I was on Alberta Primetime last week to discuss “target marketing” from the springboard of the Abercrombie and Fitch issue (video below). I’ve heard plenty of excuses and justifications for why companies don’t choose to make clothes in plus sizes. In this segment one of the things that kept coming up was that stores have to target their marketing and therefore excluding plus sized people is completely normal and justifiable part of marketing strategy.
First of all, saying “we want to target our marketing” is not the same thing as saying “we want to make it impossible for people who look a certain way to wear our clothing.” You can have a target market that is based on the aesthetic that the customer is looking for (what the customer wants to buy), rather than the aesthetic of the customer (what the customer looks like). So a store can make clothes in a wide variety of sizes and then market those clothes to people who are interested in a “preppy” look, or a “goth” look, more classic or more modern etc. I learned about a company today that sells Victorian style couture gowns up to a size 28 (and gives a portion of their proceeds to bulldog rescue!) They’ve got a couple target markets – people who enjoy Victorian style clothes, and people who are interested in bulldog rescue, and they didn’t have to discriminate based on size at all.
I was also asked if stores that only sell plus-sized clothing should be accused of the same type of discrimination. If considered technically and in a vacuum, I suppose it’s possible. But based on the actual reality of the current culture, I think it’s a derailing and basically indefensible position to take. When you realize that, as things are, I can be in a huge mall in LA and not find a single piece of clothing in my size, it seems ridiculous to begrudge me the few stores that do sell clothes that fit me. Those stores aren’t discriminating because they don’t want thin people in their clothes, indeed most of their clothes mimic those already available in straight sizes, these stores fill a gap so that fat people don’t all have to learn to sew or make our lives into some sort of endless toga party.
“People who wear Catherine’s Brand are just cooler than everyone else!” said nobody ever. Fat people aren’t asking for specialty stores, we just want some clothes that we like and that cover us at least as the law requires. Unfortunately we often have to settle for only the latter, and the only place many of us can get these clothes is specialty stores (and for some fatties plus-sized stores don’t carry their sizes and they have to order online or from catalogs) because all the other clothing stores just happen to have chosen to “target market” by making sure that people who look like us can’t wear their clothes.
I think that the fashion industry has long taken advantage of how easy it is to discriminate against fat people by simply not making clothes to fit us, and acting as if that’s simply an aesthetic choice and not a discriminatory one. I would love to see fashion become about personal expression rather than defining who is cool and who is not (are we seriously adults still trying to be the “cool kids”, could we maybe stop doing that?), or becoming a way to tear each other down (Who has that kind of free time? If I ever find myself with enough time to sit around and judge other people for their clothing choices, I will immediately volunteer somewhere.)
There are some signs of positive change in the fashion world right now. H&M used a “plus-size” model to advertise their swimsuit collection, some Cornell students created a plus-size dress form that actually makes sense, and the “fatkini” sold out in record time which, though not without its problems, gives a real word example of what happens when designers make clothes that plus size women want to wear (rather than clothes that the rest of the fashion world thinks plus size women “should” wear.)
As a fat person I know that I’m the target market for all kinds of crap I don’t want, courtesy of conferences like “Marketing to the Overweight American,” Since I’m not paying money to these companies that want to sell me diets or stomach amputation, I have some money just waiting to spend on a store that chooses to target their marketing to the aesthetic I’m looking for, rather than trying to score “cool points” by specifically not making clothes to fit me and then encouraging their customers to see the fact that they can get clothes that I can’t as some kind of status symbol. I guess I’m saying that I wish that particular segment of the fashion world would stop delighting in the fact that they act like junior high school bullies, using justifications that are thinner than that cute gauzy top I can’t get in my size.
You can check out the Alberta Primetime Interview here.
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