Simple solution to size diversity?

NICOLE ELPHICK
Last updated 12:01 18/03/2014
tara lynn
H&M

ONE COMPANY'S ON BOARD: American model Jennie Runk showcasing Swedish mega-retailer H&M's plus-sized swimwear.

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An elegant solution to a common problem was inspired by a single tweet. A Kiwi living in Sydney, Ally Garrett, lamented the lack of plus-size clothing options saying, "I feel like I've gotta beg shops to give me a reason to spend $$$ - I'm young, hot and financially irresponsible, it shouldn't be this hard." Wellington resident Freya Dean responded, "I'm so tempted to make some kind of calling card/letter for when I go into an overpriced store and can't fit anything." And so the Clothes Calling Card was created only a half hour later, a fill-in card that consumers can hand over in shops reading, 'Please let me give you money. If you had things in size ___, I would have spent $___.'

The concept was the brainchild of four Kiwi women, Garrett, Dean and also card designer Merrin Macleod and spokesperson Nicole Skews. The 27-year-old co-founder Skews says that the card was borne out of a frustration with the lack of diversity in sizing and gave consumers an option to speak directly to businesses in a language they'd understand - money.

"For smaller stores to get business loans they need to prove there's a market for it. So my idea was that it might be cool for owners who would love to diversify to collect these cards to quantify exactly how much money they could make," explains Skews. She says for larger stores who might already be turning a healthy profit she hopes the card would make clear to them how many people fall outside of the average size run of eight to 16. "There are so many women and men who are outside of that size run, so it's the idea of not being seen to exclude people who don't fit."

And it seems that there is quite a groundswell of support for the concept. The card was launched on January 30 and after only two weeks has had hundreds of downloads. The cards can also be purchased with any funds raised going towards Dress for Success, a charity that provides professional attire for disadvantaged women. Since the launch, mentions of the card have been seen by Skews as far afield as the United States, Canada and France.

There are two versions of the card, one designed to be handed to a shop assistant and one that can be left anonymously in the store, and both can be shared via social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook. Skews feels it's important to be able to share the cards in a non-confrontational, anonymous manner if preferred explaining, "It can be really scary to walk up to a shop assistant and say 'I don't fit your clothes', because there's a lot of social stigma around not being in that narrow size run range. So the ability to just leave the card was something we wanted from the start."

The card is not only designed for difficulties in finding plus-size clothing, Skews says it can also be used by women who are too small or by men as it is non-gendered. "Some people were telling me how they were too small for that [typical] size run, so they often had to shop in children's clothing stores and that it was really humiliating."

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To those who might say that fashion is frivolous and that those who don't fit the current easily available size range should just make do, Skews argues that finding clothes that fit properly is anything but trivial. "People need to wear clothes to exist in society. To go to work, to leave the house in the first place - you need clothes. Even for people who don't have a huge interest in fashion, it's not fair that they have limited options in what they can wear," she says. "And for people who do have a real interest in fashion, the idea that there's a gatekeeper in what they can wear is quite disappointing. I think that fashion designers who decide what size people would look good in need to leave it up to people to decide what they feel good in."

It's hoped that the campaign will not only provoke discussion, but also effect actual change within clothing brands. Skews says they've already received a positive response from Peter Alexander regarding more diverse sizing after the card was posted to the sleepwear company on social media. As for retailers and labels that don't want to cater to a more diverse range of sizes Skews is pragmatic. "Fine, that's your loss, but we're going to make you very aware of how much money you are going to miss out on doing that."

Skews reveals she's been taken aback by how many people have expressed interest in the card from all sides of the size and shape spectrum. "The thing that surprised me most is how many people are like, 'I can use that card!' It's pretty telling. There's a real tangible sense of relief with finding out how many people have the exact same problem, even if it's not for the exact same reason. There's still not enough diversity out there."

- Daily Life

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