Why should curvy women have to pay a fat tax?

By Sujata Assomull

Last week, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph accused UK-based high street retailer New Look of charging a ‘fat tax’. This was after a customer found a pair of trousers from their ‘plus size’ range cost 15 per cent more than ‘normal size’ trousers. The story had such an impact that New Look had to issue a statement: ‘To ensure pricing differences like these don’t happen in future, we are in the process of reviewing the pricing structure of our plus-size collection in a way which works best for our customers and our business.’

It got me thinking. I am not a plus size, but since I work in fashion and wear a UK size 10, I often feel like one. So, often designer clothes don’t work on me — I am just too ‘curvy’. Considering that women are averagely a UK size 16 in most countries, it does seem like fashion is alienating potential clients.

I was discussing this in office with a colleague, (who is, I would say, a size 8 or smaller). She said, “Well, those clothes need more fabric so of course they should cost more”. Ouch! But then, should every size be priced differently? You never hear that women with larger feet have to pay extra for their shoes!

Many high street brands have realised there is a market for the ‘curvy woman’ — a more elegant tag than ‘plus size’, and one that many high street brands have started using. America’s discount retailer, Target and UK’s online fashion retailer ASOS, have catered to this market for a while now.

Several of my more “healthy” friends are addicted to the ASOS Curve. This line starts at UK size 18 and goes up to UK size 24 (or a European size 52, as they call it).

Vanessa Spence, design director, ASOS says, “Our brands offer more than 30 sizes. We’re committed to providing all sizes at the same price. We approach design in the same way for ASOS Curve customers, as we would any other customer, but we are aware of the variety of body shapes.” And they do not “enhance” the pictures of any models on their website, so that the clothes you see are true to size. But compare ASOS to, say, Gucci’s website, and you will find that while they start at a UK size 4, their largest size is a UK size 16—which they call a “XXL”.

The fact is fashion does discriminate against the “curvier” woman. Dima Ayad is a Dubai-based designer who recently started retailing her label on the size inclusive site, 11Honoré (they also work with designers Zac Posen and Prabal Gurung).

Dima’s label has always been about being size friendly and the designer says, “High street caught on much faster because they are all about addressing a need within their target audience, and they are able to churn out fashion much faster than high end brands. It’s only very recently, four seasons at most, that a curvy model is considered beautiful. We have Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine to thank for that.”

And it was the lack of clothes for women of a certain size that lead Dima, working in the hospitality industry, to start her own label.

“I am curvy myself. I’m tall too. I also look at people everywhere, I watch buying habits, I live in department stores. That in its own right is research… I have watched women struggle to fit into things and I have watched me struggle to fit in to things! So, I decided it was time that we in the fashion world did something about this.”

She believes fashion is finally becoming more inclusive — whether it concerns women of size or women from different backgrounds. “When I look back at just five years ago, I didn’t think I would see curvy women or a hijabi on the runway. Things are changing; it’s taking time, but things are changing.”

The fact that New Look had to own up to their price difference means that fashion is getting the message that women come in all sizes and shapes.

Sujata is fashion editor of KT. She makes it her business to stay on trend


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