May 19, 2022

oumiss

Forget Mediocre Fashion

Size matters: Canadian brands writing a more inclusive fashion story

From jewelry to clothing, Canadian founders highlight the importance of offering styles for every body.

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Size inclusivity in fashion isn’t simply about making clothing that fits every body — although, that’s a very important element. It’s about representation, and the effect that can have, on everyone.

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“Designing with a wide size range in mind creates an incredibly positive ripple effect in the industry, leading to more size representation in media and more diverse user-generated content,” Sylvia Tennant, owner and designer of Vancouver-based Zaleska Jewelry , says. “It also normalizes retailers offering more size options, for which there is clearly a demand.”

That ripple effect distils down to the individual customers, sending a valuable message that they’re worthy of dressing how they please — no matter their body shape.

“It makes me feel like I am considered and welcomed as a consumer,” Tennant, a former fashion editor and current model, explains.

Sylvia Tennant is the owner and designer of Vancouver-based Zaleska Jewelry.
Sylvia Tennant is the owner and designer of Vancouver-based Zaleska Jewelry. Photo by Lauren Zbarsky for Oseiduro

Jess Sternberg, founder of Vancouver-based clothing brand Free Label, agrees. Adding that size inclusivity should be a “top priority” for brands.

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“It’s not only empowering for those often under-represented in fashion, but it also just makes good business sense,” Sternberg says. “The average American woman is a Size 18, so why would a brand exclude the majority of the market?”

Sternberg’s locally designed and manufactured clothing is available in Sizes zero (XS) to 28(4X) and is designed primarily with what she calls “pear-shaped bodies” in mind.

“This allows us to create the best fit for this particular shape instead of a ‘ meh ‘ fit for all shapes,” Sternberg explains of the approach. “We communicate which styles are optimized for pear shapes, and conversely we communicate which styles would be best for athletic, apple or straight shapes.

“With good communication, the customer can make clothing and fit choices that bring them joy rather than disappointment.”

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Vancouver-based brand Free Label Clothing is built upon the idea of offering size-inclusive clothing.
Vancouver-based brand Free Label Clothing is built upon the idea of offering size-inclusive clothing. Photo by Thomas Bullock

The emphasis on a particular shape is an important element of the evolution of size-inclusive clothing, according to Sternberg. One that needs to be adopted further within the industry in order for styles to actually fit the wide variety of shapes and sizes of shoppers.

“I think the first thing is that no one garment will fit every body. And thank God for that,” Sternberg says. “There are so many beautiful and diverse bodies out there, so it is a fallacy to believe a single piece will work for all sizes, shapes, heights, etc. Instead, I think it’s important to have great communication about which styles fit which bodies the best.”

Sternberg says she would love to see the industry do away with standardized numbered sizing in favour of more fit-specific body proportions such as hip-to-waist ratios for a more customized cut and feel.

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“I also would love to see brands focus on a particular fit rather than every brand trying to do everything — and failing most customers as a result,” Sternberg says. “Many years ago, people primarily invested in made-to-order, custom clothing. That’s no longer accessible to everyone, but perhaps we can create an industry where different companies can create semi-custom fits geared toward certain body shapes and sizes.

“There really should be options for all bodies and I think this is the most realistic way, especially in consideration of small brands that don’t have the scale to make hundreds of styles.”

While the conversation surrounding size inclusivity in womenswear has undoubtedly been pushed forward in recent years thanks to customer demand, some say menswear has been largely left behind.

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“The plus-size movement for women has seen so much traction and advancement in the last 10-plus years — and we could not be more happy or proud that it has — but the same just can’t be said for men, unfortunately,” Mahrzad Lari, co-founder of the Montreal-based company Wide the Brand , says. “Many times, we’re just cut out of the conversation. And as a society, we’re pushed to believe that plus-size men just don’t care about fashion or the way we look, which could not be further from the truth.”

Mahrzad Lari, co-founder of the Montreal-based company Wide the Brand.
Mahrzad Lari, co-founder of the Montreal-based company Wide the Brand. Photo by Wide the Brand

The menswear brand offers stylish designs, ranging from trousers to outerwear in Sizes XL to 6XL, that are produced entirely in Canada. The Wide designers are themselves plus-size, which Lari says provides a better perspective on the creation process overall.

