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Plus Size Fashion And Social Media: Where Does It Fit In?

Culture

In a world of Instagram influencers and social media marketing, there appears to be a trend emerging in the fashion world far beyond what purse or shoes your favorite Instagrammer is flaunting; instead, appealing to a topic of more depth.


“Bloggers and models wearing a 'plus' size have created a space for women to identify with, support and raise their voices demanding more from the fashion industry," says Erin Cavanaugh, co-founder of See Rose Go, on the increasing popularity of social media and the space it created to progress plus sizes in the fashion industry.

“Growing up, I often heard that retailers did not carry or produce clothing in larger sizes because they believed plus size women were not interested in fashion," shares Nadia Boujarwah, CEO, and co-founder of Dia&Co, the world's leading digital-first, plus size fashion company. “I knew this wasn't true for me, and believed millions of other plus size women wanted to participate in fashion as well."

Boujarwah speaks to the long rooted misconception, engrained in both the fashion industry and modern society, that attributes the untapped market as a result of low demand from plus size women.

"Bloggers and models wearing a 'plus' size have created a space for women to identify with, support and raise their voices demanding more from the fashion industry," says Erin Cavanaugh, cofounder of See Rose Go. Photo Courtesy of See Rose Go

“What creates the gap is not the women, but the retailers and the fashion brands," explains Cavanaugh. “The quality and style options offered to women wearing a size 14 and up is extremely lacking compared to the straight-size options."

This is why Cavanaugh set out to create a brand focusing on quality, fit and style for curvy women with See Rose Go.

As both Cavanaugh and Boujarwah entered the market to trigger the supply chain with their respective digital platforms, they noticed that social media was an additional, and significant, tool in sharing their brands' mission. While both women worked to increase supply in plus size fashion, users of Instagram laid the foundation of the body positivity movement, thus allowing for the application to exist as an efficient platform to share this newly introduced supply for plus size consumers.

“We see women who would have never been picked up by a traditional modeling agency now have hundreds of thousands of followers globally," says Eugena Delman, co-founder of Mimiell, the e-commerce business set to launch this April, focusing exclusively on sizes 12-18.

Instagrammers like Tanesha Awasthi and Diana Sirokai embracing their size is seemingly the influence that the fashion industry needed as a sort of precedence, especially when considering consumers' attraction to, and interaction with, these public figures. “Twenty years ago, we would rarely have seen a plus woman as attractive and confident, so this medium has definitely given a voice to plus women everywhere, while also creating a community of support and friendship," says Delman.

"I'd say it's played a huge role in empowering women who wear larger sizes to own it and be proud of who they are," says Alexis Mera Damen. Photo Courtesy of @corinnelouiephoto for @thestyletheory_

Alexis Mera Damen of Alexis Mera uses the brand's Instagram to create a community for her line of activewear, and yet, while she agrees Instagram plays a role in accepting plus sizes, she strays away from using this term 'accepting.'

“I'd say it's played a huge role in empowering women who wear larger sizes to own it and be proud of who they are," she says. “It's not like plus size was 'unacceptable' before."

The act of sharing body positivity on social media has also opened the discussion to transcend borders in the international communities who may not have been as vocal about it prior to Instagram. “Globally, similar sentiments are present but reside in smaller pockets, rather than a movement," says Cavanaugh. “A few of our favorite plus size influencers are European, who have this super cool, modern and confident vibe about them and a tone of voice to be recognized."

This increase in empowered women embracing their bodies has brought the body positivity movement to the forefront, noticeably taking life outside of the screen as Fashion Week strives to adapt to consumer reactions of shattering the former image of the 00 ideal. This includes NYFW's Fall 2017 show that made history with the diversity of its models, the inclusion of all sizes and educational panels.

“Women and young girls now have their own icons on social media; they can see women who look like them in all walks of life," adds Alex Waldman, co-founder of Universal Standard, a women's modern essentials line focusing on sizes 10 to 28. “This movement shows women that they don't need to be a certain size to know they are beautiful."

Whether or not the label tends to hinder, or help, the body positivity movement, is subjective to the consumer, yet is still something retailers and brands need to consider while working toward inclusion. Photo Courtesy fo See Rose Go

Where does the label fit in?

Even as the fashion industry continues to 'normalize' the plus size label, these social communities are recognizing that 67 percent of American women are size 14+, making the term 'plus size' debatable. “Why can't it just be regular size?" asks Damen. “What we are calling 'plus' is pretty much the average size in America."

On the other end of the spectrum, Cavanaugh points out, “As a descriptor, it [plus size] has contributed to banding a group together under a supportive identity, giving a more amplified voice to the tribe. The voice is imperative in the cultural shift we are now seeing in the fashion industry." Whether or not the label tends to hinder, or help, the body positivity movement, is subjective to the consumer, yet is still something retailers and brands need to consider while working toward inclusion. Regardless of how the term 'plus size' transpires during the movement, fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogger Tillie Eze of It's Tillie! argues that designers need to remain authentic during the transition, highlighting that some labels won't be able to produce for the plus size demand.

“Everyone is trying to get in on being body positive--as we've seen, it rakes in money--But very few are actually taking the time to construct proper styles, fits, silhouettes for plus-size body shapes," she says, providing the example of J.Brand dressing Ashley Graham (considered a plus-size model) when the label only goes up to a size 12. “Stop using these women and body shapes to be something you aren't at your core," says Eze. Perhaps this is why Instagram and social media have been so effective in shifting the perception of this landscape because of the authenticity that these models showcase in their accounts--authenticity they are praised for with millions of followers and interactions. “[Social media] has been a catalyst into movements such as body positivity, helping to provide women the self-recognized 'permission' to wear what they want with confidence," concludes Cavanaugh, “In turn, sparking the industry to create the style and clothing she is demanding."

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Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.