Journalist, likes people-watching, no-DSLR shutterbug, revels in the absurd and the nutty, loves books, blogs, travel, food, and tries not to be a cantankerous customer.

Sravanthi C

Plus-sized clothes and the economics of sales

| Updated on August 04, 2013 Published on August 04, 2013

Finding the right-sized clothes in good numbers and great variety is a bigger challenge. And not having to pay a “fat tax” when we buy them is another.   -  The HIndu

“You don’t like fat people?”

This was my rather indignant question to a sales assistant at a department store when I failed to find clothes my size. The young woman began to stammer, saying it’s not that, the XL and XXLs are finished, and would I come back next week.

Around the same time, I happened to visit an exhibition where I saw a beautiful pair of trousers, edged with some crochet work. I found a pair in my size and took them to the counter, only to find myself billed a Rs 150 more. That led to an argument, where I told the seller she was being unfair, while she valiantly tried to maintain she was only trying to give overweight people an incentive to lose weight. I probably wore her out, because she finally reduced the price by Rs 100.

But these are small victories. Finding the right-sized clothes in good numbers and great variety is a bigger challenge. And not having to pay a “fat tax” when we buy them is another.

When I do find clothes in XL and XXL sizes in stores, they are always priced higher than those in the smaller sizes. The sales assistant has no answer when I demand why they don’t charge lesser for the XS and S sizes when they charge more for the larger ones.

Another problem is that sizes vary across stores and you may well find yourself a XXXL in one store while being an XL in the other – and no points for guessing that they are very often not a good fit, for all their promises of elegance and perfection. It’s a good thing we can still afford tailors in India.

Then there are the brands which claim their range of garments is tailored to Indian physiques. In my experience, only one brand - of jeans - has passed the shape test so far. It claimed that clothes were not about size but about shape, and that insight seems to have worked for it. I bought a pair.

Arguments abound, and with shrillness. It’s not really unfair to charge more for larger clothes, say some. But when clothes are being mass-produced and the fabric maximised for economies of scale, does it really account for a large portion of the costs? The other explanation is that cutting and stitching larger-sized clothes takes longer. Also that it’s tougher to design clothes for larger people. Want cheaper ones? Be prepared to look like tents, then, is the threat.

So while the designers are running away from a challenge or making customers pay more for attempting to meet it, let’s look at the argument about marketability. It’s not about more fabric or effort, it’s that retailers will stop stocking them as there aren’t that many customers for them. Without the sweetener of higher price, it’s not worth their while, or so it goes.

There is much concern over the world becoming fatter, and our country is not exempt from this charge. Not a day goes by when we don’t find ourselves buffeted with advice on how to become slimmer, eat better, get our daily fix of antioxidants, that we are the diabetic capital of the world. But while we are all in search of that holy grail of form and fitness, would it not follow that larger choices should be available for larger citizens of the world? Isn’t it ironic that even exercise clothes are not widely available in XL and XXL sizes?

To add insult to injury, in recent years the stores have gone ahead and rejigged sizes. This was brought to me rather rudely about 6-7 years ago when I stopped fitting into L-sized garments and had to look at XL. Funnily enough, I was wearing an L bought at the same store a couple of years earlier. When I asked the manager why, he said the designers were aligning their sizes with international ones. But why, when so much research and so many claims have gone into designing clothes for Indian builds? At least in the case of salwar kameez, aren’t the primary customers Indian?

There are many arguments for and against the ‘fat tax’. Some even believe plus-sized clothing should not be made available because it does away with the incentive for people to lose weight.

Who decides we have to/ want to/have to want to lose weight? I doubt those who believe they should shed kilos will stop doing so merely because they can fit into some clothes. The pressures and triggers to losing weight are several – the desire for health, better looks, peer pressure, for approval, success in jobs and relationships, wanting to fit in.

But then, the lack of clothes is probably not the cross of just the large ones to bear. Modestly-sized and proportioned people too complain they cannot find clothes, or at least that they don’t fit them well. Maybe what is needed is a more detailed and sincere study of Indian anthropometry.

Published on August 04, 2013
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