Maggie Hewitt of the sustainable New Zealand brand Maggie Marilyn spends a lot of time thinking about women's bodies. Specifically, how her signature ruffles, long-line hems, sharp suiting and fuschia pink separates will look like on all kinds of women's bodies.
She says of her covered-up aesthetic, a look that fits well with the "modest" aesthetic that has been trending in fashion circles for some time:
"Regardless of culture or religion it appeals to a wide demographic and silhouettes of women, whether you're slimmer or curvier the silhouette suits everyone. It's something we’re thinking about when we're designing. We go up to a size 16, [whereas] most luxury brands stop at a 12. That’s been important to us. We sell size 16 on our website, we encourage department stores to buy [all] the sizes," she says.
"We're conscious of how it will look on a size 4 and a size 16 and that silhouette hits the nail on the head for every size."
That it's note-worthy a luxe brand is thinking about designing flattering clothes in beautiful fabrics speaks to the idea that there still remains a lack of options for women above a size 12 (i.e. a lot of women!).
According to a report by Fashionista the plus-size apparel market was worth an estimated USD$21.4 billion in 2016, a growth of 6 per cent.
Things are improving from the dismal offerings once almost solely available on the plus size market.
Last month the cool girl cult label Reformation, loved by the likes of Taylor Swift and Emily Ratajkowski, launched a permanent plus-size range following the success of its capsule collection last year.
In 2017 Patrick Herning founded 11 Honoré, the first retailer to offer luxury and designer ready-to-wear from sizes 10 to 24.
The site offers resources to brands such as fit models and technologies that might not have been available to the brand's patternmakers to allow the brands to expand their size offerings.
The brand now stocks around 70 labels including Phillip Lim, Marc Jacobs, Tome (designed by Australian-born, New York based Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin) and Theory.
Closer to home Melinda Andaloro founded her brand Saroka after years spent working in-house at various clothing brands and finding the lack of size inclusiveness frustrating.
Saroka, which is made in Melbourne, has a size range of 6 to 16 with each piece hand-made to measure with fabrics sourced from Australian suppliers.
Andaloro says the lack of diversity in luxury clothing is what inspired her to start her brand.
"I feel as though what’s been presented on the runway has trickled down the entire brand, from the type of models brand’s select for their campaigns, to the staff they choose to hire in store, (I’ve noted that sales staff often look like models too) and of course, most designer’s have a very limited size offering, most commonly stopping at a 12, with very few size 12’s even produced.
"I think designers and buyers have had this perception that women of a broader size may not be interested in luxury/designer clothing, or they don’t women of a broader size to be seen in their brand, which is a shocking truth," she says.
"I think Australia is very slow to recognise that this change needs to happen today. I think size diversity/inclusion is a responsibility that every designer needs to be made accountable for, the statistics of Australian women show that the average size of women isn’t a size 6, so why are brands only using size 6 models and stopping at size 12?"
Andaloro says she pays particular attention to designing pieces which will flatter women's bodies.
I think size diversity/inclusion is a responsibility that every designer needs to be made accountable for.
Saroka's Melinda Andaloro
"Our designs certainly are carefully considered, when I design a piece I really think about how women would feel wearing it – Is it comfortable? Will it make women feel body conscious? Will it make women feel confident?"
Andaloro says that while she pays attention to things like a-line cuts that skim over the hips and sleeves, there are plans to introduce a wider selection of products to suit a range of body shapes.
Meanwhile, online retailer Hearusroar sells more than 30 premium Australian brands specialising in sizes plus 12. Founder and CEO Blaise McCann says the best-selling size on the site is an 18 to 20.
Cultural touch point Project Runway has been revamped, with the likes of fashion designer and former stylist to Lady Gaga, Brandon Maxwell and fashion designer Christian Siriano as judges (plus ex Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth). Both have been leading the way when it comes to actually inclusive, actually beautiful and interesting, designs.
Maxwell, a finalist in this year's International Woolmark Prize, has been celebrated for his diverse runways. He told Bustle that he has designed up to a size 24 since day one.
He also understands the challenges around creating more size diversity, including the cost of creating different samples, extra fabric and fit models.
But opting out because it's hard isn't good enough.
"At its core, our job is to service women," he says. "Doesn’t matter where they come from, what their job is, what they look like, how they act — our job is to make them feel good. If you have a problem doing that, with any type of woman, then you should not be doing this job."
Doesn’t matter where they come from, what their job is, what they look like, how they act — our job is to make them feel good.
Designer Brandon Maxwell
Part of the problem with plus-size fashion particularly in the luxury sphere is, bluntly, snobbery.
As Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at The Fashion Institute of Technology, told Retail Dive
"They want to preserve this idea that 'I'm a designer of this particular brand and I design for this particular woman, and this muse will be in a very defined, narrow, sometimes ethnic-centric view of what female beauty is."
But as Grain Carter notes, this is an old fashioned approach. Plus, there is a big money out there. And if you're a fashion brand not making money, well, what are you?
"Fashion is only fashion when the masses buy it. If it's not bought by anyone, then it's not fashion, it's art," she says.
And there are a lot of women of good taste and with money to spend. Here's hoping more designers are taking note.