Fashion for everyone

Size and age don’t matter, or at least, not as much as it used to. Fashion labels are expanding their portfolio to reach out to all sizes and age groups

Inclusive is a term used in several contexts. When the fashion industry talks about being inclusive and it means designing garments for people irrespective of age and size, one realises how much the industry has conformed to body stereotypes. It’s a simple idea — anyone, irrespective of what size they are, should be able to wear comfortable, flattering clothes. But surprisingly, this has taken years.

Last week, when Gwyneth Paltrow invested in a plus-size clothing start-up called Universal Standard, it gave the three-year-old company a shot in the arm to expand its reach. The move, coming from a well known name in an industry steeped with body image issues, is a welcome one.

In India, the plus-size clothing wave began a few years ago. Today, the line of demarcation between the regular labels and those catering to plus-size has begun to blur. Not many online and offline fashion houses want to sell clothing solely for plus-size. You’d find more labels catering to both regular and curvaceous people, and a multitude of reasons have led to this shift.

Confident mindset

As Simran Lal, CEO of Good Earth and Nicobar observes, clothing choices are beginning to be dictated by a confident and youthful mindset. “I’ve seen both mothers and daughters purchasing our clothes. Our buyers range from women in their 20s to those above 60.”

A lot more people follow a fitness routine and are trying to keep their health parameters in check. Along with flab, the inhibition to wear clothing that was once considered ‘too young’ is being shed. Those who may be overweight and aren’t yet on the track to being fit are also not shying away from fashionable clothing.

The sari remains the most forgiving garment. Along with it, there are A-line dresses, skirts, a number of mix and match separates, and no one is too old to flaunt them.

There are dedicated plus-size labels such as aLL and Larjjosa, and others like Mustard, Sassy Soda and LURAP (Love your appearance) that stock regular and plus-size clothing. Online retailers like FabAlley (through FabAlley Curve), Myntra, Jabong and several others stock apparels for curvy women and men.

A Hyderabad-based women’s wear label that realised the need to step up its stock for the not-really-skinny buyer quite early in its two-decade journey is Navika. “In our initial three months, we had a number of women asking for custom tailoring and lamenting that they weren’t finding enough well-fitting clothes in the retail sector. These were working women looking for something more than the regular salwar kameez sets. Initially these requests were from the older women and gradually, even those in their 20s voiced similar issues. A few gynaecologists disclosed that young women in their 20s are also battling PCOD and other issues,” says Puja Sahney of Navika.

The trick was to understand the weight gaining patterns so that you don’t end up designing ill-fitting clothes — fitted at the shoulders and awkwardly bulging at the waist or hips. Puja observes that if Navika’s size 42 (not to be confused with the UK and US sizes) was earlier apt for the overweight category, now it extends to 48. The design house makes garments in 16 sizes and the larger sizes are in demand, both within India and as part of its export orders.

Sustainable fabrics

The inclusivity has also been helped by the rise of pan-Indian cotton and natural fibre-loving brands like Cotton World, Nicobar and Khara Kapas. The silhouettes are relaxed unlike the snug fits brought in by spandex or lycra. “Salwar kameez were once the staple of women in their 30s and 40s, not any longer,” echoes Shilpi Yadav of Khara Kapas. The occasional salwar suit sets remain but kurtas are increasingly worn with cigarette pants, straight cut trousers, palazzos and culottes. The dress made its resurgence in a big way. There are girly dresses as well as the breezy, elegant ones for older women.

An in-house consumer survey helped Yadav and her team understand buying patterns: “A few overweight women prefer partially-fitted clothes to look slimmer but many slim, young women purchase loose-fit dresses for the comfort factor. Earlier, we had more buyers from south given the warm weather conditions that warrant cotton. With the northern region also witnessing shorter winters, we have seen a significant increase in buyers in cities like Delhi too.”

Anti-fit has become a buzzword in the fashion industry in the last few seasons but that doesn’t mean swimming through a balloon-like garment. Simran Lal sums up, “Garments can be free-flowing but not necessarily anti-fit. Our designer Aparna Chandra has been adept at creating flattering silhouettes that don’t look over-sized.”