When Cat Polivoda opened Cake Plus-Size Resale in 2017 after selling clothes out of her closet for several years, she wanted to create a space that wasn’t readily available in Minneapolis. “I really care about community, and it’s about wanting to have a really positive, affirming space for fat people to shop,” she says. “It feels like such a gift to be able to create that space for others.”
That welcoming scene for folks of all body types is lacking not just in Minneapolis but in the fashion world more broadly, where there aren’t as many good fashion choices for bigger sizes and where brands that offer larger sizes often offer them only online.
“I feel like oftentimes, shops will say, ‘Oh, yes, we include larger sizes, but they’re all online,’” says Paxyshia Yang, who works at Cake. “You have to buy it, try it on at home, and deal with the whole returning process when sizes who are much smaller than that can go into the store tried on and decide, no, I don’t want to buy this. It doesn’t look the way I wanted it to.”
Polivoda adds: “The word ‘inclusive’ gets thrown around all the time. And then you look on the website, and it goes up to a size 24. There are lots of people who wear larger than size 24.”
The fashion industry often doesn’t see people of larger sizes as part of their brand identity, according to Polivoda. “It comes down to the fat-phobic perspectives of folks making these decisions,” she says.
Not only that, a lack of uniformity in sizes makes shopping for clothes a frustrating endeavor for people with larger bodies.
“It’s difficult for me to trust a brand like that when they don’t have a sizing chart,” Yang says. In addition to her work at Cake, Yang posts about fashion, style, and beauty as @Paxyshia on Instagram. She has more than 38,000 followers.
As an influencer, Yang shares her sense of style and fat-positive sensibility. “It’s just nice to be able to express myself on there and bring people joy and inspiration,” she says.
When she does shop for new clothes, Yang’s go-tos are the Fashion Brand Company and Wasil Clothing. She also shops at some fast-fashion places on occasion, like H&M. “I love a matching sweat suit; I can’t help it,” she says.
In recent years, Yang has gotten into thrift-store shopping, especially as a way to afford the kinds to clothes she wanted to wear. “It’s hard, especially for fat people, to get great-quality clothes that aren’t wildly expensive, or from a sustainable brand,” she says.
The industry has taken some steps toward inclusivity in the past few decades, according to Sunil Ramchandani, a designer and brand consultant who has been in the business since 1989. Based in New York, Ramchandani works with brands to grow their businesses by adding options for larger folks, in addition to designing women’s clothes for brands like Storyline, based in Minnesota.
“Ten years ago, if you were a size 20, then maybe there were 10 brands you could shop at. Now there’s probably 100 brands you could shop,” Ramchandani says.
Even popular culture is starting to change with style shows like Project Runway demonstrating a shift. Eight or nine seasons ago, “the designers would freak out and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’ve never designed for a woman who is 5’11’’ wearing a size 16,’” he says. “Now, when they bring the ‘real people’ challenge, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is so awesome.’ So there’s been lots of progress, but I think there’s still more to be made.”
Ramchandani works with organizations that are trying to change the industry through education, starting with training. “If you’re going to fashion school, nobody teaches you to design for a woman who is a size 20,” Ramchandani says.
That’s why efforts done by brands like the high-end plus-size brand 11 Honoré, based in Los Angeles, are so important, Ramchandani says. “They actually work with the designers to help them with pattern making, technical help, marketing, and everything.”
Another important piece lies in the hands of the consumer—no matter what size they might be. “A lot of help can come from the straight-sized consumer by supporting brands that are being inclusive and are catering to her and her curvier sisters,” Ramchandani says.
As a larger-sized person himself, Ramchandani often will advocate for stores carrying larger sizes while shopping. “I would say to the salesperson, if you had this in an XL, I would buy it,” he says. “Trust me. That salesperson in the next meeting is going to say, ‘Hey, I could have sold three more of those sweaters if we add them XL.’”
That works for online shopping, too, Polivoda says. “If you look at a brand’s Instagram and the emails they send, and you don’t see any larger, plus-sized people, then maybe saying, ‘Hey, I want to shop with you, but you seem to not be size-inclusive, or you seem to be fat-phobic,’” she says.
In other words, shoppers of all sizes can be an ally in the fight against fat phobia by speaking up.
Cake Plus-Size Resale, 5155 Bloomington Ave., Minneapolis, cakeplussize.com