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In the nearly 80 years since Lane Bryant began advertising its “Misses Plus Size” line, the line that coined the term “plus size,” advancements in the plus-size fashion industry have been few and far between. One fashion season shows a record high number of curve models featured — during spring ‘20 Fashion Month, 86 models were plus-size, according to The Fashion Spot’s diversity report — only for the next to result in a dramatic plunge, with just 46 curve models cast for fall. Even more alarming, despite the average apparel size for a woman in the U.S. being between 16 and 18, a majority of brands don’t design clothing over size 14. When they do, the options are often limited at best.Given the minimal effort that most commercial brands allot for the plus-size community as it is, pandemic-induced budget cuts, profit plunges, and government-mandated store closures, in a lot of ways, could only make the situation worse. Arguably the most damaging blow to the plus-size community thus far in the pandemic was the news of Ascena Retail Group — the company that owns and operates Lane Bryant, as well as two other plus-size retailers Catherines and Cacique — filing for bankruptcy. According to the Washington Post, all 264 Catherines stores will be closing permanently; most Lane Bryant stores will do the same. In Canada, Reitmans Limited, the parent company of beloved plus-size brand Addition Elle, recently announced that it would be permanently closing down all 77 of the brand’s brick-and-mortar stores, as well as its e-commerce site. “It is devastating that stores like Lane Bryant, Catherines, Cacique, and smaller independent plus-size retailers are closing down due to COVID-19,” says Chelsea Kronengold, the Communications Manager at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). “We’ve seen store closures across all industries, but the fact that the parent company, Ascena Retail Group, chose to close the plus-size stores based on their ‘lack of profitability, sales trend, occupancy, costs, and other macro factors’ sends the message to people in higher weight bodies that they are less valuable than customers who shop at straight-size Ascena stores.” > “If you didn’t rethink everything during this time, you haven’t done your job.”> > Patrick Henning, CEO of 11 HonoréWhile the financial fallout that’s resulted from the pandemic has been damaging, it has also forced a lot of individuals and companies to pause, take a look in the mirror, and re-examine their priorities. “If you didn’t rethink everything during this time, you haven’t done your job,” says Patrick Henning, the CEO of 11 Honoré, a plus-size retailer that carries brands like Brandon Maxwell and Cushnie, as well as its own line. But will anything change as a result? Will COVID-19 be the catalyst that finally makes fashion’s size-exclusivity problem a thing of the past? Or will it simply amplify the already-existing issues? “Using the financial ramifications associated with COVID-19 as an excuse to no longer offer larger sizes is missing out on a vast customer base,” Kronengold says. And she’s not wrong. When money is as tight as it is right now, brands can’t afford to ignore 67% of the population who wear a size 14 and above. According to Statista, the plus-size apparel market as of 2019 was estimated to be worth $9.8 billion. Companies need to find a way to make sales again, and what better place to start than with a population of women who’ve been begging for ways to spend their money for decades? “Plus-size shoppers want to buy beautiful clothes, just like people in straight sizes; however, the options are in short supply,” Kronengold says. She goes on to explain that while the pandemic has had a negative impact on most peoples’ mental health, it’s been especially damaging for the plus-size community. “Something that has been harmful for our community, specifically for folks in higher weight bodies, are the jokes and comments about gaining the ‘COVID 19,’” she says. According to her, health and wellness sites claiming that obesity is a risk factor for the coronavirus without examining how weight stigma, bias, and discrimination also play a role has further contributed to that. While not as damaging, having the few places that carry plus-size clothing close certainly doesn’t help the matter. Another common argument that designers make when asked why they’ve yet to increase their size range is that it’s too difficult of a transition to make. With layoffs and furloughs happening across the board, this argument could become even more prevalent. According to Annika Chaloff, the founder of plus-size apparel brand Hey Mavens, “Doing anything outside the norm, even if it is the correct thing to do, can be challenging.” Especially when, as she points out, at many design schools, students are still taught to drape on size 2 dress forms and draft on a size 2 sloper, which is “the basic pattern that all patterns are drafted off of.” All to say: most up-and-coming designers aren’t being taught how to design for a curvy body, which makes finding an experienced pattern-maker or designer hard for brands who want to extend their sizes. But while she can understand a fraction of the hesitation, Chaloff is quick to remind me that “it is not that hard.” She says, “Buy a larger dress form to drape on, get a plus-size fit model, carefully and thoughtfully grade your patterns, and you’re on your way.”