My name is Alexandra, I’m 34 years old, I’m French, I have been sewing for 3 years, I spend the first year sewing either for babies (childbirths gift for friends or family) or either bags, wallet or accessories. Now it’s been two years that I sew for me, and for the past 3 weeks I’ve been sharing my makes on Instagram which a little revolution around my life (and my boyfriend’s life as he has been appointed as my official photographer, he is not overly enthusiast but in the middle of a lockdown I don’t have that much choice). I have been knitting for 25 years ( I was so young when I started that I don’t even remember learning) and cook a lot too. I’m a data scientist for a living and my field of expertise are mainly sales and marketing. Why do I bother you with my CV ? When @unapologeticallykat shared her feeling in her blog post a lot of people wrote about how they were sad and hurt on her behalf. I’m sometimes sad and hurt too but really most of the times I’m angry. So, Jess asked me to come talk to you about my anger. And my anger has a lot to do with sales, marketing and data.
So, first off all, what are the things that make me angry and what are the things that don’t ?
First, I’m not angry when a pattern company doesn’t sell my size and I’m not angry because they don’t release patterns in my size. It’s a business choice and even if I think it’s not always a smart choice (we will see why after, when I talk about data). But it’s a business choice that I’m not angry with: I’m not angry about Ferrari’s business choice to make cars that are too expensive for me and I’m not angry with Hummer who make cars that don’t fit in my parking lot.
Why am I so often angry ? I’m often angry with regular size companies that extend their sizing to plus size bodies. The process of extending your sizing when you’re a pattern company is mostly public, brands communicate about it a lot and it’s often, in my private opinion, a public relation disaster. So, I will be pointing all the cases of bad sales management and stupid marketing that drive me positively mad, and which make me feel belittled, disrespected or dismissed by brands that claim to be selling me things that I theoretically want to buy.
The process of extending a size range
1) Using a poll to extend your size range
It’s usually the first phase we could see as a customer, so it’s often the start of our relationship with brands. To decide if they want to extend their size range some company run polls, on first inspection it’s a very good idea, the implementation is sometimes so bad that it annihilates the original intention.
We have seen it more than once; a company ask its social media audience [who are almost entirely thin sewists because how many people who you don’t include would you expect to be following you?] if they want to allow bigger people to have the same patterns as them … Apart from a handful size inclusive activist who respond to the survey (and I love them with all my heart), the response for that is easy, no, they won’t be interested, they don’t care. If you grade down your patterns to allow a smaller size range, I honestly don’t have anything useful to say because I’m not sure of what people who fall under your size range experience, and I don’t know if it’s a good business decision because I don’t know how many of them there are. I don’t feel I have enough competence, knowledge and interest to respond. But, I don’t honestly see how you could obtain an interesting response questioning thin people about habits of consummation of fat people.
As you may imagine as a girl that does data and marketing I have been involved in several polls and I can say with a lot of confidence that if you do your poll like that then your results don’t mean anything.
So, it’s not a good way to collect information, is it at least a good way to communicate with the fat sewing communities?
Let’s say, I feel that social networks are like a room where different communities speak side-by-side but necessary with each other. When are you ever in a room and speaking about a person (that is present and can hear you) but you’re not including them in the conversation? Well you don’t because it’s plain rude and disrespectful and when I feel disrespected, I tend to be angry about it.
It’s even worse because there is a way to avoid that : don’t ask your actual customer, ask your future customers! You don’t know them yet but you know people they know. You can act through social networks and ask a fat sewist with a reasonable community to advertise your poll, you can ask community site like the Curvy Sewing Collective. It’s not that hard. There is a way to talk to that future customer, but you need to take 10 minutes to think about it …
By asking only your existing social media following if you need to increase your sizes you are being dismissive and it’s not a great start to a relationship.
2) The second phase that we could see as customers is the release of the pattern(s) or the ‘coming soon’ announcement
Here it’s the moment where you see the wildest things!
First, there’s how you talk about your release, and yes how brands talk to their customers matters.
