Realistic & identifiable marketing for plus-size brands…

Every Friday my inbox gets inundated with marketing from plus-size brands advertising their new stock or current sale. Every Friday, I have the same thought when I double click to open the email – why are the marketing gurus of these brands so determined to continue to market their wares incorrectly?

Over the past six years of working with curvy customers, I am constantly asked about why Industry models that are size 14 are considered plus-size? When from many plus-size customers’ perspective a size 14 is an average size and probably doesn’t even fall into a plus-size category. To be honest I find it completely frustrating too. In my Real Women Australia Plus Size Survey 2010, I polled 100 women and 100% of respondents answered YES to the question, “Would you like to see plus size models, larger than a size 12 in campaigns, advertisements and marketing of plus-size products?” and interestingly, many also went on to elaborate in the “comments” section about why this bothered them so much.

I’ve tried my hardest every time I get an opportunity to get in the ear of a plus-size brands’ management or marketing representative and my pitch has always been this…

Present each garment on two types of body shapes – giving the target customer an opportunity to identify with the garment and visualise how it might look on her own figure. More specifically, go ahead and continue to use your Industry “plus size” model, and add in another model – preferably around a size 20 plus, with perhaps say an apple figure and/or a variant such as shorter, small busted etc. Let’s face it, if your target market is women size 14-26, and your garments are designed to flatter curves, why market such a garment on a model with minimal curves?

I just don’t understand it. From my perspective it’s a basic principle of marketing to identify your target market and appeal to their needs to get their attention and more importantly ensure sale of your product! By continuing to market your product incorrectly, you are not only irritating your target market, but you are impeding your opportunity to prove to your market that you understand their needs. Again, a basic principal of marketing. It’s not rocket science.

There is much debate across the globe around the term “plus-size model”.  Laura Wells, a well-known Australian plus-size model who is an AU size 14, was quoted in this article about being referred to as a “plus size’ model in the modelling industry that “I am between 3-6 sizes larger than a normal, industry standard model.” “The term is there as a job title. But in reality, in the real world, I’m not a plus-sized person. That’s where the confusion comes about. It has a lot of negative connotations attached to that word. People don’t look at my body and think I’m plus sized. They think that I’m normal, because I am. I’m an average sized person.”

Robyn Lawley, arguably the most famous Australian “plus-size model” and designer in her own right, speaks openly here in an interview about her struggle to find work as an AU size 14-16, of how she was “embarrassingly sent home constantly” and grew to hate her figure before she learnt to embrace her shape regardless of the Industry standards. Her struggle relates to living up to the standards of the traditional Modelling Industry.

Indeed, two agencies, Bella Models and BGM Models have revolutionised the Industry by providing models over a standard size 10 to the Fashion Industry as a whole. Their models are beautiful and do an amazing job, and I fully support and admire the shift that they’ve been able to create in not only the Fashion Industry, but overall as to the acceptance of larger bodies being “normal” in print media and advertising.

Plus-size modelling however is quite different to plus-size womens’ bodies in general. The criteria for becoming a plus-size model is usually that you need to be between a size 10-18, aged between 16-35 and 172cms or above.

Curvy Revolution OIn 2009, I decided to test the waters and founded Curvy Revolution, an agency representing exclusively size 16+ women. Here’s a summary of what I promoted:

Our Philosophy

You can be the most beautiful woman in the world, but if you don’t have a positive body image and REAL body acceptance, that attitude projects through the lens… all our models are vetted for not only their unique physical beauty, but most importantly their attitude to their own bodies… thus they are beautiful both inside AND out.

Our Mission

  • To represent realistic, plus-size figured models that women can really identify with.
  • To promote positive body image, a healthy life-style and body acceptance in all women, regardless of size.
  • To break the mould of female model representation in Australia.

What is a Curvy Revolution Model?

  • She projects positive body image and has a REAL body acceptance.
  • She leads a healthy lifestyle.
  • She is beautiful both inside and out.
  • She is not robotic, but understands the importance of technical accuracy & training.
  • She is passionate about breaking the mould and pioneering a change in model representation.
  • She believes in REAL representation of plus-size clothing.
  • She believes she is deserving of making the MOST of who she is TODAY regardless of size.

What are the basic physical requirements of a Curvy Revolution Model?

