During last season’s New York Fashion Week, in February, the number of plus-size models and size-inclusive runway shows took a nosedive, with the former dropping by nearly 24%. At the time, it was widely seen as a backsliding of the progress that NYFW had made around diversity in prior seasons.
While it’s still too early to say whether this month’s NYFW will be better, designers in the size-inclusive space told Glossy that many of the barriers and challenges in casting and modeling that contribute to less diverse runways are still in place.
Gita Omri, designer and founder of her eponymous brand, specializes in extended-size fashion. At her show on September 8, she booked 12 plus-sized models for an even 50% split with the standard-size models. That’s much higher than the average NYFW show which typically has between zero and two plus-size models. Omri said one of the toughest things about doing a show featuring many plus-size looks is casting.
“The culture around New York Fashion Wek is that you cast the show just days before it actually happens,” Omri said. “A lot of times the models aren’t even in New York until a few days before fashion week starts. But larger bodies need more time to be properly fit. I’ve sent girls down the runway when I’ve been unhappy with how their clothes look — not because the clothes won’t work on their body type, but because I didn’t have enough time to properly fit them.”
Omri said she tried to cast earlier this season but it was a struggle to find models since there are simply far fewer plus-size professional models represented by reputable agencies. Some estimates have put plus-size models at around 5% of the total talent pool that fashion brands can draw from. The typical runway model is a size zero or two, while the average American woman is a size 16. Plus-size fashion in the U.S. has grown to be a nearly $300 billion industry.
The models they can get are limited by who’s represented by the big agencies. One designer, who had a size-inclusive show this season and asked not to be named, said the agencies can be incredibly difficult to work with for shows featuring inclusive sizing. The designer cited an incident when an agency promised that a number of plus-size models would be available in time for a show, only to back out at the last second.
Morgan Hermand-Waiche, CEO of the underwear brand Adore Me, agreed that the talent pool for professional models in the plus space is limited. He said it’s a cycle where brands don’t cast plus-size models, so agencies don’t represent them, reinforcing their omission from shows.
But rather than rely on the agencies, Hermand-Waiche said this is a reason for brands to seek non-professional models. At Adore Me’s show on September 9, the brand brought out a mix of professional models like Iskra Lawrence and non-professional models like Amanda Hernandez. Hernandez is a nurse and fan of the brand who was recruited to walk the runway despite having no background in modeling.
“Amanda is one member of our broader community among many,” Hermand-Waiche said. “The reaction from the audience when she came out was so strong. It’s wrong to think you have to stick to the old codes and do things by the book, when those codes aren’t working.”
Adore Me’s runway had more than 50% plus-or curve-size models, including Lawrence who was the opening model and anchored the show.
“Sometimes I see brands with 99% thin models and one plus-size,” Hermand-Waiche said. “It’s better than zero, yes, but it doesn’t feel very authentic to do it that way.”