We will see thing like :
- How you had to start over from scratch to provide patterns for fat bodies: it’s simply not true! You already have the instructions, you sometimes already have videos sew-alongs, you have hashtags on social networks, you have a visibility on social network you didn’t have before, your first pattern had been tested and you have the experience from that. You know your contractor and your tools. It’s not nothing, its valuable or you wouldn’t do it in the first place.
- How you’ve extended your sizes in response to numerous requests about extending your size range. What does that mean, that you didn’t want to do it in the first place? That’s a great thing to say to people you want to sell something to! Are we children that have thrown a tantrum ? are you trying to make us feel guilty for asking?
- How you’re concerned about supporting this plus-size minority and want to include these less fortunate people that don’t have the luck to be thin enough to fit into your initial sizes.
Here is the data part so, hear me out: these different arguments are all based on a false assumption by people that didn’t do enough research.
These companies often think fat sewists should be grateful and there is really no reason to be grateful because of data! Jenny from Cashmerette has a big blog post about how plus-size is average size. Her numbers are from United States but they work from most of OCDE countries too (I know that France has 40 % of people that need at least a size 44 fr or 14 US, Cashmerette stated that 68% of USA folks that need more than a 14US, and I’m 100% sure these statistics exist in your country too). Plus-size patterns are not serving a niche and if you didn’t acknowledge half of your market potential before that’s your own business choice and expecting me to be grateful because now you do is delusional, we are not a charity case.
The release of the patterns itself shows a whole other set of various bizarre ideas, and here are some the things I see:
- No size chart : Buying your patterns shouldn’t be an act of faith. Maybe your previous customers didn’t need a size chart but plus-size sewists definitely need a size chart. If you’re telling us about your size range by telling us that you go up to a certain arbitrary size, then that’s also not helpful. I couldn’t tell you “my size” to save my life (Helen’s closet 30 is too big for me, Megan Nielsen 30 is too small for me, but my latest RTW garment is a Levi’s size 24W and it’s perfect), I can recite you my measurements even drunk or asleep and that is why I need a size chart.
- Strange sizing ideas : we previously drafted for a B cup, we extended our sizing so now we provide patterns for people up to “size 30”, but yes in B cup nonetheless (I don’t often go around people asking for their bra size but size 30 and B cup seem like a niche, indeed). So, you’re almost sure that your pattern won’t fit straight-out-of-the-pack and if you settle for good enough/close enough for plus-size sewists, you should settle for a discounted price too. When I pay the same price for a pattern as my thinner friend, I’m expecting an equal quality pattern. Again, because I’m a paying customer, not a charity case.
- Bad photo : Merchant and Mills have released a dress / top in their extended size range with two photos, one is the back and the other is from the side there is no photo from the front of the dress. With two photos, one is the back and the other is from the side there is no photo from the front of the dress. It’s a studio photo.. I don’t understand how you ended with no front photo and no details of the garment to show after having all the trouble to organise a photo shoot!
- Bad choice of model : Merchant and Mills again for the two-photo photoshoot. Their model is a size 20 for a 20 to 28 size range. Is it useful ? She could be in their photo shoot for the regular sizing and I wouldn’t bat an eye, she is lovely, but she doesn’t show your new sizing. It’s not a good model choice because I can’t tell the difference between a size 18 and a size 20 in a trapeze dress with a photo from the side.
- Ill-fitting garment on presentation photo : Megan Nielsen has a photo on her new Darling model with a plus size model who is gorgeous. On the advertising photo the sleeves of the garment appear not to fit, if it doesn’t fit a model how could it fit my far less perfect body? More concerning is the fact that of course it’s handmade garment so doesn’t the brand think to measure the biceps? It’s a common enough modification for plus size body, it’s one of the two adjustments that I know how to do without referring to books (full biceps and full bust adjustments)! Or did the brand settle for it because it was good enough?