  • Size 16+ figure
  • Fluid & confident body movement
  • Good posture
  • Clear Skin
  • Even, healthy teeth
  • Healthy, well cared for nails
  • Great smile
  • Open and clear eyes
  • Healthy and well-cut hair (no roots showing please)
  • Well groomed eyebrows

I was absolutely INUNDATED with applications, not just from Australia but from around the world. I didn’t have to work too hard to convince some brands to come on board and try us out. Now whilst I admit that my Curvy Revolution girls were not professional models, they were very passionate and dedicated to what we were trying to achieve, after all, they were the customer too, and believed just as much as did in what I was trying to achieve. They worked so hard, sometimes pro-bono just to get our work out there and prove a point. We proudly worked with brands such as Plus Maternity, Lisa’s Lacies, Fashion Exposed 2010, Plus Size with Style, Big in Black, Tekiero Boutique, Work, Rest & Play, Hope & Harvest, Mineo Bridal, Sequins & Sands, Capriosca Swimwear and Maggie T.

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In 2009 I ran a fundraising event for the Girl’s Night In where over 75 women attended. The format was a catwalk event promoting local plus-size retailers. The models varied from a size 16 to a size 24, and Kate was a size 18-20 and 7 months pregnant! It was sensational, the vibe overwhelmingly positive. The Curvy Revolution ladies and I received a standing ovation and I was inundated with feedback:

  • Every-body was represented, I’ve never seen that before, I loved it!”
  • “The models were incredible, so professional”
  • “I was so inspired to see a size 24 body shimmy down a runway – it was awesome!”
  • “I loved being able to meet the models afterwards and shop with the retailers, I wanted to buy everything after seeing the clothes on a body I could identify with”

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The momentum was building and the response was so encouraging. In 2010 I was rewarded with the news that I had been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Melbourne by The Age M Magazine, I was so proud and so hopeful that this acknowledgement would help drive the expanding of boundaries and encourage a broader range of realistic and identifiable representation that would include bodies over the standard size 16.

I’ve stood behind and publically supported some great achievements such as TS14+ who are regularly featured at the annual Melbourne Fashion Festival with their own catwalk show, and City Chic who had an incredible reception with their Sidewalk catwalk show also at the Melbourne Fashion Festival where some of the Curvy Revolution models and some of my customers met me in Federation Square to support the show.

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Alas, all the hard work and dedication from myself and my team of Curvy Revolution models, and committed Industry businesses who saw the vision, and supported us was just not enough. I could no longer maintain the work pace without a sustainable income and I had to close the doors in late 2011.

I have however never faltered in my quest to impress upon the Industry the importance of effective marketing and encouraging the use of realistic & identifiable bodies.

“This is not only my own opinion,  but my voice echoing the thoughts of the vast majority of my customer base” Janine Mison, Love your shape!

With the explosion of the Blog Culture, we can now easily google plus-size blogs and see copious amounts of posts of images of everyday women off the street sharing their outfits and clothing recommendations with other like-bodied women. It’s become a lot easier to source information and more importantly to view images instantly. Danimezza founded Aussie Curves, one of the original Facebook closed groups where like-bodied, like-minded women could share information, offer support and so much more. This has spawned a huge number of similar groups and all of these resources help to add value to us the customer, and assist us with deciding on our purchases and styling our outfits. It’s never been easier in fact.

Just last week US blogger and well known plus-size identity Jessica Kane posted this image showing an outfit on an Industry Model AND the same outfit on her own US size 26 figure entitled “But what would it look like on me?” – she gets it!

Jessica Kane

In fact, this is exactly what I’m talking about.

I started to look around and take a bit of an inventory of brands that do in fact use larger than a size 16 Industry model… Hope & Harvest and Sonsee Woman sprang up immediately, but then I was really having trouble finding anyone else?!

Now of course in the past, I’ve spoken in detail about the pros and cons of this with brands. I’ve been told many, many times in the past that the key issue with shooting catalogues and campigns in larger than an AU 14-16 is that the “Samples” – which are the garments that are the final approved version – are sent to the Brand to be photographed for marketing purposes usually prior to the actual stock arriving and being available to the customer. Of course there is quite a lengthy process to photograph the range and then convert that into a marketing campaign (sometimes this can be months in the making). I’ve also been told that to change the sample size of the standard AU 14 (in most major brands case), to anything different would involve “Significant cost” to the business and is just not viable. So there you have it, that’s that.

Except I’m not willing to accept that as the answer.

You see, I’m a firm believer that if we could in fact motivate brands to move outside the standard marketing campaigns we’re currently seeing, we could in fact see a major shift in the buying habits of plus-size customers. With online shopping also being a huge influence on how people shop, this is even more important, because is most cases purchasing online involves not seeing the garment beforehand and more and more of us are relying on our trusty bloggers, instagrammers and Facebook resources to make decisions.