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“It’s a very important aspect for us, one that is very much overlooked by other brands and companies who most of the time simply size-up existing pieces without thinking of the wider bodies they are designing for,” he says.

Wide’s overarching goal, Lari explains, is to help plus-size men feel good in their clothes — and therefore feel good about themselves too.

“We think plus-size individuals have had enough of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for someone to wake-up and realize we’re here,” Lari says. “And so many people, including myself, have taken it upon themselves to create pieces that allow us to feel confident, to finally feel seen.

“At Wide, this very feeling is what we’re sharing with our plus-size men. We want them to feel proud of the way they look. We think that generally, people nowadays have more confidence to speak and stand for what they want, which is also driving the conversations we’re having around inclusivity in fashion.”

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But size inclusivity doesn’t end with clothing. Virtually every aspect of fashion can benefit from size-inclusive adaptations.

Driven by a desire to make others feel valued, along with a need to fill a void in size inclusivity in the jewelry industry that she noticed herself as a customer, Tennant created jewelry brand Zaleska.

“This is why I started designing,” Tennant says simply. “I needed jewelry that fit my body and reflected my personal style.”

Zaleska offers designs including necklaces, earrings, rings and more, crafted from gold vermeil and solid gold with semi-precious stones. The majority of the rings are stocked in Sizes 4 through 12. In order to achieve this breadth of size options, Tennant says each design receives several molds to accommodate the necessary structural changes such as band thickness and detail grading.

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“As we look to expand our size range in 2022, a fourth mold per design may be necessary,” Tennant explains. “Our size range in stocked rings is one of the most accommodating in the industry, and all of our hoop earrings have post backings so that people with larger earlobes can wear them comfortably.”

The brand’s necklaces also feature custom-cut chains in order to fit a person’s unique neck shape and size. The accommodation is made without an additional charge for a larger size, Tennant adds.

Footwear is yet another area of the style story that often goes overlooked when it comes to the inclusive sizing discussion. Standard shoe sizing for women ranges from a size five to 10, while men’s ranges from six to 12 — size parameters that leave out those on the upper end of the sizing model.

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Edmonton-headquartered footwear and accessories brand Poppy Barley has aimed to bridge this gap with its designs. 

Poppy Barley Heeled Mule, $275, is available in sizes 5-12.
Poppy Barley Heeled Mule, $275, is available in sizes 5-12. Photo by Poppy Barley

“From the beginning, we understood the frustration of the customer,”  Kendall Barber, co-founder and co-CEO of the company, says. “ We’ve always believed that people deserve better accessibility to beautiful shoes that fit properly. Size plays a huge role in comfort, and comfort should not be relegated to sneakers.”

Barber says that while the average shoe size is increasing, the shoe sizing that’s standardized by the industry has “stagnated.”

“We also find a slightly wider toe box is a better fit for most of our customers and develop all of our lasts to accommodate,” Barber explains. “At Poppy Barley, we offer sizes five to 12 for women, and sizes five to 15 for men.”

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While Barber says offering a wider range of sizes often sees manufacturing costs increased — a note that was echoed by all brands interviewed — she notes the inclusive offering is part of the Poppy Barley “DNA”, so they simply “make it happen.”

“Each new size requires a new shoe last — the form that gives the shoe its shape — unique pattern, sole cast, insole development and new heel cast,” Barber explains. “Some factories also require large minimums at each size, making it expensive to manufacture. Our approach to small-batch manufacturing helps alleviate this because we’re able to order smaller quantities of the less popular sizes.

“We are always mining our data to best understand sizing trends.”

When prodded to ponder the future of size inclusivity in fashion, Lari says that getting all facets of the industry — from brands to consumers — on-board with greater diversity is key in order to foster a fuller representation of humanity.

“Hearing voices like yours, seeing bodies like yours, it matters in ensuring people have the freedom and confidence to accept their bodies as they are so they can eventually love their bodies,” Lari says. “Fashion plays a very big part in this equation and we think it’s so very important to create a confident and powerful aura around plus-size men and women — the same way we do ‘regular-sized’ individuals.

“We’d like for the inclusivity movement in fashion to continue to push the agenda of confidence and self-esteem, for all bodies.”

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