I am the first to congratulate Afterpay Australian Fashion Week for dramatically improving the ethnic diversity this year. I’ve loved seeing models like Nylow Ajing and Nabila Leunig representing on the runway.
I loved that there was an all-indigenous parade. That was impressive and so needed during Reconciliation Week.
But I feel they’ve gone backwards in size diversity. I’m a size 16-18 and designers obviously don’t consider my size fashionable.
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It’s like there’s only so much diversity they can handle at once. It’s frustrating, because as the under-represented know, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Leina Broughton is the creative director and co-owner of label Leina & Fleur, which caters for sizes 8-24. She’s been following AAFW keenly.
“Ragtrader have had insights by key industry players and influencers giving the run down on luxury trends and who are the must-see labels at Fashion Week this year,” Broughton says.
“Running through the list of labels there is one thing missing… anything over a size 16. The bulk of the labels only offer up to a size 14 and even then, the measurements are skewed to be much smaller.”
She was so frustrated by the lack of larger sizes represented she did her homework and discovered how bad it really was.
“I went through the list of labels (at AAFW) that were there and checked to be really clear. In all of the 70 labels in Fashion Week only four labels offered a size 18. One of those labels was an oversized sleepwear range,” she revealed.
“So realistically only three labels and even then, they only went to a size 18. The rest of the labels did not predominantly go over 14. And there was a huge number who didn’t offer a 14 either.”
So, to be clear, that’s THREE out of 70 labels that cater for over size 16.
Mahalia Handley was named as one of AAFW’s Change Makers, the first plus-size, BIPOC, first-generation Australian to talk on a panel at fashion week.
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Handley told Fashion Journal she believes all we need to do is look at the numbers to see the profit designers and retailers are missing out on.
“Only a handful of designers actually represent and dress anyone over size 16. The average size of women in the UK, the US and Australia is 14. Plus-size women are 68 per cent of the buying market. That’s the market that you’re missing out on,” she said.
Broughton agrees, she believes a flow-on effect from a lack of representation even leads to retailers being reluctant to stock larger sizes.
“One of the reasons we stopped wholesaling was because we offered an inclusive size range, but retailers were saying, ‘Oh no, that’s not our customer. We’ll just take up to a 12 or 14 and we’ll stop it there’,” she says.
“It didn’t matter how many conversations we had to tell them they are missing the message. I wanted to yell at them ‘Women that are of a different size are not coming into your space because you’re making it very clear that they’re not invited’.”
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Designer Nikki Parkinson from Styling You The Label offers sizes eight to 18 and is expanding to sizes six to 20 in August. She applauds Broughton speaking up against blatant size discrimination.
“It’s really great when people like Leina who have been in the industry for so long actually get up and say what so many of us want to say and to have a voice for women,” she says.
Parkinson’s label is only two and a half years old, but it is already known for its diversity when it comes to size, and everything else.
“At the start our priorities in terms of diversity was to match a model to every size that we stocked. So, six sizes, six different size models. We always had women of different ages in that size diversity, but I also wanted women of colour and different backgrounds,” she says.
“And we have also included a seventh model, disability advocate Lisa Cox, on our last two shoots. So, it’s been a step-by-step process, but we’re a small brand and we’re committing a significant amount of money to make that happen. Because I believe it’s just what we should doing.”
Broughton says, “I just think of the impact that it has on the next generation who are just constantly bombarded with imagery of what supposedly cool, sexy, and acceptable. It’s not realistic. I think it’s so dangerous that we keep portraying that same shape and not extending out to include more shapes, more sizes, more heights and more age diversity.”
Is AAFW ever going to get it right where we can have an inclusive fashion week?
“I think it is possible if the people organising it are prepared to try a bit harder and spend a bit more money.” Parkinson says.
“I’ve long thought that there’s been such a disconnect between the industry, and by industry, I mean the designers, the PR, the traditional fashion media, that there’s one way for fashion to look. But I think that fails to connect with the actual end point, which is to sell the clothes.”
So, the message is clear for those of us not feeling seen. Don’t buy the main labels that don’t represent you.
“That is the beauty of the Instagram age, isn’t it?” Parkinson says. “You can fill your feed with labels that showcase their designs on women who look like you, and that’s only going to make you feel better.”
9Honey contacted the representatives for AAFW for a comment but was told to contact each designer individually for comment.