Fashion that celebrates all body types — boldly and unapologetically | Becca McCharen-Tran

Fashion that celebrates all body types — boldly and unapologetically | Becca McCharen-Tran

February 25, 2020 100 By Bernardo Ryan


Translator: Ivana Korom
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta As fashion designers, our decisions have the power
to change our culture. We choose who is cast
in our runway shows and campaigns, and ultimately, who is celebrated
and considered beautiful, and who is not. Having this platform is a responsibility. One that can be utilized to exclude people or to empower others. Growing up, I was obsessed with fashion. I pored over all different types
of fashion magazines at my local Barnes and Noble. To be fashionable was to be tall,
skinny, with long, shiny hair. That’s what I saw as the ideal, and it was reinforced everywhere I looked. And to be honest, it still is. I wanted to be like the models,
so I stopped eating. It was a dark time in my life; my eating disorder consumed me. All I could think about
was counting every single calorie, and waking up early
before school every day so I could run a few miles. It took me years
to finally release the grip that the eating disorder had over my life. But when it did, it freed up so much brain space to think about what I was truly
passionate about. For so long, the fashion industry has worked hard
to set an ideal of beauty that celebrates thin,
young, white, cisgender, able-bodied models as the ideal. It’s impossible not to be bombarded with images of models
that have been photoshopped to where there’s not a single pore, fat roll or stretch mark in sight. You don’t need to look hard
to find examples. This definition of beauty is damaging,
dangerous and destructive, and we need to explode it immediately. (Applause) I’m glad you agree. (Laughter) One of the worst things
I’ve realized over the years is that my experience
with disordered eating is not an anomaly. In fact, it’s par for the course. I think there’s a study that says
91 percent of women, and likely those of all gender identities, are unhappy with the way they look. It’s unforgivable that we live in a society
where it’s normal or expected for teenagers to grow up
hating themselves. We’ve been fighting for fat acceptance
and women’s body autonomy since the ’60s. And there has been headway. We have plus-size models
like Ashley Graham and musicians with body-positive messages, like Lizzo, breaking into the mainstream. Thank God. (Laughter) There’s brands like Area that have released campaigns
without any Photoshop retouching. But we’re still inundated
with unrealistic expectations. I love this quote by Lizzo, who said, “Body positivity only exists
because body negativity is the norm.” So how do we change the stigma
around looking different or not fitting into this narrow
definition of beauty? I believe it’s by celebrating beauty
in all different forms, bold and unapologetically. But many fashion designers
continue to reinforce this narrow definition of beauty. From the way they are taught in school and into the real world, they drape on mannequins
that are only size four, or sketch on bodies
that are super stretched out and not anatomically proportioned. Different-size bodies
aren’t taken into account during the design process. They’re not thought of. So who are these designers designing for? But the conversation
around exclusivity in fashion doesn’t begin and end with size. It’s about seeing people
of all different gender expressions, different ability levels, different ages, different races and ethnicities, celebrated for their own unique beauty. In my own work as a fashion designer, I started a brand called Chromat, and we’re committed to empowering
women, femmes and nonbinary #ChromatBABES, of all shapes and sizes, through perfectly fit garments
for every body. Swimwear has become a huge focus for me, because of the power
that this single garment can have over the way people feel about themselves. We wanted to take our focus
on celebrating all body types to a garment that’s fraught
with insecurity. On our runways, you see curves,
cellulite and scars worn proudly. We’re a runway show, yes, but we’re also a celebration. I didn’t start designing 10 years ago with the mission to change
the entire industry. But the models we cast at the time, who just happened to be my friends
who had begged to be in my shows, were so radical to some people, and, unfortunately,
still are different or strange to some, that it became a huge part
of what we’re known for. However, inclusivity means nothing
if it’s only surface level. Behind the scenes, from the photographer,
to the casting director, to the interns, who is making the decisions
behind the scenes is just as important. It’s imperative to include
diverse decision-makers in the process, and it’s always better
to collaborate with different communities, rather than trying to speak for them. And this is an important
piece of the puzzle that many young designers
may not think about when they’re first starting their careers, but hiring a plus-size
or a transgender photographer, or a woman of color
as your casting director, or a black makeup artist —
hey, Fatima Thomas — who intimately understands
how important it is to be able to work with all skin tones: it’s essential to creating
a holistically inclusive output, like this one. As a fashion designers
that do a lot of swim, we wanted to rewrite the rules
around having a bikini body. So we cast a team of babe guards to enforce guidelines around inclusion
and acceptance at the pool. Instead of “no diving” and “no running,” how about “celebrate cellulite,” “body policing prohibited,” and “intolerance not tolerated.” And this was enforced by babe guards
Mama Cax, Denise Bidot, Geena Rocero, Ericka Hart and Emme, all activists in their own right. I’ve always felt it was important
to show a range of different bodies in our runway shows and campaigns. But it actually wasn’t until recently that we were able to expand
our size range in a major way. We first launched our curve collection five years ago; we were so excited. But when it launched, it fell flat. Nobody was interested. None of our department stores
stocked above a size large, and if they did, it was somewhere else
in the building entirely. In fact, one time our sales team said, “You know, it’s so cool
you have trans models and curve models on the runway — I love what you’re doing. But when the buyers come in
to see the collection for market, they want to be sold a dream, they want to see something
that they aspire to be.” Implying that our models weren’t that. But I’ve realized
it’s so much more important to open up this dream to more people. I want the consumer to know that it’s not your body
that needs to change — it’s the clothes. (Applause) There needs to be more fashion options
at all sizes and in all retailers. So finally, in 2018, Nordstrom actually
placed an order up to 3X. And this was a huge game changer for us to have a major retailer invest
in adding these units, so we could go to the factory — now we go up to 4X,
which is about a size 32. Having that investment helped us to change and realign
our entire design process. We now have different-sized bodies
to sketch and drape on in the studio. And if more fashion schools
taught these skills, more designers would have the ability
to design for all bodies. (Applause) So as fashion designers,
it’s our job to utilize our platform to explode this narrow
and restrictive definition of beauty. My goal is that one day, teenagers growing up don’t feel
the same pressure that I did to conform. And I hope that our work contributes
to the fashion industry’s opening up to celebrate many different identities. Thank you. (Applause and cheers)