Natalie landed her first editorial spread in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 2000 and since then has worked with every major Australian fashion title, plus-size brand and large retailer. Her own struggle as a teenager to find cool fashion that actually fit, led her on a crusade for size inclusivity – and in 2006 she launched her own plus size fashion label, Embody Women. In our chat, Natalie shares the surprising stats of the plus size fashion market, her trust policy with returns and the journey she’s taken to acquisition.
“It’s such a missed opportunity for Australian brands, Australian fashion, our growth.”Natalie Wakeling
Australia’s first plus size model
“I’d always struggled to be a thin model. I gave up on being a thin model and pursued my dream of becoming a makeup artist, which kept me very close to the industry, funny enough, and therefore led me to be around a photographer that happened to be working with BGM models. And he said, listen, I think you should be a plus size model. And I’m like, what? That’s just so weird. And I was actually a little bit offended.
Went and saw my agent and things moved really quickly. Within a week I’d gone and seen Deborah Hutton from Woman’s Weekly magazine. I did my first shoot with her within a week of signing. And then it was all Cosmopolitan because Mia Freedman became the youngest ever fashion editor of Cosmopolitan. She was really mixing up the game. Went to this massive casting. I was probably the only 19 year old that was a size 14 there. And she was just like, oh, we love you. Okay, you’re booked. It just all happened very quickly.’
“The growth within the high fashion element has just disappeared. It’s quite bizarre. So we have women that are more in tune with their bodies. They have the money to spend in this demographic. Yet, you still today cannot open up an Elle or a Vogue or any of our magazines here in Australia and just see even one page dedicated to dressing over a size 16.
So the current ABS data is the average woman is a size 16 to 18. So 67% of women in Australia are regarded as plus size. And only 6.3% of retailers sell plus size. Isn’t that mind boggling? And we’ve had a 4.8% growth year on year since 2017 in the marketplace. There’s a lot of money that’s just floating out there, not being able to spend in our fashion categories. It’s such a missed opportunity for Australian brands, Australian fashion, our growth.”
Size inclusivity advice
“Start small. You don’t have to make this big hoo-ha change that we’re now doing extended plus size. Just drip feed it into your category slowly. Maybe it’s let’s just start with our dress category. Let’s just start pushing that up to a size 20 and see how we go. Something is better than nothing.
I feel a lot of them get overwhelmed and feel we can’t do this. What are our smaller customers going to think that now we’re offering plus size in store? Most women want to see other women succeed. I don’t get offended if I’m in a shop and there’s a size 20 woman next to me and I don’t get offended if there’s a size 8 woman. So let’s just get rid of that attitude that we’re going to offend our customers and just start small. Just start introducing into little categories and test the market and see how well you do.”
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