Chromat's Becca McCharen-Tran on Why Expanding Sizing is a Priority
In May 2018, I heard Chromat founder Becca McCharen-Tran speak at the National Eating Disorder Association Gala. “We are fighting everyday for inclusivity on the runway” she said to the crowd. “In the design studio and beyond. It’s time to explode our historically narrow view of beauty.”
McCharen-Tran was speaking to an audience of eating disorder survivors and their loved ones and doctors. She was also talking to me: a 31-year-old recovering from anorexia and working in fashion; the industry with the said “historically narrow view of beauty.”
Today, there is still a huge disconnect between fashion and the average American woman. According to a study published by Plunkett Research in June 2018, 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or up. In a survey we conducted at InStyle, we found that 56 percent of New York Fashion Week Designers on the CFDA calendar don't even produce a size 14. Chromat is one brand that's trying to move away from that kind of exclusivity. Their mission is working, too: This past spring Chromat received a purchase order from Nordstrom to produce extended sizing for their swimwear.
Here, we talk to the designer about size inclusivity in the industry and what actually goes into extending a brand’s size run.
When you started Chromat, was size inclusivity part of your intention?
I don’t think it was an intention. It was just so natural. When I first started, I asked my friends to model. [The line] was always a reflection of the community that surrounded [me]. At the same time, I felt really turned off by how exclusive [the industry] felt. Like, you have to be rich or you have to be thin. The capitalist side of fashion. I was really not interesting in continuing to feed that engine. I wanted to do it my own way and make fashion more inclusive because that was my artistic world.
What are some struggles a small business like Chromat faces when trying to expand sizing?
Having a small business is so cost ineffective.You basically have to upfront all the money and hope that people like it. [Everything] is a real risk factor for small companies that don’t have a safety net. It's really hard to throw money in directions that you are not sure of. [Chromat] has been doing plus size for years, but it was always custom done, in-house. It wasn’t until we could produce 100 of the same thing that factories were willing to go into production with us. The Nordstrom [swimsuit buy] was the reason we could actually [produce these sizes].
Once you were able to produce the pieces, how did you make sure that the design and fashion sensibililty wasn’t compromised for fit and vice versa?
We had a massive fit test. Over 100 people come through our studio for four solid days of back-to-back fittings. We had everyone from extra small to XXXL. Based on all those peoples’ fit, we have a massive database of all their measurements, how everything worked, how every strap needed to be adjusted.
Was there any special technology you employed?
We’ve worked with body scanning in the past. And Alvanon is a really good source. They base their plus size mannequins off of averages from hundreds of thousands of people being body scanned and then they make averages of those and make these mannequins. Getting these highly technical mannequins has helped our design process a lot, but they’re expensive. Those mannequins are like $3,000.
Do you have to think differently when designing because you are designing for such a wide range of sizes?
For sure! When we do plus designs the pattern changes, the shape changes, the silhouette varies. The design changes a lot so we do think about that. But if you just start at the very beginning [of the process] it changes a lot about what you can imagine for all different types of bodies.
What would you say to designers who use the, “It’s too much money” excuse for not expanding their size range?
It is just priority. You have to spend money somewhere, so if you care enough to throw money in that direction, I guess that’s a reflection of your priorities. If your priorities are getting really expensive fabrics like crocodile leather, then that’s your priority. It is up to you based on what you think is important.
Since you started, have you seen the industry make real change towards inclusivity?
What is real change versus fake change? I guess in five years we’ll know. I kind of think it doesn’t matter. [We should] by any means necessary do more for the world by showing more people in your clothes. Everyone has to take that first step. I think if people are saying “that’s fake,” it’s a deterrent for people that want to change their mindset. Everyone loses if that happens. You have to let people try.
Where do you think real change will come from?
I think the more authentic changes are made higher up [than the designers]. With the models that are cast, who is making the decision? Who is the CEO of the company that’s backing [the brand]? And the retailers. Those have to be inclusive places as well.
How do you deal with like playing the game and also remaining true to the importance of the message of your brand?
Three or four years ago I was just starting to do plus sizes on the runway. I remember my sales team at the time saying, “This is great! We support you! It’s so cool you’re having plus size and trans women on the runway! But when it comes to buyers, buyers want to see someone skinny. They want to be sold a dream. They want to see something aspirational.” They were telling me to use these five skinny models. I remember thinking, this is so unfortunate. I feel like with the choices we’ve made, we are able to expand that dream and aspiration to so many more people versus just the people in that room.
Have you been able to take a big step back and realize how amazing this is?
No. I guess I feel honored that people care. We get a slot in Fashion Week, people want to help us make the show, people come to the show, that to me is so shocking, I am just a girl from a small town in Virginia, I’m no one super special. I am honored that people continue to look at our work and care about it and write about it, I definitely don’t take that for granted.