As glitz, glamour and skinny models descended on the British capital for London Fashion Week, an event running in parallel showed that big is beautiful and that larger women are just as important to the fashion industry.
The first ever "Official London Plus Size Fashion Weekend" brought designers, models and bloggers together in a loud and crowded venue in trendy East London, where they celebrated size and showed the world that big fashion also means big business.
Tall, long legged women strut down the catwalk in toweringly high heels, sporting neon bikinis, short skirts and tight dresses … and there's nothing thin or waif-like about them. These models are big bosomed, wide hipped and proud to show their curves off to the world.
This event is the brainchild of 25-year-old Remi Ray, a London College of Fashion graduate and entrepreneur. She always felt uncomfortable trying to fit into mainstream fashion, because she wasn't thin. The average British woman is a size 14-16, yet most catwalk models are a size zero - so this event, says Ray, is about creating a community of beautiful and successful plus-size women who can feel comfortable about themselves.
"Women are just so excited to be in the same room with other plus-size women," Ray told DW. "That's why this event is so important, to allow women of all shapes and sizes to feel accepted in who you are in your own skin."
Role models for bigger women
The "face" of the event is a strikingly curvy, size 16-18 model called Jada Sezer. A 23-year-old psychology graduate, she says there weren't enough role models of her size when she was growing up and so she now wants to show women that anyone can look and feel fantastic and fashionable.
"I'm hoping to use modeling as just a platform, psychotherapy is something I wanted to get into and that would be helping people on a one to one basis, but if this can help many people with just one campaign, then that's incredible and very exciting for me," she said.
An increase in the number of plus-size blogs and the launch of specialist magazines celebrating larger body shapes show that women are now standing up to the perceived pressure from the fashion industry to be a certain size. But prejudice towards womanly curves remains.
Jessica Kane is the editor of US plus-size fashion magazine Skorch and was invited to London to help launch this Fashion Weekend. Kane says the US is a leader in recognizing larger women's rights to accessible fashion that fits and flatters them, but even over there, women have to fight for their right to buy great looking clothes:
"I went into the women's department, which is an entire floor, and I said, 'Hello, where's Plus Sizes?', and they're like, 'oh, you have to go downstairs, past men's, back by the furniture,' and I looked at her and said, 'really, yeah, I guess I wouldn't have accepted it anywhere else, huh?'. I walked out - no thank you! You can accept segregation or you can say no. When you stop spending your money there, people will listen."
So is the British fashion industry starting to listen? It will miss out if it doesn't, says Rivkie Baum, editor of SLiNK, the UK's first glossy magazine for the plus size market. Larger women want to look good too, and they're desperately looking for somewhere to spend their money:
"It's a massively untapped market, but it's also an incredibly exciting time. The market's worth, retail wise, about three billion pounds and there's not a lot of people moving into that market … so to be at the forefront of an industry that's really emerging and really growing is really exciting."
Is anyone outside listening?
The atmosphere Britain's first plus-size fashion weekend is charged with buzzwords like empowerment and inspiration: This celebration of the big and the beautiful certainly feels like a change in attitude is afoot, but is anyone on the outside really listening? Well, apparently the government is:
"I've been a long-standing campaigner for body confidence and positive body image and now as Minister for Women and Equality its part of my portfolio as well," said Member of Parliament Jo Swinson, who also attended the event. She believes the fashion industry needs to learn from it, because, she says, taking the issue of body confidence seriously at last will make a powerful difference to many people's lives.
"There's a whole range of different areas where this is having an impact on self esteem, on how people participate in education and in the work place and the confidence that they have, and I find people up and down the country, particularly parents, are always emailing me and saying to me this is something they're really glad this is being raised at a political level, because they know that it is important to them, to their children, to their family and friends."
This plus-size fashion weekend has gotten good press, but it's still a fringe event and the fashion media's attention remains solidly focused on the prestigious London Fashion Week - the one with the skinny models, celebrities and world famous designers. It seems unlikely that calls for the two to be integrated will be heeded any time soon. But for any woman larger than a size eight - surely the majority in the UK and across Europe - this event is at least a step in the right direction.
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