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‘Women want to invest in themselves’: fashion brands fail the test

For years the fashion world has wondered what women want: is it crop-tops or track pants, bright patterns or basics? 

The newest data reveals a demand that has much higher stakes than other fashion trends. And ignoring it could have major consequences for consumers, and brands.

The available data shows the Australian market has a strong interest in inclusivity in sizing and ethical clothing choices. Global Google Trends search data showed that in the winter quarter, Australia was the country most interested in size inclusive and ethical clothing.

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company says 60 per cent of people surveyed on sustainability in fashion considered a brand’s ethics while shopping.

And a study from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed the average woman’s waist circumference is 88cm, equivalent to sizes 16-18. 

So, why do brands continue to invest in smaller sizes and fast fashion when the average woman is what’s considered plus-size and wants sustainability?

The empowerment problem

Australia’s first plus-size, fashion editorial model, Natalie Wakeling, says she would continually experience size-exclusion while shopping. Any style that didn’t stop at a size 14 wasn’t trendy and hid her curves. 

“It was embarrassing,” she said. “Australia has been so behind other countries … there’s been so much room for more curve labels,” she said.

'Women want to invest in themselves': fashion brands fail the test

Natalie Wakeling started the Embody Women range.

IBIS data shows that the US had six times the number of size-inclusive brands as Australia and that less than 1 per cent of Australian brands have sizes 16+. 

“Brands have been missing out on a huge chunk, mind the pun, of the market,” Natalie said.

So, to ensure every woman had access to stylish, well-fitting clothes, Natalie began her size-inclusive, ethically conscious brand Embody Women.

This year, Natalie’s designs were featured in Afterpay Australian Fashion Week’s first-ever curve runway.

“It really was a special moment,” she says, reflecting on the positive media coverage.

Excuses and greed

The Australian Centre for Inclusive Design, said size-inclusivity could increase the fashion industry’s revenue by over a billion dollars.

Lisa Reiner, owner of size-inclusive and sustainable brand Curvature, said she recognised that smaller sizes were cheaper to manufacture but that it was a cop-out when businesses used this excuse, when it could be worked into company margins.

“It speaks to the ongoing fat-phobic nature of the industry,” she said.

Ethical manufacturing costs more partly because decent wages are paid, but many brands prioritised greed instead, she said.

Baptist World Aid reports that more than 80 per cent of the world’s big brands either barely meet ethical standards or miss them entirely.

A report from Britain’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found that textile production contributed more to climate change than world-wide aviation and shipping combined.

Big brands have ignored half of the Millennial age consumers who said to McKinsey they’d vote for ethical fashion with their wallet.

“They’d buy into your label if they knew who you were and where your products came from,” Natalie said, paraphrasing Myer’s managing director, John King.

“However, plus-size women have had minimal options and if fast fashion was all they could afford, who are we to judge that?” Lisa said.

Women have been learning to value their body shape and feel empowered. They want to invest in themselves, Natalie said.

Brands should find out how their customers have changed and keep up with it, she said.


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