Rising demand for fashionable plus-size clothing fuelling the growth of industry here

Rising demand for fashionable plus-size clothing fuelling the growth of industry here
Freelance make-up artist Priscilla Boh, who used to wear baggy T-shirts from the men’s section with baggy pants, now shows off her curves in plus-size clothes that are fitting.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Wearing dresses and skirts may seem routine to many women, but putting on such outfits remained only a fantasy for Ms Lynn Bakri for many years.

The 38-year-old was unable to find skirts and dresses here that could fit her UK20 frame, so the mother of four hid behind a daily uniform of black leggings and white T-shirts.

"I felt my confidence plunge when I hid behind baggy, tomboyish clothing," she says. "It was frustrating when I couldn't find things in my size and demoralising to boot."

Deciding that enough was enough, she decided to take matters into her hands. She launched her own made-to-measure plus- size label, Jane Watson, in 2012, offering casual and office wear as well as trendy baju kurung designs.

Ms Bakri, who has a day job as a personal assistant in the advertising industry, quickly realised that there were many women in the same predicament, unable to find fashionable clothing suited to their plus-size frames.

She estimates that since 2013, sales at her online store have spiked by 400 per cent. She now has 3,000 customers and will open a plus-size multi-label boutique, 1458 & Co, in Aliwal Street at the end of the month.

"I want to enrich and educate consumers. Even if you are big, you are still beautiful," says Ms Bakri, who admits to feeling self-conscious about being the tallest and biggest girl in school while growing up.

MS Lynn Bakri who started made-to-measure label Jane Watson in 2012 as she could not find skirts and dresses to fit her UK 20 framePhoto: The Straits Times

The rising demand for fashionable plus-size clothing here is fuelling the growth of the industry in Singapore.

At home-grown plus-size label Kaylene, which opened its Seah Street boutique in 2015 and sells eveningwear and casual outfits, sales have doubled in the past year.

Its owner Kayde Ling, who is plus-size herself (UK20), says she was surprised.

"The numbers confirmed the fact that our efforts during the past decade - such as understanding and listening to our customers' needs - have finally paid off," she adds.

The Curve Cult, which started as an online store in 2014, made its pop-up shop in Far East Plaza a permanent one in December 2015 after just four months. Its founder Rani Dhaschainey, 28, says: "Sales are better than expected."

Both labels offer clothes from sizes UK14 to UK24. Plus-sizing typically starts from UK14, which is sometimes referred to as a junior plus size in the plus-size community.

A new multi-label activewear retailer for plus-size women, The Unlimited Company (www.unlimitedco.asia), which started last October, has been receiving an "encouraging response", says its co-founder Sally Long, 30. The shop carries athletic wear between sizes UK12 and UK28.

Like several other owners of plussize brands, Ms Long struggled to find suitable options for her UK14 to UK16 frame.

"International sportswear brands here generally do not stock sizes above UK14. I had to order my clothes online or shop when I was overseas," says the married mother of one.

Department stores have also seen increased sales from their plus-size sections.

Mrs Kayde Ling opened her plus-size boutique Kaylene in Seah Street in 2015. It sells evening wear and casual outfits.Photo: The Straits Times

Metro, which introduced such a section in 2007, says sales have been increasing year on year. The department store stocks 10 plus- size brands such as Anne Kelly and Gerry Weber, which are spread across its stores at Paragon, The Centrepoint and Woodlands.

Department store OG has 12 fashion brands that accommodate plus sizes, up from just one label in 2000 - its own house brand, New You. It also has three more house brands that have expanded their size range to include plus sizes: Charles Daniel, i-Shanghai and Runway.

Although other department stores such as Isetan, BHG and Robinsons do not have dedicated plussize sections, they do carry a small range of plus-size brands such as E-IN, Plush and Phase Eight. The department stores declined to share sales figures.

Read also: Little variety for plus-size women sparks big dreams

Mass-market brands such as American clothing company Levi's - which introduced jeans in sizes up to US32 (UK36) last year - and Australian swimwear brand Seafolly have also jumped on the plus-size bandwagon recently.

Then there are retailers, such as multi-label womenswear retailer SocietyA, which are considering bringing in plus-size labels.

"The demand for plus-size labels among shoppers in Singapore is growing and we will definitely bring in labels from Asian designers for plus-size consumers when opportunities arise," says SocietyA general manager and buyer Lily Hamid.

Ms Rani Dhaschainey opened plus-size boutique The Curve Cult in Far East Plaza in 2015.Photo: The Straights Times

So why is there a mushrooming of such brands and offerings now?

Experts attribute the growth to an increasing social acceptance of plus-size figures.

In recent years, a body-positive movement has swept through the fashion industry, bringing attention and awareness of body diversity among women.

