Body wars build on mannequin battle

Body wars build on mannequin battle

There’s a shift happening in fashion PR, and it’s being built on a groundswell of strong consumer support. Beauty ideals are changing, and consumers are demanding more from designers. Some designers are listening … but the industry as a whole is struggling to keep pace.

CNN recently encapsulated this phenomenon in the form of Nayyara Chue, a fashion design student at Parsons School of Design, who petitioned the dean of Parsons to equip students with more plus-size mannequins. So far, thousands have signed onto the petition.

Why does this matter? Designers can’t do as much about larger size clothes with smaller-sized models to work with. Chue is leading the fight because she’s living a very real frustration: the inability to design clothes that actually fit her. “We had one size 22 mannequin in the entire school…” the petition reads.

According to CNN, Parsons says Chue is simply mistaken. That the school has added many plus-size mannequins to its program prior to Chue’s petition, including a size 18 and a size 22. So, maybe it’s a case of not adhering to changing social norms, and maybe it’s a case of a young adult not wanting to look too hard for something they need in the supply room. Either way, the school is responding in a positive “lean in” sort of way, including the following public message:

“(the situation) has been a very positive opportunity for us to open up the dialogue… We’re always encouraging our students to expand their ideas outside of the (fashion industry stereotypes).”

At least, that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it. But Chue’s supporters point out that when Parsons broke down their dress form sizes, only four percent of more than 450 mannequins were actually plus sized. That’s massively disproportionate to the American public, where the average dress size is actually between 16 and 18.

And that’s where the industry has to catch up. Pro designers tend to drape runway models, who tend to size out when they grow past a 4. This leads to a “practical” academic structure that doesn’t even really consider ordering supplies for plus-size fashion. This correlation between consumer reality and fashion tradition is creating wave after wave of consumer PR friction, leading to various fashion-related blowback as consumers are finding their voices … and these voices are frustrated, angry and plain fed up.

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