So, about that little bit of activism I mentioned in my last post.
Not many people outside of my offline life know that Monsoon and I have a history. In 1995 I wrote a letter to their then MD, John Spooner, telling him that I’d probably wear their clothes exclusively if they made them to fit me, and I was tired of hearing pathetic, disprovable excuses about why they couldn’t. Gratifyingly he took it seriously enough to call a board meeting to discuss the contents of my letter. I then met with their customer services girly, (a fellow, opinionated chubster), tried clothes on for two hours while she took notes, and gave her a file full of images culled from BBW Magazine of fat women looking attractive in fashionable clothes, which blew her mind almost as much as my FA perspective. Subsequently, she was given the task of researching the plus-size clothing market for the company, and I was invited to Head Office to meet with Mr Spooner along with the head buyer and various other directors, and offer feedback on which designs from their forthcoming ranges I thought would work on larger women. (They were, incidentally, so clueless that I had to tell them that plus-size women come in different shapes and use my apple-shaped self, hourglass Customer Services Girly, and a similarly rotund pear-shaped employee as examples of who would look good in which designs).
I was also told that if they did expand their sizes, it would take a very long time as the founder of the company wasn’t keen. Indeed, it probably took the best part of a decade before they went from a chain you could occasionally find a light smattering of size 18 garments in some branches, to one that routinely provided 18s, 20s and 22s in many ranges and most stores. Of course, by that time, almost all of the people I’d met had moved on and the type of clothes on offer had undergone a major revamp too, so it may have had nowt to do with me at all, but I like to think I played a part in the process.
And, true to my word, I’ve been rocking their gear ever since because, if anything, the revamp made their clothes even more to my liking. However, given the lengthy spell in the Sartorial Wilderness that preceded this agreeable state of affairs, I continue to await each new season with dread because I’m jaded enough to know that, in the current financial climate, my end of the size range will be the first to get nixed should a New Broom decide to sweep clean. And Monsoon recently acquired one such earlier this year, hootfoot from Apple no less. And, although the worst hasn’t quite come to pass, the writing on the wall isn’t good.
So, in the spirit of preemption, I’ve composed and sent the following by snail mail this weekend. I shall, of course, intersperse it with pics of this outfit for your viewing pleasure because it’s a loooong letter.
Dear Mr Browett,
I am writing to you because I recently heard some disquieting news about your stores and wanted to voice my concern. To say I’m a loyal customer would not be overstating the case. I have always loved your clothes; the rich colours and fabulous prints, the retro styling and the liberal use of natural fabrics – so much so that Monsoon accounts for roughly two thirds of my wardrobe. Were you to rifle through it at this point you would find (a staggering, even if I do say so myself), sixty-one of your dresses – along with twenty-nine assorted shrugs and cardigans, fifteen tops, seven skirts, and a pair of silk trousers, plus a panoply of Monsoon/Accessorize accessories. In addition I regularly showcase your clothing on my blog, (kindly see attached; you can thank me for the free publicity later). I’m hoping this will suffice to demonstrate the value of my custom and persuade you to hear me out.
I’ll cut to the chase; I wear a size 20-22. Ergo my considerable Monsoon haul, mostly acquired over the course of the last six years, was only facilitated by the company significantly expanding its size range and making the larger sizes widely available in its stores. Imagine then my dismay on hearing from a Monsoon salesperson in the branch nearest my workplace that these will shortly be withdrawn from several branches, including hers. Being given short shrift by the high street for the majority of my adult life has made me a very cynical woman, Mr Browett. Should this proposed development come to pass, I envisage one of two slippery slope scenarios playing out before too long – larger sizes eventually being made available online only and/or scrapped altogether due to depleted demand. Either way I’m scuppered and so, by extension, are you.
