My name's Nicole Skews. I'm a 27-year-old woman living in Wellington, New Zealand, where I work in administration for the government. This whole campaign came about through my feminist online activism, which is my second occupation, just an unpaid one.
As told to Murielle Baker.
The Clothes Calling Card campaign was born from ongoing conversations, amongst my friends and Twitter followers, about how some stores really struggle to give some women a reason to spend their money there.
One of my friends was lamenting about how she feels like she has to beg stores to let her spend her money there. She was like, "I'm young, I have a full-time job, I'm financially irresponsible. It shouldn't be this hard for me to buy clothes!"
That's when another friend jumped in, saying that if she had a calling card or a letter she could leave at stores, she absolutely would. My ears perked up at that and I thought, "Hang on, there's something in that. We could do that."
The more we talked about it, the more we realized this is a hugely common problem at both ends of the spectrum, not just for plus-sized women. A lot of women who are smaller than the mainstream size run told us how humiliated they felt shopping in children's clothing stores because they couldn't find clothes anywhere else. It wasn't just clothes people were becoming frustrated with -- bras and shoes were also a major issue.
The mainstream clothing run in New Zealand is between size 8 to size 14 -- in the US, that's a size 6 to size 12. That's an incredibly narrow run, when you think about. Sometimes I get the impression there are stores in New Zealand and the US that don't want anybody who doesn't fit in that size range run to spend money on them, or be seen in their clothes. It's either a case of complete ignorance about how much of a market there is for bigger/smaller clothes, or a deliberate exclusion of those shoppers, and neither of those are OK.
There are always those stores that fancy themselves as the gatekeepers of what people can and can't wear, and I completely reject that. I think it needs to be about what people feel good in and that they get to make those decisions themselves. For shops that are adamant they don't want those customers, OK, fine. But we're going to let them know exactly how much money they're cutting themselves out of.
There have been over 200 downloads of the calling cards since we started the campaign two weeks ago, which is fantastic. We've had a few people put them online onto a store's social media page. Someone posted one on the Facebook page of Peter Alexander (a major Australian underwear and nightwear designer), and the page responded by saying they were really thankful, and they'd be looking into how they could possibly diversify their size runs. That is really great.
There are two cards -- one's designed to be handed over to a salesperson, while the other is designed to be left somewhere in the store, if that person doesn't feel up to handing it over in person. It can be a really scary thing for a plus-sized woman to go up to a salesperson and say, "Hey, nothing in here fits me." Just put it on a pile of clothes at the front of the stores, and someone else might see it and go, "Oh, God, same!"
We encourage people to, if it doesn't make sense for them to give it to a salesperson or whatever, just put it on the store's Facebook page or send it to their Twitter account. The idea is that it's used as broadly as possible. We've had quite a few trans women say they're going to use it (one of my friends who is a trans woman says she wants to send it to a bra shop because they don't do the right size for her) and even men say they want to use it, which is great.
For the most part, salespeople and shop owners seem to be taking it quite gracefully. The calling card is a positive thing. It's saying, "Hey, I like you. I like your clothes, and I would have spent X amount of money here, but I can't fit into them!" -- not, "Screw you for not stocking my size!"
I've talked to dressmakers and small shop owners about it, and they've been really empathetic and sensitive. Some of them are plus-sized themselves, and they say they'd love to diversify but they can't get the money or business loans to branch out without proof there's a significant market for it. This is a way for them to quantify what they're missing out on.
I think the "great success, job done" moment would come when we see some kind of acknowledgement that translates into more stores diversifying their range. The first step would be for stores/clothes makers to go, "Actually, wow, this is how many people are currently alienated by having such a narrow run. Why is that?" I want to see people asking questions about why this is the way it is.
*The Clothes Calling Card is available for free download here and 100% of proceeds from any sales of the cards is being donated to Dress for Success, a New Zealand charity that helps women get clothes they need to get back into the workforce if they've been unemployed, on welfare, in domestic situations, etc.