear in a mall and finding nothing. 

We believe your bedroom or living room is the best dressing room. We want to help turn your hallway into your own personal runway. So our stylists, personalized services and subscription boxes curate and bring the clothes to you — and with them, the thrill of discovery and indulgence of a personal shopping experience.

The first time we showed at Fashion Week in 2017, the feeling of seeing beautiful plus size women coming down the runway was so special. But seeing the proud, joyful faces of our community in the audience — a kind of joy that only comes from finally being validated — is what stays with me most.

That’s what drives us forward. So coming up, we’ll be expanding home try-on, offering more touch points with our stylists and continuing to bring you more of what you love with exciting new partnerships — building on our past collaborations with FILA, Rebel Wilson X Angels, Eleven by Venus Williams, and more.

Fashion Week

Dia&Co's first Fashion Week showing at the 2017 CurvyCon.

And, we will always champion the plus-size community.

But we know that there must be change across the board. We are committed to working with designers and the fashion industry to help break down barriers and help them understand this underserved community. We are advocating for education that will shape this industry in a fundamental way. 

We are continuing to ask: Isn’t it time that inclusivity truly means including everyone?

Every woman should have equal access to style, no matter what size she wears. Only a very comprehensive societal shift will get us to a place where we can buy clothes we want in a way that makes us feel comfortable and supported and celebrated — and know that the world is a place where we feel inspired to explore our style. 

Dia was built to take on this challenge. We’ve always thought differently. At a time when fashion is struggling to survive, when will the industry finally realize the power of the plus-size community?