Fashion's One-Way Street
Last month I was in New York City on a mission to learn more about fashion and the apparel industry. I stood on a street corner across from the world-renowned FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and snapped this photo. I enjoyed my visit to the FIT taking in a wonderful exhibit at their museum and lecture by legendary shoe-designer, Pierre Hardy. Nevertheless, this image said it all, and perfectly captured the fashion industry’s implicit attitude toward us as female consumers: Even though we are the customers, we have to fit into the industry’s way of doing things. It's all about them, not us.
Fashion is a one-way street, where the industry dictates the direction and rules of the road.
They don't publish the rules widely, but actions speak louder than words. Go out into the stores and you'll see the backwards “rules “in action:
- We must fit into the industry’s specifications; if we are larger than about a size 10 (over 50% of US women), or overly short (50% of US women are 5’5” or under), or overly tall, curvy or….(you get the picture), they just don’t make many options for us or stock them in stores. We are, however, encouraged to buy their shoes, handbags and jewelry!
- We must spend our time figuring out what size to wear because the industry cannot be bothered with agreeing on standards or fit guidelines (86% of women say they have a hard time finding clothes that fit);
- We must not age beyond 40, or the industry won’t design or market clothes for our varied style preferences (if you're a Millennial and think this doesn't apply to you, think again: GenZ is even larger than GenY and brands are already training their gaze on them. Soon you will be left in the dust too).
Good News and Bad News
First, the bad news. I’ll keep it short. We have to break up with the companies that are not listening. Just like when we have to say goodbye to a romantic relationship that’s all “one-way”, we have to break up with the current fashion industry rules and the companies that don’t put us first. We have to do something different.
It’s time for many of us to say “It’s not me, it’s you”. We won’t waste another minute trying to change an industry’s way of doing things by complaining. But we won't give up on looking great. We have other, more positive and powerful options.
We can find the brands that do work for us and share the heck out of them with other women who could love them too. The brands that appreciate our diversity deserve our dollars and attention. The more sales they make, the more likely they are to stay in business and keep making things for us.
Unlike the largest, most famous clothing brands, there are some exciting new companies out there that have style and diverse fits at their very core. If we want them to keep doing what they’re doing, we need to check them out and support them. You’ve probably heard about ModCloth and the way they listen to their customers to make retro-inspired designs in a full range of sizes, but have you heard about a new modern/minimalist plus brand called Coverstory, or the curvy jeans company called PZI Jeans (Oprah Magazine called them the world’s best jeans)? What about the awesome fit customization you can do on a dress from eShakti? Are you a tall woman who has yet to hear about the tall-only brand Long Tall Sally? Or even the new online store called Apprecier that curates sophisticated fashion items for women over 50?
These companies are doing exactly what needs to be done, but their success - even if they have a good product - is not guaranteed. If we don't hear about them we can't try them out. That's what allows the big names to keep doing things in the same old way, ignoring the fact that what they call "niche" markets are actually very big markets of pent-up demand. My all-time favorite pair of jeans was made by a startup in Portland Oregon called QCut. QCut made jeans in 400 sizes (I know, cool, right?), but sadly, they recently closed. I had never heard of the plus-sized brand Eloquii until after they had been closed down by their parent company, The Limited. It was the outcries of Eloquii’s customers that gave new investors the confidence to re-launch the brand. Even your local boutique stores might have lesser-known or even locally-made clothing lines that fit better than the big name brands. We should find them, support them and help them grow.
It's time to discover and share what works, together
Fashion shouldn't have to be a one-way street, so let’s help each other find the brands we can love and support. Great brands know that their business is really all about us, not them. That's what WeFitMe is all about. Join the WeFitMe community launching soon and let me know what you think below.
Clarissa Cooper of Portland OR is the founder of WeFitMe, an online community of like-bodied women helping each other find clothes that fit. Clarissa has over 30 years of experience in the women’s apparel industry as a CONSUMER, as well as a background in finance in the energy industry.