On Dec. 8, Refinery29's Liz Black hosted a live Twitter chat with Lane Bryant CMO, Brian Beitler. The chat was an opportunity for the plus size community to interact with someone in a direct position of power at Lane Bryant, one of the plus size industry's biggest and oldest brands.
I personally covered the criticism surrounding Lane Bryant's #ImNoAngel campaign in the spring and the more recent #PlusIsEqual campaign in September, as have many activists involved in body pos spaces. Writer and activist Virgie Tovar attended the #PlusIsEqual rally and wrote about it for Ravishly, saying, "What is important to remember is that at the core of #PlusIsEqual are the roots of a political movement that was developed to grant women autonomy over our bodies and our lives, to free us from the sinister mechanisms of diet culture and food policing, and to demand humanity and actual equality."
Tovar and other body love activists have questioned Lane Bryant's understanding of the body positive movement. A look through all the tweets under the #AskLaneBryant tag shows that this is one of the main topics people wanted to know about directly from those in leadership positions at the company. Influential plus size bloggers behind sites like GabiFresh, Garnerstyle, Everything Curvy & Chic, and The Curvy Fashionista posed their questions and joined in on the conversation as well. Ultimately, the chat sparked a serious discussion about what the plus size community is looking for. Here are some of the more memorable tweets.
1. Models Above A Size 22
Based on the re-tweets and notifications that this question sparked, it's obvious that it really resonated with people. I don't think that Lane Bryant has an obligation to use models above a size 16 unless it is going to use body positive messaging in its campaigns. If something is going to be billed as "inclusive," then it ought to look that way. I was happy to see that Lane Bryant responded, and took their words as a sign that they are trying to listen to us when we say we need to see more body diversity.
2. More Truly Inclusive Campaigns
Liz Black took a question like mine and challenged Lane Bryant to go even further. If activism and pushing for equality are important to the company, then I hope that this response means we'll begin to see a more diverse and inclusive representation of models in future campaigns.
3. A Plus Size Fashion Expert
While many brands in the realm of indie plus fashion are headed by fat women, that is not often the case among mainstream plus size retailers, such as Torrid or LB. So I think it's important to note that this question was posed by one of those indie brands that is owned by a queer fat woman who is a total badass. Lane Bryant did not respond to this question. Though the exact breakdown of Lane Bryant's full buyer team is unknown, there appear to be two female executives on staff, neither of whom has publicly identified as plus size.
4. Lower Costs
As an indie plus size designer who's had to deal with the cost argument, I totally expected to come across a question like this. Higher prices are sometimes difficult to explain, considering that fast fashion brands make plus size items available at lower price points. But clothing does cost more to produce in plus sizes and a number of factors including the type of fabric, the way the garment is constructed, where it's made/manufactured, and how much fabric is needed to produce it help contribute to the cost. However, fashion shouldn't be a privilege, so any possibility for lower prices — be it coupon codes or regular sales — is always a positive.
5. Designer Collaborations
Plus Model Magazine posed a great question to Lane Bryant about its designer collaborations. Thus far, the brand has worked with only straight size designers who were asked to make apparel for plus size customers. But as anyone who has watched an episode of Project Runway featuring a "real woman challenge" knows, not all designers are comfortable making plus, and only straight size construction is taught in most design schools. Collaborating with plus size designers would be another smart move for a brand that's aiming to be body positive. Many on Twitter remarked that Ashley Nell Tipton would be a great place to start.
6. More Items In-Store
One trend that I saw throughout the #AskLaneBryant tag concerned what is carried in stores versus what is online. As plus size consumers, we are forced to do a lot of our shopping on the Web due to the lack of IRL spaces for plus sizes. It's not difficult to understand people's frustrations when they go to a brick and mortar location that only offers plus, yet they still can't find their size. So it's quite exciting to hear that Lane Bryant wants to get more sizing options in the physical locations.
7. The Plus Size Customer
Speaking from my own experiences, it's pretty difficult to be all things to all people, because individual style is very real. I learned this from my cupcake dress debacle, in which a loose-fitting dress I designed was critiqued for "setting plus size fashion back." While I admire Lane Bryant wanting to help all women feel more confident, it's definitely a tough task to cater to all of the unique personal styles present in the plus size community. What I garnered from this tweet and other similar ones in the #AskLaneBryant tag was that plus size folks want options — both in the models they see and in the clothing they are being sold.
I followed up with Liz Black after the discussion to get her concluding thoughts. The Twitter conversation was originally only slated for half an hour, but they doubled the time thanks to the volume of questions. She tells me, "Lane Bryant has been challenging everyone — both plus and non-plus people — with its last two controversial campaigns. Love or hate what it's been doing, it's created a dialogue about body acceptance and plus size fashion that needs to happen. Because we weren't able to respond to all of stand-out questions, I will be doing a follow-up article with Brian for a Refinery29 article in the very near future."
Personally, I look forward to continuing to see the plus size community come together and push forward the conversation about what plus size women want in fashion.