Garlic Fashion

Does the Fashion Industry Hate Its Customers?

Tim Gunn and Heidi KlumWriting in the Washington Post, Tim Gunn says that designers in the fashion industry “haven’t bothered to hide their contempt” for the average American woman, who wears a size 16 or 18. Is the fashion industry reflecting a self-hating culture or creating it?

For perspective, consider a new study to be published in Fashion and Textiles. It suggests that the activewear fashion industry is creating barriers for plus-size women who want to be active. Deborah Christel and colleagues interviewed 56 heterosexual women with obesity. They found that most of the women reported having to wear men’s clothes to participate in physical activity.

Apparently, the activewear fashion industry doesn’t want plus sized women to wear its clothes.

Michael Kinsley famously said that “a gaffe happens when a politician accidentally tells the truth.” Three years ago, the founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, was forced to resign when he accidentally said what he thought. He expressed his feeling that “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” for activewear. He made it worse by going on to talk about their clothes “rubbing through the thighs.”

Now it looks like he was just expressing an attitude that guides most of the activewear fashion industry. In interviews about her study, Christel said:

I’ve surveyed hundreds of fashion designers and a majority of them have very negative attitudes toward people with obesity.

The women we interviewed wanted to feel feminine and be active at the same time. Sadly, the fashion industry isn’t providing clothing that satisfies the consumer. The product, price, promotion and placement aren’t right. The fashion industry isn’t helping larger women right now. If anything, it is hindering larger women from being active.

This problem represents an opportunity that entrepreneurial designers will surely seize upon. Gunn says:

This is a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes.

It can’t happen fast enough.

Click here to read more in the Washington Post, here for the study by Christel et al, and here for more about her study.

Garlic Fashion, photograph © Pei Huang / flickr

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September 11, 2016