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Fashion With Purpose

Plus-size Fashion Good For Business

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By Laura Connell · June 7, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

"We aim to change the face...and body of fashion." That's the tagline of the Ben Barry agency, whose purpose it is to promote age, race, and size diversity within the modeling industry. Begun when Barry was 14 years old as a straight-size agency, the business evolved into its current incarnation when the owner and founder became disillusioned with the punishing standards imposed upon his models.

“When I began my agency, I represented the people who I considered beautiful – my friends and their families. But as I learned more about the modeling world, I was told that if I were to make it as an agent – and find work for my models – I would have to see beauty in the same way as my mentor (a top agent at Elite) and colleagues: size 2, 5’9-5’10, 15-22 years old, and primarily Caucasian."

In embracing a diverse clientele, the Ben Barry agency has enjoyed huge commercial success, representing Armani, Coca-Cola, Nike, and L'Oreal. Currently doing PhD studies on global perceptions of beauty at Cambridge University in London, England, Ben is at the forefront of a shift in the fashion industry, one which has designers questioning the glaring gap between the size of the average runway model and that of the average consumer. Call it good business practice (who wants to alienate their customers?) or editorial: there is definitely some runway revolt on the rise. And the backlash a designer suffers simply for sending a model larger than a size 2 down the runway is both shocking and perplexing.

Take Mark Fast's SS10 show at London Fashion Week. Fast's decision to use three size 12/14 models resulted in a mutinous resignation by his head stylist three days before the show. Freelancers had to fill in at the last moment to make sure the show went ahead, yet Fast continues his support of size diversity using renowned plus model Crystal Renn for his latest AW10 show at LFW this past February. Renn, as you may have read here, is a former size double-zero who starved herself for two years before embracing her natural size (a 12) and watching her career skyrocket as a result. Karl Lagerfeld is the latest designer to feature Ms. Renn--three times in his resort showcase for Chanel in St. Tropez. The choice represents a change of perspective for a designer who once famously derided anyone who would suggest models should be anything but stick-thin:

"These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television saying that thin models are ugly," he said.

Of course, Crystal's size 12 is slightly smaller than the average Canadian woman's size 14. Indeed, many observers express an ironic shock at the slightness of so-called plus models. And with the use of larger-size models comes the inevitable cry that they are not big enough: where are the size 16s and 22s, one might ask. It is encouraging, however, to witness the gumption of those few designers who are representing a diverse range of sizes on their runways. For it takes courage to do something different and, as we see in the case of Jessica Biffi's sold-out lines, paying attention to your customers also pays off in sales.

Biffi, a Project Runway Canada alum, has been showing her independent collections at Toronto Fashion Week for the last two seasons. Although plus-size herself, the designer was creating smaller-sized collections, using ordinary size zero or two models on the runway. This season, however, Biffi created two capsule collections for plus-size retailers Addition-Elle and MXM. The launch of these lines met with astounding consumer response: two to three items from each eight-item collection sold out on the first evening according to Janice LeClerc, general merchandise manager for Addition-Elle.

Clearly, catering to a plus-size clientele is more than just ethically sound: it's solid business practice as well.

 

 

posted by
6/09/10

Kudos to Ben Barry for embracing diversity - and it's great to see he's been richly rewarded in doing so. Great post Laura!
XO Piper


posted by
6/10/10

Thanks, Piper. I'm loving yours as well. The new branding is fab.


posted by alumnagirl
6/13/10

Shorter women still aren't embraced by the industry, so using women like Crystal Renn still doesn't make it diverse. Sadly, the industry continues to ignore us tiny women's rants because, well, we're tiny (and don't count).


posted by
6/13/10

@alumnagirl You are the second person today who has brought that to my attention and I appreciate you doing so. You're right; it is a voice that is not always heard and I will consider blogging on that topic soon.


posted by
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Great article. I saw that it made the IFB's links ala mode, and can see why it did.


posted by
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@Citizen Rosebud. Thank you; I appreciate that!


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