- Poor choice of product to release : I only have one word and this word is benchmark. Why there is so many companies that chose to release first their basics ? “Fat folk I give you leggings and tee shirt”. Thanks, but every companies that do plus size have already released tee shirt and leggings. I have two patterns leggings and I don’t even wear leggings. On the other hand, I wear a formal jacket every day and it’s seem I can’t find a blazer patterns which I can squeeze myself in to. I’m on the far end even on the plus size spectrum and I can’t find a pattern for jeans. Coat patterns are in short supply in my size-range too. I would undoubtedly buy a pattern for a formal jacket, jeans or a coat even if it came with poor marketing and poor communications choices. Yes, these patterns are complicated, but you must find a product to release that people want to buy, and make your brand distinctive, because at the end of the day that’s your job. And leggings and tee shirt are rarely a distinctive product release that fills a gap in the plus-size market.
- No marketing campaign, no blogger review, no tests on specialized site such as The Curvy Sewing Collective : So, you put effort in your communication toward your regular sizing customer but not with us ? Why should I find that acceptable ?
- Last but not least : “We only offer pdf patterns for our plus-size patterns even though we offer paper patterns for our other size range because we don’t want to make a too big investment”, one more time : we’re not a niche. Full disclosure : I hate paper pattern, I hate to trace pattern, I find cutting PDF patterns a relaxing activity. I’m not actually angry about this one on my behalf. But it’s the same idea as “plus size is a niche”, “we won’t do much volume, so we only do the medium that makes more profit margin” and it’s not true, there is no proof, it’s just prejudice. How do you justify that I know the statistics about average sizes and you don’t while your job is selling sewing pattern and mine is tracking sales for an insurance company?
Some companies do an amazing job. And some companies make all the wrong marketing and sales management choices (guys it’s not just a game of luck!) and don’t do enough to attract plus size customers, and then also don’t do enough to satisfy their needs.
3) How does this story end ?
Usually, companies extend their size range on one or two patterns, if it works, they include bigger size in their regular size range and update their older patterns ( I recently received an email from Deer and Do saying they had finished updating their size range. They started in March 2017 and I had honestly forgotten that they were doing it! I’ve also gained weight since they started this work in 2017 and I don’t fit in their new size range now). But, you’ve launched in your new size range, good job and congratulations!
If it doesn’t work, more often the testing results are promptly hidden under a rug and sometimes the company includes passive aggressive comments in their releases like “we will track the sales to know if you worth the trouble”* and it’s just the worst.
Have you ever heard a company saying that to the thinner people of their size range “prove you’re worth the trouble”?
There’s less than 5% of the people that wear a size 8 UK/ 4US or less. Companies don’t ask them to prove they worth the trouble and threated to stop making patterns for them if they don’t buy enough! But they feel like they’re entitled to do it with fat sewist … I strongly feel it’s fatphobic comment and I feel it’s the worst action of all that I’ve outlined.
My personal thoughts when I observe all of the above :
I often feel antagonized or disrespected or simply forgotten by patterns company and it sometimes make me sad or hurt. But I’m have more often been angry about companies that aren’t doing their best and ask plus size sewists to take the blame. There is a huge potential market and it’s not well served but, it’s your responsibility to do something about that.
I’m very angry to see companies out there saying that the plus-size makers are entitled, are demanding, or are not grateful enough! Because we are so accustomed to being belittled and dismissed as customers that I think we’re very easy going. As plus size makers and often as women (male plus size sewist : you have it even harder!) we have been told and told since childhood to swallow our pride and that offensive comment are all in good fun, and that we should just be grateful when companies do something for us, even it isn’t great.
It’s not a good deed for them to provide patterns for us, if you pay for a product then you have every right to ask for qualities in this product. It’s absolutely our right to have the same level of attention that other customers, providing for plus-size makers is not a pet project, it’s not a good deed or a charity case, and brands are not entitled to your money if they don’t do their job!
It’s a business opportunity, you’re a worthy potential market that deserve better than “good enough”.
*( I see that recently and I really want to say “we are in the middle of a worldwide epidemic, half of the population is in lockdown and people are hoarding toilet paper. Tracking your sales now is a good idea, you will learn a lot about your product. You may need to take urgent decisions to make your business survive, but the middle of a worldwide epidemic is not the time for taking strategic decisions about a whole product range because people are clearly not shopping as they would normally”)