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So I’ve been thinking more and more about this, and I thought I’d ask the question of a colleague of mine, Harvest, head designer at Hope & Harvest, here’s what she had to say:

Janine:                  How do you choose a model for your campaigns?

Harvest:  

“When I’m deciding how to market a season campaign I look for “the person”, not the size. I want to represent the garments in a realistic way, and this translates into our sample size for that campaign being made based on the model. For example, with Katerina who is an Australian size 20-22 we sampled that season in a size L (20-22) and shot the range on her. However, when dealing with Industry partners we are still asked to send our standard size which is generally a 12-14 for our stock that will be promoted via their sites. For us, it serves us well as then we have images of both ends of the scale represented online, and we find this helps our customer identify with our garment and how it will look on their own figure”.

Janine:                  So you’re flexible with which size you sample your garments in?

Harvest:

“This doubles up the cost of our samples but because of this at least all women at both ends of the spectrum can see what our garments would look like on themselves, not having to use their imagination to guess! We see the added cost as a reasonable expense as it serves our customer well, and that’s our focus”.

Janine:                  Do you ever get feedback about your choice of models?

Harvest:

“OMG absolutely, Katerina & Suzie have a growing fanbase, the customer loves that we try to represent all types, body shapes, large/small busted, tall/short etc. We get nothing but positive feedback, so that reinforces to us that we’re on the right track for what our customer is wanting from us”.

Sonsee Woman is another brand that springs to mind whose advertising just tells me everything I need to know without having to look too hard. It’s right there in front of you, don’t you agree? Can you identify? See what I mean?

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This image sends me the message IMMEDIATELY that they UNDERSTAND what I’m looking for, that they understand me, their target customer. I have them committed to memory as a GO TO brand when I’m looking for hosiery. FULL STOP.

In a few weeks time, I’m off to attend the Curvy Couture Roadshow being hosted in Melbourne. This event is something close to my heart as about 4 years ago my good friend Erika and I put our heads together and invested a lot of time and money trying to get a similar idea off the ground. Our event was promoted as Real Women Revolution (those of you who’ve been following me a while will remember), we made quite a hit and got lots of press interest, in fact, we also got a lot of Industry interest as well as from the target customer, Australian women size 16+. Erika and I went from phone, to shop, to warehouse to boardroom all around the country and we talked until we were blue in the face. After 6 months of hard yacka and an encouraging amount of verbal support from the Industry, we were devastated that when it became time to put their money where their verbal agreement was, it didn’t translate. We had to shelve our idea. This hurt…it hurt really bad. My followers were devastated, we were devastated, many in the Industry were devastated as they could see the value in what we were trying to achieve but we just couldn’t get the dollar support we needed from sponsorship. So it was with great surprise and a lot of pride last year when I heard that the girls at Curvy Couture Roadshow which began in Perth in 2013, hit with a bang with their first Melbourne Event. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it as I was overseas at the time, but this year I’ll be there with bells on! They get it! They will be using a mixture of professional Industry models from Bella Models and Melbourne women trained by Bella to realistically & identifiably represent garments on the runway – they get it! – I LOVE IT! I hope to see you there.

A lot has changed over the past 6 years, and it’s very encouraging. Just over a week ago the gorgeous Tess Munster, a fashion model got a contract with UK modeling agency Milk Management. Standing at 5 feet 5 inches and wearing a size 22, this gorgeous lady is the first of her height and size to model for a major agency. HOORAY!

Ok so it’s in my nature to push those boundaries a little harder with putting this post together, and at the risk of rattling a few cages, I’m happy if that results in another shift, no matter how small.

Feel free to post your comments below, I always love to hear from you.

Love your shape!

Janine x

One thought on “Realistic & identifiable marketing for plus-size brands…

  1. Wow this is an interesting read, and congratulations on accolades such as Top 100 Most Influential People! I seriously admire your efforts to start an agency for exclusively 16+ models – that would have been an incredible feat to get going, and it’s unfortunate that we all must hold down day-jobs whilst attempting to change the world by night 😉 I would also love to see more diversity in not just size but also shape, colour, age etc. I think we’re taking baby steps in the industry, and I can’t wait to see how it all continues to progress (and hopefully get the ball rolling quicker in this social media and blogger-saturated era). I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a small Japanese brand called “Punyus” that covers straight and plus sizes, and they did an excellent lookbook of the same outfits on 2 different girls. I adore their stuff! If you google image search Punyus Lookbook you can check it out 🙂 Also, i’m one of the street models at CCR next week… I think we’ve briefly met once, but it’ll be nice to chat more there! Kobi 🙂

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