Where Are All The Plus-Size Fashion Brands In Canada?

Photographed by Renell Medrano.
In January, I found myself at the flagship Addition Elle store on Toronto’s Yonge Street. Armed with a wallet full of cash, thanks to the holidays, I wanted to treat myself to some new clothes. Then I spotted it: a pink faux fur jacket with a cheetah print. It reminded me of the one Cam’ron the rapper always wore — but it came in size fat. I knew I had to try it on, and when I did, I felt transformed into the fat version of Moira Rose. I felt unstoppable and purchased it on the spot.
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This would be the last time I would set foot in the store. A few months later, Addition Elle’s parent company, Reitmans, announced that it would be closing all 74 of its Canadian Addition Elle locations. For many plus-size women in Canada, the chain was one of the few affordable retailers that made us feel seen and understood that style isn't limited to those under size 14; it was a store of our own. Beyond it being a major blow to the Canadian fashion industry (which saw several other companies close or declare bankruptcy during COVID-19), this closure makes shopping for size-inclusive clothing that much harder for women across the country.
Regardless of shape or size, curvy shoppers want beautiful clothes and we need and deserve to have access to them. When exclusively plus-size stores close, it further marginalizes and excludes fat bodies and shows just how little the fashion industry cares about us. “It’s sad to see because for many of us, [Addition Elle] was our only option,” says Sasha Ruddock, Toronto-based influencer and designer behind the body-positive label Flaws of Couture. She launched the brand in 2011 after she was unable to find clothing that reflected her sense of style. “We’re normal people. We want fashion, too... and I think it is really ridiculous that in 2020, we’re still [overlooked].”

For many of us, Addition Elle was our only option. We’re normal people. We want fashion, too and I think it is really ridiculous that in 2020, we’re still [overlooked].

Designer And Influencer Sasha Ruddock
When I first started experimenting with fashion in my late 20s, I felt resigned to the fact that I would have to wear matronly as hell clothes that didn’t fit properly, bunched in weird places, and basically made me feel like my body was a problem that needed to be solved. But strides have been made in the past five years, thanks in large part to the body-positive and fat-acceptance movement. Inspired by Instagram influencers like Kellie B, Tess Holliday, and Nicolette Mason, I started to seek out U.S. brands like ELOQUII, JIBRI, Lane Bryant, and Torrid, the latter which offers stylish, wearable clothing at its 20 Canadian locations.
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While many of these retailers are also online, virtual shopping can be daunting and very expensive for plus-size people. In addition to the ever-present fat tax (when retailers charge a premium for plus-size lines), sizing is so inconsistent (sometimes as much as 17 inches (!!) in variation between the same size at different retailers), shoppers will often have to order several sizes of an item and, in some cases, take on the return and exchange costs. Then, you have to factor in things like shipping, taxes, and duties which you have no choice but to pay if an international retailer is the only place you can find that perfect-fitting pair of jeans.
Going to the mall isn’t any easier. Many brands and department stores carry plus-size lines (RIP Forever 21), but often these sizes aren’t in stores, their sizing (again) varies wildly, or clothes don’t go past a size 20. Unlike our straight-sized counterparts, we can’t just pop into a store and grab an item of clothing when the mood strikes or if we have a fashion emergency. We have to plan out every aspect of an outfit to ensure simple items of clothes like dress pants, T-shirts, or even jackets can be found in our size. As my favourite plus-size blogger and influencer Gabifresh has said: “As effortless as it may look, make no mistake: being fat and well-dressed is a fucking challenge.”

As effortless as it may look, make no mistake: being fat and well-dressed is a fucking challenge.

Gabifresh
In the past few years, emerging independent designers have been stepping in to fill the gap. A few of my favourites: Buttercream Clothing, an ethical clothing brand based in Calgary with sizing up to 3X; Mettamade, a mother-daughter run slow-fashion clothing line from Hamilton with sizing up to 5X; and Vancouver-based Free Label, which designs up to 4X, and Nettle's Tale, a crowd-funded swimwear and apparel brand. Then there’s Lesley Hampton, a womenswear designer from Toronto with sizing up to 4XL, Hayley Elsaesser, a streetwear designer known for her hyper-eccentric prints, with sizing up to 6XL, and Hilary MacMillan, a cruelty-free womenswear brand based in Toronto with sizing up to 4XL — to name just a few. All of these brands have e-commerce platforms and ship across Canada.
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More and more independent plus-size boutiques and consignment shops are also setting up shop. These stores are not just somewhere to purchase workout gear or jeans or even a wedding dress (true story), but rather, they are a safe place for people to explore what fashion means to them without judgment and with a sense of community. “Customers can see themselves in my store,” says Carlie Roberts of the plus-size consignment shop Consign Your Curves in Guelph, ON. Roberts shipped across Canada via e-commerce during COVID and recently re-opened her doors. “I think if you experience a place where you feel seen and heard, that's where you want to spend your dollars.”
It’s not only inclusive, it’s also good business sense. Plus-size shoppers represent 68% of the Canadian market and are one of the fastest-growing retail segments. “It’s going to be a growth market in terms of apparel,” says Craig Patterson, founder, and editor-in-chief of retail news website, Retail Insider. “If anything, every retailer should have a focus on welcoming all women. Just because a woman is larger, it doesn't mean she's not wearing clothing or going out.”
Change, as always, starts behind the scenes. Most often, brands and retailers don’t have someone who identifies as plus sitting at the table or making executive decisions about what consumers want. “I want to hear a plus-size woman talk about how she feels in this garment and why she chose to do this for the community,” says Ruddock from Flaws of Couture. “I don't want to hear a thin woman talk about why she thought it was good.”
As the pandemic continues to change the fashion industry — stores are reopening and customers are shopping more, but the eventual second wave could see that all come to a halt — the conversation then becomes how to keep plus-size fashion not just alive, but more accessible to everyone. I think back to that day when I was admiring myself in my pink faux fur jacket in the Addition Elle store, how special of a moment that was for me that I was able to just walk in and find it and walk out with it. We need to figure out how we can make more of these spaces for the plus-size consumer. When we don’t, we leave many of us without the dignity and respect — not to mention the incredibly excellent fashion — we deserve.

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