The world's first plus-size supermodel is working to solve a $9 billion dollar problem

The plus-size fashion industry is facing a crisis.

Full-figured women are more than willing to spend money on trendy clothing items, but complain that few retailers are providing women with fashionable options that work for them.

Melissa Aronson, known professionally as Emme, is widely recognised as the world’s first plus-size supermodel. She decided to get to the root of the problem by investing in a design program that trains students on how to create better plus-size clothing.

Emme spoke to Business Insider about how she launched Fashion Without Limits at her alma mater, Syracuse University.

The program curriculum that teaches emerging designers how to craft designs for plus-size women.

“You’ve gotta go where the designers are taught,” Emme told Business Insider.

Although she initially planned to launch the program as a Kickstarter, she ended up joining forces with Syracuse University.

Emme notes that the general consensus among plus-size women is “I am more fashionable than what you are giving me — no more muumuus!”

The current matronly one-size-fits-all isn’t working, according to Emme.

“Once and for all, not all curves are the same,” she said.

At first, this revolutionary curriculum was met with some resistance, she said.

But the rewards for learning how to build designs for plus-size women could be immense for the students and the retailers who hire them.

“We wanted to have designers to graduate our fashion design school with an inclusive fashion education that when they would walk out of these doors, they would be able to be a) in high demand for those particular manufacturers and design firms that are looking to get into full figured,” Emme explained. “They [manufacturers] are really, really nervous because there’s such a very high cost to get into the business if the designer does not [know how to make a dress] soup-to-nuts [for a] full figure.”

Emme says she worked with NPD analyst Marshal Cohen, who claimed retailers are missing out on $US12 billion-$US14 billion a year in sales from plus-size consumers. (IBISWorld reported the market was worth $US9 billion in July.)

These figures show the plus-size industry is a highly profitable one.

Fashion without limits winner nicole wezowiczSyracuse UniversityNicole Wezowicz, the winner of this year’s contest, and her winning design.

While retailers like Target have attempted to cash in on this industry with its plus-size line AVA + VIV, and Bloomingdale’s offers designers such as Michaels Kors and Eileen Fisher in larger sizes, some stores still dismiss plus size women.

Even if they market to them and sell clothing in their sizes, they still put these women in a corner — and sometimes, they do it literally.

“I think department stores are scratching their heads, saying — I’m not going to mention the specific department store, but I will say — do not put your full-figured department next to maternity or in the back near home goods,” Emme told Business Insider. “Because women are starting to come through and live tweet department stores!”

Average, non-supermodels will have more options if designers know how to craft designs for women with bigger builds. Emme acknowledged that she’s a supermodel, and not every woman has a team at her disposal to help find a perfectly fitting outfit. She said that “doesn’t help the people that I represent.”

Most importantly, this initiative to have a wider range of designs will not only position students to have more profitable careers, but will create a wider range of options to plus-size women. After all, plus-size women are more than just plus size.

“This full-figured customer is hippie chick, she is preppy, she is conserative, she is more modern — she is all the personalities that you find in the Missy market. The full figured customer is the same,” Emme said.

“No longer is it one full figured cut for all,” she said.

But while more and more plus-size women’s voices are getting heard — whether it be via petitions online or bloggers — Emme said this issue encompasses more than the plus size community.

“Truly, this issue is not about plus size,” she said. “It is a feminist and women issue.”

You can follow #SUFWL and @Supermodelemme for updates regarding the initiative.

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