Why don't more Japanese lolita brands offer plus size?
Anyone considered plus size in the lolita community (me included) has probably wondered at some point why many big Japanese lolita brands don't offer larger sizes of their items. Well, now we have a much better idea why!
Connie, the international brand manager of Atelier Pierrot, made a post in the Rufflechat group on Facebook on July 18 about the process of manufacturing their items and how they worked to make their latest plus size releases. Here is a link to the post (opens in new window). If you aren't in Rufflechat or don't have a Facebook account, there is also a text version on Tumblr (link opens in new window). If you don't have a Tumblr account either, I stitched together screenshots, taken with permission. Click or tap the screenshot below to view it at full size. This 1-column formatted one might be easier to read on mobile.
|the original post in 3 columns (click/tap to view full size)|
In short, by offering plus size options, both the Japanese brands and the factories they employ take on big
financial risks that could potentially close them down in order to try to satisfy a small fraction of their total customer
base. The risk is compounded by the fact that customers do not reliably buy the larger sizes. Please see the original post content linked above for data and detailed explanations.
First, I want to express my gratitude to Atelier Pierrot and Connie for this look into a Japanese lolita brand's experience manufacturing plus size items. Pretty much all of the discourse I've seen up to this point has been speculation by consumers with no credentials so it's very valuable to see real data presented by someone actually working for a major Japanese brand. This was an area that non-Japanese consumers of Japanese brands had very little information about until now and it offers much needed perspective.
While I wholeheartedly believe that plus size people also deserve to have nice clothes that fit well and make us feel good, the information Atelier Pierrot shared shows that we also need to consider the limitations and difficulties that brands face in trying to grant our wishes. Plus size customers, while more numerous outside of Japan, are often a very small portion of their clientele but come in a much greater array of body shapes that can be challenging to create clothing patterns for in a way that will fit a majority, because not everyone who is plus size is plus sized in the same places. Even within this group, the aesthetics we want are almost certainly also very diverse. Adding this to all of the above, for any one brand to please a majority of the plus size lolita community in a way that's also financially viable is objectively an incredibly tall order.
This is not to say you should never raise concerns about the quality or sizing of a plus size
release. If a brand is concerned that their plus size items aren't selling well and want to keep trying to make ones that people like, I hope they would consider feedback to improve future releases. The customer bases in Japan vs. abroad have different buying habits and preferences so they may not be sure how to anticipate demand and response if they're still new to making and selling plus size items. However, it's important to consider the larger picture and whether your comments are helpful toward improving future releases before offering criticism. For example, I'm quite short (61 in/153 cm tall) but I know the great majority of other plus size lolitas are taller, so complaining that a plus size dress is too long for *me* is not helpful. But if the shoulder width on a blouse doesn't increase on a plus size version relative to a standard size, that is important information because most plus size people have broader shoulders so it wouldn't fit most of the people they are trying to sell it to.
|A sampling of the plus size Metamorphose dresses and blouses I've bought|
I was unaware that Metamorphose is struggling re: plus size releases. It looked to me like they've at least done enough plus size releases now (their first offering was in 2019, ~4 years ago) that they've worked out a lot of the difficulties with establishing a general procedure and sizing range, so they can offer them more regularly, customers know what to expect with the sizing and fit, and will reliably buy them assuming they like the print/design. But given how small the demand looks to actually be, it absolutely makes sense.
It makes me even more grateful that my favorite brand has kept trying to offer plus size for so long, and really glad I have been buying new for pieces I'm really excited about when it's financially feasible (generally around 2-4 releases per year). I will admit I was initially skeptical. If the items had been shown on a plus size person, I likely would have tried to buy new sooner. While I already knew I really liked the brand's items in general, I was concerned the dresses would be too long for me so my first Metamorphose plus size purchases were secondhand. However, once I got a feel for how they fit me and decided I liked them, it was easy to convince myself to buy additional pieces new, especially since the size range tends to stay about the same across releases. Gardening Teddy was one of my most expensive lolita purchases ever but I am also thoroughly satisfied with it and would spend that much again. Admittedly, plus size Metamorphose dresses are indeed a bit long for me but with certain styles I think a longer skirt looks fine, and if the skirt length really bothers me I can alter it, possibly even by myself depending on the design.
|Two recent releases that I've preordered. I've wanted a red gingham blouse in my size for SO long.|
What can brands do to boost plus size sales?
In short, the most important thing brands could do is to step up efforts to build confidence, trust, and avenues for communication with the current and potential customers for the plus size items they're putting forth the enormous effort to offer. Some proposed ways to do this in the discussion of the post (plus my own suggestions) include:
- Show the plus size product on a plus size model. If the model is comfortable sharing their measurements, even better. Atelier Pierrot did a LOT of work with the Bustle Corset JSK (see below) and Douceur Cutsew releases to show the items on a plus sized model, including different sizes on the same plus size model so we could see how the look changes with the size.
- Ensure that the measurements of the item are accurate. Hire a plus size model for stock photos, or failing that, find one or more plus size people to try on a sample to confirm measurements.
- Encourage plus size customers to give feedback. There are sometimes big differences in what is popular among international lolitas vs. Japanese lolitas and their buying habits, and they will have a better idea of what is important to the plus size customer base if we tell them.
