Local women gave their thoughts on the ‘fat tax’ after New Look was criticised for charging more for its plus-size clothing than its standard range. Many High Street brands now have ‘curves’ or plus-size ranges, but customers have increasingly been noticing that companies are charging more for the same clothes, or the most similar available clothes, in larger sizes. UEA student Rochelle Broderick-White said popular retailers are taking a ‘step backwards’. For Rochelle, there’s sizeism at play, and any ‘fat tax’ contributes ‘to myself and women like me feeling even more excluded than before’.
There have however, been some ‘mercantile’ justifications for companies charging more for plus-size ranges. Speaking to the BBC, Audrey-Laure Bergenthal of Euveka explained that clothing companies are ‘using more fabric’ when producing larger sizes, and that ‘well-fitting’ clothing takes far more time to design for a larger size. But are high street chains really going out of their way; spending the special amounts of fabric, time and money that would perhaps warrant a higher price? Natasha, owner of Norwich-based shop Butterfly disagrees. She doesn’t understand why companies are charging more as she gets an equal fee from her wholesalers for every size and said ‘why would I then add fees on to my customers for different sizes?’. On top of this, the fabric difference between a size 2 and a size 14, is much greater than the difference between a 16 and an 18, but only one is getting penalised.
Ms Bergenthal added that there is also a lower demand for plus-size clothing, making it more of a specialty style item that costs more to produce en masse. However, with the UK’s average dress size rising to a size 16, plus-size clothing seems to be more popular that the existing supply would suggest. At Butterfly, Natasha’s most commonly sold sizes have experienced ‘a complete turnaround’ over the years from sizes 8-10 to sizes 14-16. Her stock of one-size clothing has also been adapted to fit a broader array of sizes, but many of her plus-size customers are now expressing disappointment over a lack of fashionable clothing on the high street designed to fit them. The UK average dress size has risen to size 16, but many customers feel stores aren’t reflecting that in their stock.
One of the women responsible for bringing the issue of the ‘fat tax’ to light is Ms Curvaceous UK for 2018, Corrine Mensah who addressed her grievances with the ‘fat tax’ in a recent BBC interview. Ms Mensah told me that she has faced similar problems to Rochelle, and believes that there is a lot of money to be made for retailers that cater better for plus-size women. However, she also feels that current fits and pricing of plus-size clothing is driving women away. ‘We want to buy their stuff, because we like their clothes… but if it’s not fitting us right then we don’t want it’. Ms Mensah added that she personally had seen items online that cost more in their plus-size range and opted not to buy them as a result.
It’s clear that the market for plus-size clothing is larger than ever, but women don’t yet feel that they have enough supply to fit their demand. Natasha said that companies need to ‘catch up with the times’ and embrace a changing market and in response to heavy criticism, New Look have agreed to review their pricing structure. Whether retailers are ready to get rid of the ‘fat tax’ once and for all, remains to be seen.