As a size-inclusive brand, we’ve gotten a ton of questions about our fit process and the challenges in working with curves. Is it true that curves really are that much harder to work with? Why do straight-size designers refuse to go above a certain size? Or if they do, why is the fit so… off (hello super long sleeves or enormous neckline)? Given that we are designing for plus-size and the in-betweenies (women who cannot purchase from straight-size designers and yet are too small for plus-size retailers) with real curves, we clearly can’t ignore the realities of a woman’s body. So… how do we do it?
In that case, why use such small sample sizes? There are so many answers to this (fashion is aspirational, clothing “looks better” on skinnier women etc. etc.) but here’s the answer from a construction perspective. It turns out that making garments on a body with real curves is pretty freaking hard. Try draping a piece of cloth over a 3D object (plus make it look good!) and you’ll understand the challenge – there’s a whole third dimension you have to account for when going from sketch to garment.
A dress (or any garment) comes to life in a cycle that resembles something like this: idea -> sketch -> pattern -> sample. Think of a pattern as the jigsaw pieces of fabric that get drawn, cut out, and assembled into a completed garment. A sample is the prototype garment. Once the sample is finalized, the garment is then “graded” to different sizes: for example, a size 4 sample will be used as the baseline garment and the proportions increased or decreased by an inch here and there to make various sizes. You cannot grade too many sizes up or down because all the proportions will get messed up. Ever tried on a dress that was size 14 that had weirdly huge armholes or super long sleeves? Yep, probably a size 4 sample that was graded up too many sizes.
Our sample size is 14 – unheard of in fashion. Luckily, we have an amazing patternmaker who has a boatload of expertise and patience. She warned us that this would be a time (and money) investment, especially given our tailored looks. Every fitting would require a little addition stitching here, a tiny nip there in order to get the perfect fit. We weren’t deterred - we were all in!
One useful side benefit of these fit sessions is that we realize some ideas honestly just don’t translate well into real life. We had a disastrous experiment with a full-length tulle skirt which sounded great on paper but frankly looked ridiculous on a grown woman. We tried a bustier latex dress which had to be tabled for now (personally, I’m having a tough time letting this one go! Any ladies out there who would wear latex?? Tastefully done, of course). We love experimenting and this has proven to be a good way to test some of our more out-there hypotheses. So there you go – not exactly rocket science but lots of time and an expert patternmaker is how things get done.Once our samples are finished, now comes the fun part – putting it on a real woman. A fit model tries on our dresses and tells us how it feels as she struts around the factory, sits down, and does aerobics (OK, maybe not quite aerobics). Side note: I used to think fit modeling was an easy job. How hard could it be put on clothes that are perfectly made for you? Yeah, nope – Not only do you have to be comfortable changing in and out of dresses in a room full of people you don’t know, you’re being pricked all over the place with various body pots exposed. Definitely not for me! Luckily, we have a fabulous fit model who is awesome to work with.