> “Buy a larger dress form to drape on, get a plus-size fit model, carefully and thoughtfully grade your patterns, and you’re on your way. It’s not that hard!”> > > Annika Chaloff, founder of Hey Mavens!As plus-size chain stores like Catherines and Lane Bryant close down, more independent brands like Hey Mavens and Henning, who design with the community in mind, come to the forefront — and they’re not about to leave their customers to fend for themselves, or make them settle for anything less than top-quality garments. Lauren Chan, who founded the luxury plus-size label Henning in 2019, told Forbes that it pains her to think about independent plus-size businesses folding and budgets for extended sizes at big brands getting cut after how far we’ve come in recent years. “If I think about how many more options plus-size consumers gained in recent years, which led to how much more representation we saw, which led to how much more self-esteem we have, I get extremely emotional,” she told the publication. “Losing that progress and its effect is not something I can live with. So I’m going to do my part to prevent any regression.”Like Chan, Chaloff feels equally passionate about independent plus-size brands. “We are finally giving credence to the grievances that plus women have been airing for years,” the designer says. “I don’t know if we will likely see big brands getting on the plus-size train, but I think smaller brands are scrappier than ever and are able to pivot towards the demands of the consumer much faster, thereby filling a huge gap in the market.” Given how significantly the fashion industry has been affected by the pandemic, Henning says that it’s important to have conversations about how to move forward: “I am rethinking absolutely everything we do and how we do it. I can only imagine that all designers are asking themselves these questions as well and my hope is, we all emerge more inclusive and supportive of one another on the other side.” Unfortunately, during testing times such as these, wants and hopes come second to reality. And the reality, according to Chan, is that designing plus-size clothing right takes time, money, and resources that a lot of brands either don’t have right now or are unwilling to use to help a population of shoppers who have long been ignored. “There have been many botched attempts at designing plus sizes,” she says. “It requires a substantial investment to execute it properly, and that’s important because: (1) we as customers deserve for it to be executed properly, and (2) it needs to go well so that corporations can see that plus-size apparel is viable. When we see these botched attempts, it’s really quite harmful for the future of size expansion.” So while, yes, in an ideal world, the end of plus-size discrimination in the shopping sector could be a COVID success story, unless a company has the necessary resources to design a high-quality, well-fitting, and correctly packaged plus-size collection right now, doing so just to appease customers or make a quick buck won’t help the plus-size community and, as a result, the brand’s longterm success. What we can hope for, though, is that come the end of the pandemic, the deeper conversations about inclusivity and diversity that it sparked will carry on. And maybe, when the fashion industry finds its footing again, real, worthwhile advances will be made for the plus-size community. For now, put your money where your mouth is by supporting the brands that have served the plus-size community all along.Like what you see? 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With many Americans still feeling anxious about visiting a hair salon during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for at-home services has never been higher. In fact, Shortcut — an app that allows clients to request an in-home haircut from a licensed barber or stylist in their area — reports a 600% increase in bookings over the past three months. Will Newton, co-founder of Shortcut, built the barber-delivery platform back in 2015 (with no premonitions of a global pandemic). “We set out to design an Uber for haircuts: You download the app, input your address and the service you’re looking for, and we match you with a local stylist or barber who will come to you,” Newton says. “Today, demand for our at-home services has exploded because many people don’t feel comfortable venturing into a salon or barbershop, but still want a good haircut.” With health concerns altering the salon industry as a whole, Newton had to adjust