- Consider accepting an invitation to be a guest at a US or European anime convention with robust j-fashion programming (in the US: Tekko, Fanime, Otakon, A-Kon to name a few; there are likely more). Since "we make plus size items" seems to generally mean "we're trying to cater to our international customer base" this seems like a good way to reach many at once, in person. Fashion shows may be a good opportunity to get data on the fit of plus size items if multiple models try them on. Bonus points if you have a sales booth at the convention and even more bonus points if customers are allowed to try on items before committing to a purchase.
I realize these marketing type steps are not always taken because it adds even more cost on top of all the additional manufacturing costs but Atelier Pierrot is trying very hard to interact regularly with its international customer base (and Metamorphose more recently, especially by being involved in international events) and in my completely uninformed opinion, it seems to be helping. I very likely would have skipped buying the Bustle Corset JSK release without Connie's efforts to share the above information. The plus size Discord server has been full of talk about members' positive interactions with the Metamorphose designers at Tekko this past weekend. I hope the experience is as positive for the designers and brand financial solvency as it was for the community.
|The video of this shoot was very influential in convincing me to preorder. (source)|
What can lolitas do to support plus size releases?
The most important thing you can do to support plus size lolita manufacturing (and really any activity) by brands and creators you love is through directly supporting them financially so they have the resources to keep making things for you. While it's tempting to wait and see how something ends up fitting other plus size people, or you want it for a lower price, if everyone did that we would have no plus size releases to buy and no brands to dream up and make beautiful things for us. As mentioned in the original Facebook post and in comments by multiple indie designers, many brands make only as many plus size items as are preordered/purchased new, so if you don't buy the size you want new, it might never actually get made.
On the other hand, I understand that sometimes you just aren't interested in a particular release, and I also understand being just one person with
limited resources to financially support everything you want to see. Other suggestions include:
Spreading news about the release particularly when it results in someone else financially supporting a project if you personally cannot. This is important especially given the small size of the plus size market, and the reported gap between the number of people who say they are interested in buying something vs. the number who actually buy. Tell anyone you know who might be seriously interested, especially if the brand has made changes to their process; people who have been burned by a previous release that didn't work for them may try again knowing that the brand is listening to feedback and trying to improve.
Take the time to offer constructive feedback if the brand accepts it regardless of whether it fit you, especially if you would buy from them again in the future. They can't make something better if they don't know what's wrong. Remember to be objective and diplomatic.
Educate yourself and your lolita friends about how your clothes are made so that you can inform your expectations of what brands should do and how much it should cost with what is actually possible/feasible for a brand to continue operating. Here is some further recommended reading/watching (all links open in new window):
- Small Business & Sizing: Challenges for Indie Designers panel on Bay Area Kei YouTube channel (English). Includes an in depth look and lots of photos of industrial processes for making clothing, which I thought was really interesting!
- Metamorphose Favorite Item Designer Commentary video panel from Fanime 2023 that discusses the creation and manufacturing process of some recent releases, and challenges of trying to rerelease older designs. (Japanese with English subtitles; thank you Pengu/Flores Astorum)
- Atelier Pierrot on Business, International Marketing, and Plus Size Lolita Clothing interview with Buttcape from their guest appearance at A-Kon (English)
I am grateful to Connie and Atelier Pierrot for being open to sharing detailed information and hard data about their recent plus size offerings and the manufacturing challenges they face. Ultimately, I think this transparency is ultimately a positive thing and I am hopeful it will result in enhanced understanding among lolitas in general the amount of work and care that goes into creating the clothing we love so much.
I also hope it will result in increased communication between the brands/designers and customers, and we can come to a better understanding of what is within the power of brands to create and stay afloat at a price plus size consumers are willing to pay while also hopefully being able to communicate more readily to brands what plus size consumers want and need from them in order to get them to reliably spend their money. It is a very complicated balancing act involving many, many people and I really want us to find a way forward that is sustainable, not least because it directly benefits me.
|see you in October!|
This information directly contributed to me deciding to preorder the Bustle Corset JSK pictured above in size 3. I bought their previous plus size release (Nonette JSK) new and while I was within the measurement range I didn't like how it fit me. The Bustle Corset JSK still has the big top ruffle all the way around that was the deciding factor in me not wanting to keep Nonette, but the revised measurements (shorter bodice, shorter overall length) and seeing the Size 3 sample photographed on someone with a body type like mine have me hopeful that it will work better for me this time. I am also excited that it is made from shantung rather than satin! When my body was smaller I had an Atelier Pierrot shantung corset dress but even then I was still at/slightly above its upper size limit and it didn't quite fit right. I am really excited to have one that is sized up to fit a larger body.
Most important takeaway points
Support what you want to see in the world with your money. It's important to
financially support your favorite creative work of any kind to help ensure its continued existence, especially within the confines of the capitalist hellscape we currently live in. This
is especially important when the pool of potential supporters is so
small compared to the extra cost/effort involved, as with plus size
Remember the human. Making clothes involves a LOT of work (work that must be done by ACTUAL HUMANS; the machines help them be faster/more efficient) and the work of far more people than just a designer and shop staff. Even the "big" Japanese lolita brands are not gigantic evil
corporations. They are small businesses, smaller than you'd think,
especially compared to companies that make other types of clothing.