Plus-size shoppers grill retail execs: 'When I see your regular models, they don't look like me'

Plus-size shoppers are sick of limited in-store selections; they’re bored with unfashionable plus-size clothing; and they’re frustrated by the lack of attention they feel they’ve received from the fashion industry.

But on Saturday, some of those shoppers got their chance to voice their feelings, face-to-face with decision-makers from some of the biggest brands in the country during a panel called “Dear Retailer” at theCurvyCon conference.

During an audience question-and-answer portion of the panel, a woman named Ray from Philadelphia approached the microphone. She began to speak, full of confidence, like a poised but powerful prosecutor would question a witness, in this case, executives from Lane Bryant, Macy’s, Target, Dia & Co., and Modcloth.

“Speaking specifically to Brian from Lane Bryant, but really to all of you: I really appreciate the move you’ve made to be more inclusive with the ‘I’m No Angel’ campaign, and stuff like that, but that’s a temporary campaign,” she began. “I want to know if I can expect to see women like me, who are only five-two, as your regular models. Because when I see your regular models, they don’t look like me.”

Ray took a breath before continuing, this time her voice teetering on the verge of tears. “I don’t want to see people like me in a temporary campaign. I want to see the clothes I’m going to wear on people like me all the time.”

The crowd of a few hundred people applauded, presumably to commend Ray’s bravery but also as a sign of solidarity.

Letting the weight of the question sink in, the panelists paused a moment before Brian Beitler, chief marketing officer at plus-size women’s retailer Lane Bryant, answered: “I appreciate the emotion in your voice, because this is important. It matters to people; it matters to you a lot. I see that, and we’ve got a lot of work to do there. We just launched petites; it’s been missing and we hear it all the time.”

What followed was a candid conversation between shoppers, looking for answers and representation, and the people who controls what kind of messages and clothing are available to the plus-size apparel market, one historically underrepresented in fashion, capital F, as well as in department stores across the country.

Beitler listed ways the brand is consciously working to be more inclusive, including a teaser at an upcoming campaign that will air during the Emmy Awards show. After, Jillian Cueff from Macy’s added, “Petite-plus was a big white-space opportunity — it just didn’t exist. It is something at Macy’s we have gotten behind in the last year; it’s a huge new business for us, and you’ll see more assortments get behind that.”

By no means was that the most hard-hitting question posed to retailers that day: There were questions about cultural appropriation, modest clothing options, sizing inconsistencies, and more. With each response, the retailer execs conceded that, yes, they are aware of ongoing issues in the plus-size market; yes, they welcome feedback; and, yes, they are taking active steps to address the very real concerns that women at theCurvyCon embodied for millions of people across the country.

The conference, in its third year, has joined media, consumers, and retailers together to celebrate body positivity and work to forward a conversation about how to erase the stigma ingrained in the word “plus-size.”

For a market segment valued at more than $20 billion, its shoppers feel neglected by retailers (one small but impactful example is the difficult and emotionally fraught process of trying to find a plus-size prom dress). TheCurvyCon does its part to remind tastemakers and buyers that the market can no longer be ignored.

To find out what retailers had to say in full, watch the video below.

Read more on theCURVYcon from Yahoo Style + Beauty:

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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.

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