Size matters




The Australian clothing sizes debate has been raging for several years. And it's about to kick off again with the release of a new story in the June 2009 edition of CHOICE magazine, out Monday. It includes the above ‘secret shopper’ video shot by CHOICE journalist Kate Browne, which demonstrates the dramatic sizing variations between some Australian brands. In the interim, CHOICE has gone down an interesting route for word of mouth promotion. The magazine invited some fashion bloggers and writers to attend a fashion roundtable discussion of the subject, which was staged earlier today in Surry Hills. Frockwriter was both interviewed for the story and invited to the round-table but unfortunately was unable to attend due to work commitments – and an accelerating flu. But here is the thrust of CHOICE's findings, which touch on vanity sizing and the perennial dearth of larger sizes in the designer end of the market. CHOICE concludes that clothing size irregularities highlight the need for a national sizing strategy. Update 28/05: and here is the complete report, now live on CHOICE's website.

Bloggers/journalists in attendance this morning were Helen Lee, Natalie Smith (The Vine), Jenna Dunne (The Grand Social), Ragtrader editor Tracey Porter and Melissa Hoyer.

Key points from the CHOICE story (as per a press release):

• There have been no uniform sizes for women or men’s clothing since the previous standard was dropped two years ago. Despite a heavier population the most recent data collected for the women’s sizing standard was in 1975.

• The fashion industry currently bases its sizing on previous sales history and marketing hunches about the size and shape of customer they feel best reflects their brand.

• Sizing irregularity is also affecting the online shopping market with retailers saying Australia lags behind the United States, United Kingdom and Europe in this area.

• “Vanity sizing” is also a well-known practice in the $2.8 billion dollar industry, with generous sizes designed to entice the consumer into buying the garment because they feel flattered to fit into a size smaller than their usual one.

• Some fashion designers admit they are reluctant in some cases to make their labels available in larger sizes. The industry body, Council of the Textile and Fashion Industries Australia (TFIA), says this policy can send negative body image messages to younger consumers.

• Men generally have it better than women when it comes to clothes shopping because their clothing is generally measured using specific waist and neck measurements in inches. There is a standard for children’s clothing sizes currently used in Australia.

Coupla points.

First up, as I outlined on Twitter earlier today, the figure of A$2.8billion seems out of whack.

CHOICE is citing manufacturing – as opposed to retail – figures. In frockwriter's opinion, given that we’re taking about a bunch of retailers who are selling clothes to consumers – a high percentage of whom either didn’t make the clothes they are selling, or did not make them in Australia – it seems a little pointless to be quoting the manufacturing output figure.

CHOICE’s source for this figure is the Building Innovative Capability report, which was released by the TCF Review Committee in September 2008.

The report was commissioned by the federal government and the analyst was Professor Roy Green from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

According to the report, Australian TCF (textile, clothing, footwear) output is worth A$2.8billion, with exports of A$1.6billion. The value increases by A$7.5billion once you add in retailing and wholesaling. The two figures together provide a much more realistic picture of the Australian retail clothing market – as reflected by an independent analyst such as IBISWorld, which predicts the market will reach A$11.39billion this year.

CHOICE also mentions that the recent federal budget embraced plans to seek advice from the National Measurement Institute on the costs and benefits of forming a voluntary industry sizing standard. This was in fact one of the recommendations of the TCF Review Committee.

The clothes size debate has the potential to be quite controversial, especially when you factor in the ongoing brouhaha over the “average” Australian size, not to mention broach the subject of larger sizes and the reluctance of (most) designers to cater to this market. Why are designers reluctant to cater to larger sizes? Because the so-called “plus size” clothing market has traditionally been very separate to the high end fashion market and up until now, never the twains have met.

I looked at this subject on two specific occasions last year on my Fully Chic blog on NEWS.com.au.

The first was on March 14th, a post which included an interview with US designer Zac Posen, who had just delivered a capsule collab collection to Australian Target.

I noted the fact that Posen's Target range did not extend to a size 16, citing Target’s experience with the previous Stella McCartney range. Target found that the larger sizes just didn’t sell well. Much was made at the time of the leftover McCartney stock. Anecdotally, most of that leftover stock did indeed appear to be the larger sizes.

“So much for the continual complaints by larger women that there is no fashionable clothing in their sizes” I noted – a comment which prompted a minor backlash, with several women claiming that my tone had been “snarky”.

Yet others admitted that they are so fed up with stores not stocking fashionable clothing in larger sizes, that they just didn’t bother checking out Posen’s Target range.

One week later, I wrote a post about Australian designer Leona Edmiston doubling her dress size range to a 24 - for her online boutique only.

The post included an interview with Edmiston’s husband and business partner Jeremy Ducker, who revealed that the chief reason why they were only making the larger sizes available online was because their research indicated larger women felt uncomfortable going into fashion boutiques (a sentiment which was certainly borne out in several reader comments – because, some women claimed, they feel as if shop assistants are looking down on and belittling them).

The comments on that second post exploded and the debate became quite vitriolic.

Edmiston went to ground, declining all other interview requests. I learned at the time that she was nervous about being labelled a “plus size” designer.

There have been several small initiatives since this time including Sydney fashion label Billion Dollar Babes designing two collaboration collections for City Chic, a chain which specializes in larger sizes.