From The Guardian, by Mariannne Kirby
In the earliest hours of September 17, while the customer service representatives for Evans, the UK plus-size fashion retailer, slumbered in their beds, an international fatshion (fat fashion) frenzy was brewing on Twitter. Plus-sized shoppers in the US and below the equator in Australia and New Zealand refreshed product pages and traded 140-character thoughts on the highly anticipated Beth Ditto collection.
In 2009, Beth Ditto, equally famous as lead singer of the Gossip and for her eclectic style choices and bold personality, worked with Evans to release a collection reflecting in-the-moment trends. The collection struck a nerve with its iconic pieces – and quickly disappeared from stock rooms. When word of Ditto’s second collection hit the internet, fatshionistas from all over the world were poised, credit card numbers at their finger tips, and ready to buy.
The international success of Ditto’s collection (the 2nd collection launched with just over 20 individual items, including a parka and a belt) appears to be another victory for Evans. But it also sends a message about this particular niche market that retailers would do well to heed.
The online buzz about the new collection culminated in a Twitter hashtag – the tags used to determine and identify trending topics. The hashtag #dittowatch spread from user to user until a network of shoppers were alerting each other to items becoming available to add to the shopping cart, lamenting website errors, and sharing shopping victories. While shopping is an intensely isolating process for many women shopping the above-14 racks, the integration of social media into everyday usage changed the whole experience. Shoppers for this collection were not relegated to shopping alone; opinions were sought and size conversion was explained as strangers participated in the online conversation.
Communal shopping is an unfamiliar experience for many women who grew up fat. For some, the chance to connect with other people over something as normalizing as fashion was better than the chance to buy items from the collection. Women shared thoughts, opinions and excitement – then spread word of the collection to other women that they knew. And morning in the UK did not bring an end to networking. Once the bricks-and-mortar stores opened their doors, one woman posted images and fit information for those who were still shopping.
The Beth Ditto collection inspired plus-size women around the world to ignore the cost of international shipping, the usual difficulties of online shopping, an unfavourable exchange rate, and the tricky business of a different sizing schema. In contrast, a recent fashion show from US based retailer One Stop Plus garnered little online attention.
It might be possible to dismiss #dittowatch as just another passing internet fancy. After all, hashtags are ephemeral. But there is something bittersweet about a collection of just over 20 items inspiring that sort of response. The collection included several dresses; it also included such everyday items as black leggings. £39.50 seemed to be the starting price point for many dresses – pricing well out of the range of what many women in their 20s (and 30s) can afford or want to spend. What does it say that this collection resulted in such fervour? It says that the market is desperately underserved.
For fat women all over the world, shopping isn’t just a fun afternoon spent at the mall or in the shops with friends. It’s about making the best of limited choices and arbitrary fashion “rules” aimed at keeping people in their places while you try to dress appropriately for work without sacrificing self-expression. It’s a battlefield. At least this time, we didn’t have to fight alone.