the Shortcut model to cater to increasing demands while keeping safety a top priority. “We anticipated the surge in requests for at-home haircuts, and the widespread lockdowns across the personal-care industry afforded us the time to close business, increase our portfolio of hair professionals across 25 cities in the U.S., and institute best practices that enable our team to safely deliver haircuts in people’s homes,” Newton says. For the health of the stylist and client, Shortcut has implemented safety measures to comply with each state’s guidelines as well as CDC recommendations. “We require our hair pros to complete a health and safety course before booking out to clients,” Newton explains. “They also have to wear a mask at every appointment and use disposable single-use capes and drop cloths to collect fallen hair. We also fully encourage our stylists to take appointments outdoors whenever possible — so haircuts are happening in backyards and rooftops all across the country.”Similar to a meal-delivery service, Shortcut offers the convenience of a quarantine haircut without ever leaving your home. But considering the fact that you can’t practice six-foot social distancing during a hair appointment, even in your own home, we have to ask: Is booking an at-home haircut really safe during a pandemic?According to public-health expert Karl Minges, PhD, it’s safer than going into a salon, but not completely without risk. “Compared to a salon haircut, an in-home service comes with a lower risk of infection because you have control of your space and only one person will be entering — so there’s no chance of interaction with other people, which might happen at a salon,” he explains. “For the stylist, the risk is likely the same as performing services in the salon, depending on the client and the specific infection-prevention steps taken in their home.”Of course, if tight precautions are followed, the at-home service can be relatively safe for clients and stylists, both of whom should be masked for the entire appointment. “Even in your own home, you should wear a mask while having a haircut,” says Dr. Minges. “Other precautions would be to go outside for the appointment or, if that’s not possible, keep the windows open and A/C running with fans to increase air circulation — and thoroughly clean all surfaces, including door handles, that were touched during the appointment.”Not only is Shortcuts providing a safer alternative for clients who need a haircut, but it’s also helping many stylists and barbers stay afloat financially. “Right now, hair salons and barbershops are struggling with capacity regulations, and many stylists and barbers have been laid off,” Newton explains. “As a result, we’ve seen an overwhelming increase in licensed professional hair pros applying to join Shortcut, especially in our New York and L.A. markets.” Because there’s no salon overhead, stylists on Shortcut earn 80% commission, and if a stylist brings one of their clients onto the platform, they keep 100% of that commission. Shortcut currently employs over 400 hair pros across the country, including L.A.-based hairstylist Pierre Johnson who says he’s grateful for the opportunity to leverage his services during these uncertain times. “I need to cut hair in order to make money,” he explains. “Using Shortcut allows me to connect with clients I wouldn’t have met outside of my shop while maximizing my earning potential. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue doing what I love with the help of a company that prioritizes the health and safety of its customers and employees.”Despite his modern business model, Newton says he’s not looking to put traditional hair salons out of business, but rather partner with them to move forward together. “We’re not naïve to the fact that people love going to the hair salon — in some neighborhoods, the barbershop is the cornerstone of the community — and that’s going to bounce back,” says Newton. “With that said, this is a tough time and many salon models have to pivot. To help, we’ve built an additional piece of technology that allows salons and barbershops to white label our app, so their stylists can use it to facilitate in-home services with their clients.” Of course, many states don’t allow personal-care services to be performed outside of a licensed salon, but because Shortcut operates under the jurisdictions of each state’s individual guidelines — with safety protocols in place — salon-delivery is possible in some areas. “With these partnerships, a client can go to their salon’s website, and they’ll be redirected to the Shortcuts app to book one of the salon’s employees for an at-home service. What an Uber Eats or Grubhub is for local restaurants, we can be that for hair salons.” Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Ouai x Byredo's Collab Is Perfect Hair In A Bottle9 Black-Owned Hair Care Brands To Shop NowThe Retro Hair Accessory Sweeping Summer 2020
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