Plus-size American model Ashley Graham was featured on the March cover of Vogue US, alongside other top models such as Gigi Hadid and Liu Wen.

In South Korea, plus-size models such as Lee Eun Bi, Kim Do Yee and Vivian Geeyang Kim have spoken out against the discrimination that they have faced.

Singapore polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim agrees: "The popularity of plus-size celebrities is significant because it sends the message that one can look good even if she is plus size and that it is alright not to be stick-thin."

In turn, she says, as plus-size shoppers start to demand more than baggy styles, retailers will bring in more plus-size brands and larger sizes.

Shopper Maya Korrs, 31, is excited about the growth of the industry. However, the plus-size single, who is a UK16 for tops and a UK20 for bottoms, hopes the trend will help to change mindsets.

"I hope that people will start to realise and understand that plussize women are just of a different build. No matter what we do, we are never going to be a UK2."


Embracing her curves

Ever since she could remember, Ms Priscilla Boh has been bullied and discriminated against for being plus size.

Often, the freelance make-up artist, who is 1.69m tall and weighs 80kg, is told by snarky retail assistants as soon as she walks into the store: "We do not have items in your size."

Other times, strangers taunt her in public.

Ms Boh, who is in her 30s, recalls: "I was called 'fatty bom bom' when I was shopping in town with a friend. On another occasion, after watching the movie Godzilla, someone in the theatre pointed at me and called me Godzilla."

As a result, she battled with low self-confidence and a lack of selfesteem. It did not help that her parents, whom she says are of average size, have been asking her to diet since she was about 10 years old, as they were worried she was eating unhealthily.

"I've always been on the bigger side and I've been through all the humiliation and mocking from strangers and relatives," says Ms Boh, who has a younger brother whom she says is also tall and big.

"People wrongly assume that plus-size people eat too much, but a lot of us eat healthily and exercise regularly."

Ms Boh was 24 when she made up her mind to love herself and stop listening to criticism - a move her relatives could not get their heads around.

"A relative was giving me weightloss advice and she was shocked and taken aback when I told her I really love my size," says Ms Boh, whose clothing size is between a UK16 and UK18.

She had also discovered make-up by then, and played with different looks, a move that she says helped boost her self-confidence.

Her fashion style also changed. The plus-size model, who used to frequent the men's section in department stores in search of baggy T-shirts that she wore with baggy pants, started searching for fashionable items in her size.

She found herself knocking on the doors of brands such as homegrown plus-size label Kaylene, and also shops at online retailer Asos Curve, which sells clothes that are fitting and show off her curves.

The bubbly Ms Boh describes her style as vintage, with a modern twist, and loves wearing colours and prints.

A firm believer that the bigger the skirt, the smaller the waist, she frequently wears a tulle skirt underneath her printed skirts for added volume. And when she finds a skirt in a print that she loves, but is not available in her size, the resourceful Ms Boh would buy two of the skirts, take them apart and put them together to make a bigger skirt.

While she finds that there are more plus-size labels available here compared with a few years ago, she finds the fashion skewed towards classic styles, instead of trendy and fashion-forward pieces.

But it is a vast improvement from about 10 years ago, when she says that plus-size clothing was nonexistent for women.

"I would get anxious whenever I was invited to a party as I didn't want to be inappropriately dressed in my boyish clothing. Now I feel liberated and free that I am able to express myself through fashion and make-up."

5 tips for plus-size women

1 BELT UP

To give shape to your figure, freelance make-up artist and plus-size model Priscilla Boh, who is in her 30s, advises belting up to add definition. The belt should be worn at the smallest section of the waist. A belt with an elastic waistband is ideal as this will help it to stay in place.

2 BIGGER SKIRT, SMALLER WAIST

Add a tulle skirt under an A-line skirt to give a volume boost. The further the skirt flares away from the body, the smaller the waist will look. But the tulle skirt need not be hidden - let a slightly longer tulle skirt peek out and have fun matching or contrasting its colour with the outer skirt.

3 PEPLUM WAISTS

The peplum look brings out one's curves. The silhouette, which flares out at the hips, also makes the hips and thighs look slimmer, says Mrs Kayde Ling, 34, founder of home-grown plus-size fashion label Kaylene.

4 PANELLING DETAILS

Clothes that have solid colour panels at the sides give a visually slimming effect, says Mrs Ling. The designer incorporates prints into her clothes, such as dresses, by using a patterned centre panel flanked by two solid colour panels.

5 HORIZONTAL STRIPES

It has been said that plus-size women should avoid wearing horizontal stripes as these would make them look wider, but Mrs Ling says plus-size women can pull the look off. One way is to break up the stripes by wearing a solid colour separate, such as a blazer or vest, over a striped top.


This article was first published on Feb 16, 2017.
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