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Brandy Melville: How much longer can ‘one size’ survive?

Zara Osako takes a look at how the brand Brandy Melville sustains its popularity while championing exclusion.

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Image Credit: Timwkwaizwohfjw

Fast fashion clothing band, Brandy Melville, is often in the headlines for its dated and discriminatory ‘one size’ approach to clothing. In an age of body positivity movements and self acceptance, Brandy Melville is amongst the few brands that still refuse to offer an inclusive size range (or any form of sizerange) – but how long can this outlook survive amid the growing plus-size ranges of other high street shops?

The Italian founded clothing company is infamously known for only producing clothes in ‘one size’, most of which are the equivalent of a size extra-small or small, with skirts and trouser waists measuring 26 inches at the most – closest to the UK equivalent of a size six. However, when the average UK women’s dress size is sixteen, this limited size range doesn’t represent the majority of Brandy Melville’s potential customers. So why do they purposefully limit their clientele?

Slim, rich, white girls are not an uncommon target audience for clothing companies to lust over. Not long ago, the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister were under scrutiny for their tanned, Californian, fitness-fanatic aesthetic which had half-clothed models parade their sculpted torsos down Oxford Street to pre-teen shoppers. Yet, despite openly admitting their overt preferences for a slim, white-washed audience to the media, these companies barely take a profit hit. Brandy Melville still holds 97 stores worldwide, with four based in London. And whilst this is considered only a handful in comparison to competitors such as Zara and H&M, which hold thousands of outlets internationally, Brandy’s business strategies maintain for them a sense of exclusivity, much like their size range. Even I can remember my adolescent self demanding a visit to Brandy Melville during a family trip to London – after all, it was what all the American YouTubers were raving about in their weekly hauls. And once you’re there, you have no choice but to make the rare trip worthwhile.

One reason for their high profit margins is their lack of traditional marketing. The company solely relies on vintage-washed Instagram posts depicting thin, white LA girls (latte in hand, of course) to promote their clothing. Asa result, the 90s inspired film-like photos have attracted over three million followers to the platform - and that’s just the US page. However,if you’re looking for even a glimpse of a person of colour, prepare your finger for some scrolling. And if you’re looking for anyone over a size eight, just take yourself to another page. Yet this lack of diversity is evidently effective, with many followers appreciating their ‘authentic’ (ironic, I know) amateur style images. Perhaps they find it refreshing in an industry of crisp, polished studio-style photos. In reality, the majority of these caught-off-guard candid models belong to Brandy Melville’s rather unconventional project research team. Unlike your typical high street clothing giant, Brandy Melville’s project researchers consist of a handful of teenage women, all ranging between 16 and 23, and all mirroring the much established Brandy girl aesthetic. The brand’s commitment to their target audience is profound compared to other high-street competitors – most of which are run by their clientele’s polar opposite.

Their commitment to a one-size policy also saves them a penny, cutting out a giant burden to the design process and allowing them to mass produce with ease. Avoiding the inconvenience of inclusivity enables them to keep up with the rapidly changing microtrends of today’s influencer culture, in turn aiding their survival amongst other high street fast fashion giants.Many have also theorised on the one-size model as a sly marketing ploy as many customers make it their aim to fit into Brandy clothing. Finding a single item that fits is considered such a rare achievement that the customer has no choice but to celebrate in its purchase. And if it’s not the customer’s own personal scrutiny and self shame driving their purchases, the company is constantly making headlines for its controversial sizes, unintentionally bringing them business. Perhaps this article may even have that undesired effect. And despite scandal after scandal, we rarely, if ever, see a public apology from the company. Most other companies in Brandy’s position would have a heart-felt, self-reflective apology graphic on their Instagram feed within moments. The fear of not appearing ‘woke’ enough to their followers or falling victim to the cancel culture of social media usually encourages this kind of response. Yet Brandy Melville does not appear to show a shed of care despite constant comments of criticism. Perhaps, this leads their custom-ers to think “if they don’t care, why should I? If they don’t make it a big deal, maybe it’s not a big deal.”

Many of those who have bought into the Brandy cult of plaid mini skirts and graphic embroidered crop tops have shared online their toxic relationship with the one-size-fits-most sloganed shop. Many have voiced their concerns with the unhealthy body image that the brand has created, as a result of the pressure they feel to fit into the one sized clothing. Several con-sumers have gone as far as to say that the storehas encouraged and induced disordered eatingamongst young girls – but this isn’t even theworst of it. A recent Insider article exposed the reality behind the rails, revealing fatphobic and racist comments made by company workers. An ex-senior Brandy Melville worker disclosed the CEO’s strong preference for “good looking rich little girls” and claimed that it was clear that black or overweight customers were not welcomed by the company’s image. It was also said that staff group chats also regularly consisted of racist and anti-Semitic comments in which the N-word and “Hitler” were used several times. Ultimately the brand seems to be riddled with causes for concern, yet so many shoppers continue to glance over them.

Moreover, thecompany’s precise and selective aesthetic does not stop at the customer, but unfortunately extends throughout their hiring process, which supposedly resembles that of a modelling casting. Multiple TikTokers have shared their experiences of applying for store assistant roles, stating that the interview process consisted of full body shots being taken of the interviewee as consideration for their suitability to the role. Others have also noted being actively scouted by shop assistants whilst they browsed the store, solely based on their appearance. Ultimately, it is clear that the company is insistent on curating a particular image of the trendy it-girl and, as a result, shunning anyone who does not resemble a high school head cheerleader.

However, surprisingly or not, many customers jump to the defence of the one-size-only convention, comparing the limited size range to plus-size only shops. Though the two can not be compared. Plus-size clothing shops were established to cater for those who found it difficult to shop in mainstream high street shops where they felt underrepresented. Slim women seldom have this issue; the privilege to walk into any high street H&M and instantly pick up their size off the rack has never wavered.

Not only limiting their size range, the one-size fits all (or in Brandy Melville’s case, one sizefits “most”) approach also dismisses anybodyslightly above or below the desired 5’6”. And yet the company still appears to thrive.

On the other end of the spectrum, we see other companies making active progress towards inclusivity. A few years back, online retailer, Missguided, put a stop to their over-edited advertisements, leaving models’ cellulite and stretch marks untouched in their product images. Similarly, ASOS have also recently begun to introduce the option to view the same garment on different body types to give customers a more accurate representation of themselves. The past few years have also seen the launch of Rihanna’s company, Fenty Beauty, which has been unequivocally deemed as revolutionising the beauty industry for its vastly inclusive makeup range. Her 40 shade foundation range paved the way for other brands who previously offered limited shade ranges usually suited to and advertised towards the white customer - all progressions that have been positively received on social media. And whether you believe these changes are accompanied by good intentions or are simply another marketing ploy, they all encompass the progression the industry is so longing for. After decades of feeling overlooked, consumers are embracing these minute advances.

It doesn’t appear that Brandy Melville will be following suit any time soon. While their one size clothing model still sells, there’s no reason to change. Though it is disappointing to see amongst such positive and progressive changes in the industry. In an industry, and world bombarded by self care and self acceptance, Brandy Melville’s business model almost seems backwards to the modern day woman. When the majority of us have spent the best part of our teenage years expelling feelings of doubt and insecurity, walking into a one size fits ‘most’ shop without the luxury to leave with brim-filled bags can easily set us back in our self acceptance journey. It’s dismissive and ultimately offensive not only to our individual progress, but to the industry as a whole.

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