Sometimes, a company's mistakes can be the best way to learn. In this case scenario, a massive clothing department store made the mistake of excluding a vast majority of its demographic and, in turn, the public clapped back in a rather negative way. By knowing this and how it excludes others, you can learn how to include individuals in a positive way in your own company.
We’ve probably all been there at least once in our lives. Staring at some gorgeous dress or pair of pants that literally whisper sweet nothings in our ears through the glass. However, not all of us can run in that store, grab whatever one is closest to us and definitely fit in it, if not even have it be a little big on us.
In fact, for the millions of plus-sized men and women out there, it can seem almost impossible to simply grab an outfit and move on with your life. For me, it became a nightmare when I started putting on weight after meeting my significant other. I remember thinking that I would never be able to shop at some of my favorite stores like Forever 21 and H&M and, honestly, I was completely and totally defeated.
As a woman, body-image issues have haunted me my entire life...
I have faced these self-conscious feelings from my thinnest self all the way to my biggest self and everywhere in between. Being tall, I remember constantly having to get women’s clothing in middle school and looking more like a soccer mom than any of my classmates and, as I got older, I found that my large breasts made it utterly impossible to find a cheap but cute bra, get my actual shirt size, and wear anything low-cut.
When I gained my weight, I realized it only got worse and soon I found myself being herded into the ‘plus-sized corner’ of my favorite stores and sheepishly picking from the multiple tarps they called plus-sized fashion. I remember thinking to myself that this should not be how it is considering the multitude of plus-sized men and women out there and how powerful and fierce their personalities can be. I was baffled by the fact that they were forced into a small corner of such an immense store to pick from unfashionable clothing items the store threw together for them just to please the masses.
It suddenly made sense as to why most plus-sized individuals spend more time at thrift stores than the mall and I couldn’t believe that they could rock such awesome outfits despite the clear obstacles in their paths. That’s when the world was turning on its head, however, and I began seeing more plus-sized men and women in catalogs, on the cover of big magazines, and even on the websites of these stores that once tried to conceal these plus-sized models’ existences as much as possible. Apparently, I was not the only one that was pissed and the fashion scene took note of this and began to incorporate a myriad of wonderful individuals from the plus-sized community in their scene.
I began to see much larger clothing sections for plus-sized individuals in the stores I once shopped at happily and I found myself shopping at them happily once again for the first time in nearly two years. I was excited to see new and actually fashionable clothing coming to these locations for women and men of my size and, for a moment, I finally felt included despite my weight gain.
That was until October of last year when I went shopping for my anniversary and decided to make a trip to one of my favorite stores, H&M, to find the perfect dress for the occasion. Everything seemed fine as I entered the store and made my way to the still rather small section they dubbed plus-sized but, when I arrived there, all I could find were size 4 jeans and size 6 dresses. I looked around a bit as I know that stores are subject to change their layout throughout the year but to no avail.
Finally, I addressed one of the employees to ask them about the plus-sized section’s new location and this is where my heart sank. They looked me up and down for a second and proceeded to let me know that they had removed their entire plus-sized section from their stores and that, if I wanted to find something in my size, I would have to purchase it online and wait for it to get there.
At first, I was appalled at the sheer lack of care this employee had for what that meant for myself and many others like me, but then I began to feel angry and conned. Here was this company that boasted its inclusion and yet discreetly removed their entire plus-sized section from one of their stores. I left the store angrily and found myself picking actually fashionable clothing at Curvy Sense for the occasion. Places that support plus-sized fashion were still out there and it felt good knowing that a place like Curvy Sense, in particular, could have my clothes delivered much quicker than a place like H&M and actually help me to feel included in both their marketing as well as their styles.
I think what places like H&M often forget is the fact that these clothes are not meant to look good on a size 6 but rather a size 18 like myself and, although there are still amazing brands out there that get it and tailor accordingly such as CS, big companies like H&M need to wake up, realize the potential our demographic holds, and start tailoring to us and not the models they assume are plus-sized (we’re not all a size 10, guys). That’s why, when I left, I decided to see how many other locations they had done this to and get to the bottom of this story not only for me but for the millions of others out there just like me.
That’s when I found out that this was not just a ‘my store’ kind of thing...
This was something that H&M had done to multiple stores including my own to make room for new sports, beauty, and home items in store. So how could a company that boasts body inclusivity choose to completely take away their plus-sized sections in the blink of an eye and why isn’t there a giant uproar over this?
The truth is, there is an uproar only we aren’t hearing it. H&M has done many ads marketing plus-sized women but, even before they began removing their plus-sized sections, several people were complaining about the abysmal selection in their stores. As the sections began to disappear, people began to openly discuss the pettiness of these choices online but it seems that H&M doesn’t really listen.
Instead, they have continued to market their plus-sized clothing lines on their twitter, their website, and many other platforms but have still decided that new sports clothing is far more important than putting that marketing to actual use. On top of this, the section for plus-sized women at H&M continues to stay in the same abysmal state it has always been in and, despite there being options now for larger men and women, no one truly wants the clothing they advertise.
How Can We Learn From This As A Business?
As a manager, marketing is a major issue. However, many individuals, including companies such as H&M are entirely unaware of what this kind of seclusion does to the vast majority of its buyers. Therefore, by taking into account demographics and also being up to date with current trends and opinions, you can ensure that your company never makes its consumers feel like they are excluded from the buying process. Furthermore, after facing this seclusion myself, I realized how important hiring diverse individuals is as well. Because all of the employees working that day were thin and did not understand what a hassle this could be for plus-sized individuals, it only made the situation even worse in the long run. By hiring individuals of all sizes and ethnicities, you can ensure that your company is true to the time and not excluding anyone in either the buyer demographic or the employee demographic.
Exclusion is not the foundation with which successful business is built