Prabal Gurung’s Very Honest Account of the Size Problem in Fashion

Prabal Gurung is a designer that wears his heart on his sleeve. Or more literally, he wears his heart on his shirts. The past two seasons, the Nepalese-American designer has worn statement-making tees that have gotten as much press as his actual collections for their boldness: RESIST WITH

Prabal Gurung - Runway - September 2017 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows
Photo: Peter White/Getty Images

Ever since I started working in this industry, I saw this narrative of fashion that was very one dimensional: white, blonde, size zero. That was it. There was no other thing.

As a minority myself, I have always understood what it feels like to not be represented and seen; to turn the pages of a magazine and not see someone who looks like you. You start questioning your worth and why you’re not being celebrated just how you are. It effects your psychological well-being.

VIDE: InStyle Presents American Voices: Designer Prabal Gurung

To give you a bit of history, I went to all boys’ British Catholic school where it was made clear to me I was a “different” sort of child. I was bullied and quickly realized that I was never going to make friends there. If I was going to be told I was different, then, I thought, I’ll do things differently.

Prabal Gurung Show - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin Spring/Summer 2018
Brian Dowling/Getty Images

I came to New York in 1999 to join the fashion industry because that’s all I ever really wanted to do. I thought New York was this city of misfits. I thought fashion was going to a place where I was going to find my voice, my community. The reality was that while some of it is that way, there is a large part of the industry that was and is still very segregated; that sells to the idea that you’re not good enough until you buy “this thing” or look “this way.”

When I started my own collection in 2009, I made up my mind that it was going to be representative of many different types of women; on the runway, in a presentation, as well as on the retail floor. And in the beginning, retailers were not interested in buying it.

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala - Street Sightings
TheStewartofNY/Getty Images

So, I started developing my own, personal, private clients made up of diverse women of all sizes. One of the first assignments I got was to custom make something for Oprah. I created something for my friend’s mother who was a size 20 (a beautiful chiffon gown). I wanted to only create collections that said: “I see you. I hear you. I feel you. Your existence matters to me.”

And although retailers were still not interested, we, as a brand, went full force. There were a lot of fears, a lot of people who told us we shouldn’t be doing this. It was not “the cool” thing to do, to be creating pieces for women above a size 16. But I was never worried about it. I’ll let everyone else chase the cool. That’s always worked for me. My clothes have never been just for one type of woman. And if there ever was one type of woman in my head, it was her mind or her soul that was the unifying factor. Size, race, gender…those things never mattered to me.

With size diversity on the runways and in collections, the progress is extremely slow. But shaming other people, other designers, is never a way to make change. Allowing everyone to sit at the table, positive reinforcement and validation is how change comes.

Prabal Gurung Fall Winter 2018-19 Collection, New York Fashion Week
The Washington Post/Getty Images

It’s 2018 and fashion, our industry and each and every individual working in it, has a big responsibility to help heal our society. I truly believe that. For the longest time, fashion has been able to provide the world with dreams and aspirations. But we have also been responsible for a lot of negative, whether it’s making a woman or man feel like they are not worthy, or they don’t belong because of their size or race. Our job is to visually represent inclusion, diversity, and show how the world is better with color. Different colors. That’s what fashion should do.

We are a community with so many eyes on us, and we all have platforms. I feel a strong responsibility to use my platform to create a dialogue about injustices and inequities in our society. I truly believe conversation and education is the way we can shift our perspectives and come together to make change.

Related Articles