Call me quaint in this digital age but I resent having to pay for the privilege of trying clothes on. I live in a capital city, not the back of beyond, and don’t see why I should have to. My preferred method of shopping generally involves looking at garments at a leisurely pace in a well designed, conducive retail space, then taking a generous armload into a fitting room to see how they look. Since I do so on a regular, on-going basis, this typically results in my making multiple purchases over the course of a season, so it’s a win-win for me and the retailer. Online not so much; hardly at all in fact. I hate waiting for deliveries; I hate faffing about with returns, (yes, even with Collect Plus); I hate waiting anything up to three weeks for reimbursement if a purchase doesn’t suit me or fit, (which nine times out of ten it doesn’t because sizing is so variable). In short, I hate the whole, speculative, leap-in-the-dark, miserable hiding to nothing.
I can’t afford to shop online the way I do in person because the outlay makes it prohibitive. Outside of eBay, where I rarely purchase anything unless I’ve had an opportunity to try it on beforehand, I only conduct business with online retailers offering free deliveries and returns, and even then I’m cautious. A website gives little idea of the quality, or sometimes even the colour of a garment, let alone an indication of what it will look like on my body. For that I have to rely on finding a fellow fatshion blogger, (google it; there are hundreds of us worldwide), with similar proportions to mine, and that isn’t always possible. Consequently I can count the number of new items I’ve bought online on the fingers of one hand: one frock from Very, one jacket from Yours Clothing, and three frocks from the ASOS Curve range. Compare and contrast if you will. And those retailers who want my money, manufacture clothes in my size but refuse to stock them in their bricks and mortar stores? They, to use the vernacular, can do one. I won’t pay to be treated like somebody’s dirty little secret either.
I’ve been told that the reason I rarely find anything in my size in your Westfield branch outside of the sales is because it’s a flagship store; that Head Office considers it paramount to show a full and ever changing range of styles though, apparently, not to me. Larger sizes move a little slower than they do in some of your other branches and, being thinner on the ground, tend to be snapped up the moment they come in. Quelle surprise and how history repeats itself, Mr Browett. I was sent packing with the exact same flea in my ear back when I was a size 16 and that was the largest size available – only, these days, it’s less defensible. Unlike the modestly proportioned Monsoon shops of yesteryear your Westfield branch is the size of an aircraft hangar, which brings me to my next point. Westfield is the largest shopping mall in Europe and those fortunate enough to fall into your favoured demographic enjoy the supreme luxury of being able to shop in every single clothing store in it. I can reliably shop in three. I’m not telling you this to pluck at your heartstrings, merely to illustrate the supreme folly of shooting yourself in the foot. If you make clothes less accessible to your larger customer, she will ultimately buy fewer items. Not just clothes; you can say goodbye to spontaneous purchases of accessories and homeware too. Discrimination has a knock-on effect and it’s as injurious to you in the long run as it is to us.
The 16+ demographic accounts for almost half the female population of the UK yet we continue to be short-changed, shafted or blatantly ignored by a blinkered industry fixated on vying for the sole attention of an oversaturated market. Fusion range aside, Monsoon are not even primarily a youth oriented brand. If anything you should be expanding your size range further, not marginalising and alienating a significant sector of your clientele that your company has spent a considerable amount of time and effort cultivating. Plus sized women are no less stylish than our smaller sisters, nor are we any less interested in fashion. And your plus-sized customers deserve to be treated with equality and respect.
So, there you have it, fellow fats and fashionistas. If and when I get a response, I shall post it here along with my thoughts. I’ll also put the word out when I attend Plus London this year. (So, so excited to be doing that!) While I realise most of the other attendees wouldn’t be seen dead in Monsoon, I imagine most will take as dim a view of this development as I do. Meanwhile, if any of my older readers are similarly unimpressed, I’d suggest you too drop them a line. The employee who tipped me off larger sizes were going to be pulled from her store, said most of the staff were too nervous to voice dissent despite knowing they have a devoted plus-size clientele – which I can understand, given that the chain are closing down branches and laying people off left, right and centre. So it’s up to us, the punters, to make our voices heard.