Hansen: Pickings slim for plus-size fashionistas - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:41 am
Hansen: Pickings slim for plus-size fashionistas

They stare at a pair of size 16 shorts and dream of fashion revolution.

It's a Wednesday morning in Benson, and Megan Hunt and Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik sit in the second-floor office of their successful new online boutique, Hello Holiday, momentarily transfixed by the images on Hunt's laptop.

Image 1: A pair of powder blue, high-waisted shorts.

“Awesome!” Megan yells, slapping her open palm on her desk. “I wonder if they fit well.”

Image 2: A pair of leopard-print shorts.

“They have a panel on the front,” Megan points out. “That would be flattering.”

Omaha's preeminent online fashionistas are attracted to these shorts, from a small Nevada maker, for the same reasons they like most of the clothes they sell on Hello Holiday: They are cute. They don't cost half a paycheck. They fit Hello Holiday's aesthetic, which Sarah jokingly describes as “aging hipster career lady.”

But there is another, more revolutionary reason that Megan and Sarah pine for these shorts.

The high-waisted blue pair comes in sizes small to extra-extra-extra-extra large.

Leopard print: Small to 3XL.

Unlike most of the clothes in the fashion universe, these shorts will fit Hello Holiday's customers. All of them.

“I can't imagine being a woman who is (plus size) and going shopping with my friends. And then the store has no clothes for me,” Sarah says.

Her eyes get wide. She shakes her head.

“Think about that. It's terrible! It's embarrassing!”

Megan can barely stay in her chair. She's practically pulsating with outrage.

“It's pointless!” she yells. “It's prejudice!”

If you haven't noticed — and Sarah and Megan most certainly have — the fashion industry is built by and for skinny people.

Skinny models. Skinny jeans. Skimpy offerings for women who don't fit our current standard of feminine perfection.

Major manufacturers routinely refuse to make anything larger than size 12. Major designers seem more likely to wear Crocs in Paris than send a plus-size woman down the runway.

Megan and Sarah have a word for this: Stupid. And they know what they would like to do about it.

“There is a movement to be had in fashion about making women feel good about who they are as opposed to just making women look good on display,” Megan says. “We want to be part of that movement.”

Hello Holiday launched in October to the sort of social networking buzz that most retailers would kill Oscar de la Renta for.

The online store's clothes have proven popular in Omaha and elsewhere, particularly with a 20- or 30-something woman who grew up shopping at thrift stores and now has a little money to spend, the owners say.

But Hello Holiday also launched with a mission: They would carry cute clothing for plus-size women, just like they would carry cute clothes for all other women.

It seemed the king of all business no-brainers: 57 percent of American women now wear at least some clothing that's size 16 or bigger, according to the fashion industry's own surveys.

And, even better, it's the right thing to do.

The co-founders started a plus-size section of their website, naming it Va-Va-Voom! to give it a vintage — and celebratory — feel.

But they quickly smacked face-first into the brick wall that is the fashion industry. The frustration started at Magic, the twice-a-year Las Vegas fashion behemoth where nearly 4,000 brands shop their latest clothing and accessories.

It turns out the vast majority of those 4,000 brands don't make one article of clothing that fits a plus-size woman. The Omaha pair identified brands that advertise as being plus-size friendly — in Magic catalogs, such brands are often denoted with a discreet asterisk — but when they tromped through the giant Vegas convention center and located the brands' booths they would often learn that plus-size meant only size 12.

This is the fake big stuff, Megan wanted to scream. Where is the real big stuff?

They hated much of the plus-size clothing they could find. Big, drapy sweaters. Stretchy sequined shirts. The sort of clothing that felt like a bad stereotype of what bigger women wear.

And so as Hello Holiday amassed manufacturers that it bought from, Megan and Sarah would often politely ask if they could get a certain dress they were already buying in smaller sizes in, say, size 16.

The answer, almost invariably: No. The reasoning: It costs too much money to make plus-size clothing. Or our employees aren't trained to make plus-size clothing.

“You are working with extremely talented seamstresses and pattern-makers, and you are saying you can't do this?” Sarah says. “I don't believe you.”

The real reason that more fashion designers don't make plus-size clothing may have to do with what Mike Jeffries, CEO of teenage clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch, infamously told an interviewer in 2006. He wants cool kids to wear his clothing. The other kids who are “fat” or “not so cool,” can go shop elsewhere, Jeffries said.

“Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” Jeffries told a Salon reporter.

But Sarah and Megan can take heart in what happened when those comments resurfaced on the Internet this year.

Angry stories on some of the country's most-read fashion blogs. Thousands of furious Facebook posts. A boycott. And finally a dipping stock price that seemingly forced Jeffries to apologize.

That reaction mirrors a rumbling that Sarah and Megan sense in fashion, particularly on the Internet.

Plus-size fashion bloggers are becoming more popular by the day. Bigger online retail outlets, like Asos.com, are manufacturing their own plus-size clothing — stuff that doesn't look like it came off the rack of Lane Bryant — and selling it to great success. And even Lane Bryant and the other old plus-size mainstays are making hipper, more creative clothes.

Sarah and Megan sense the fashion revolution that's coming, and they have picked up their own torches and pitchforks.

They continue to hunt and badger manufacturers for the clothes that both fit Hello Holiday's style and women of all sizes. Currently, Hello Holiday has four dresses and a cardigan available in its Va-Va-Voom! section. There are more dresses, tops and coats on the way. Soon, with any luck, that section will have a dozen dresses. Maybe two dozen.

They hired stylist and friend Rebecca Forsyth as the plus-size model, put her in their clothes and — Va-Va-Voom, indeed! — the plus-size offerings started flying off their metaphorical shelves.

Now they are aggressively advertising on plus-size blogs and plotting a next move that would allow them to sidestep the fashion industry altogether.

The plan goes something like this: Raise more investor capital. Hire their own seamstresses and pattern-makers. Make their own clothes. Make clothes that go from small to extra-extra-­extra-extra large every time. Make that the rule instead of the exception.

“If we're eventually able to do that, we're going to find some really talented designers and blow everybody out of the water,” Sarah says.

Megan smiles and nods her head. Now she's practically pulsating with anticipation.

“We don't consider plus-size an investment,” she says. “We consider it a given.”

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

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