Exploring fashion, fit for African women of all sizes
By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
PULLMAN, Wash. – Attractive, comfortable clothing that fits a range of body sizes isn’t just an American desire – it’s global. A Washington State University researcher is exploring ways for African women of all sizes and shapes to look and feel good in modern fashions.
Oluwatosin Adelaja, a master’s graduate in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles (http://amdt.wsu.edu/), worked with women in Nigeria to develop fit and style options that cross size and cultural barriers. She recently earned the William R. Wiley Research Exposition Poster Award and Scholarship (http://studentinvolvement.orgsync.com/org/gpsa/Services_Wiley) for her work.
Adelaja, who is Nigerian, surveyed nearly 100 women and developed a style collection as part of her master’s thesis exploring challenges of body size, fit and fashion.
“Nigerian women want to wear modern clothes,” she said. “But they need to wear them by their own rules. “
Nigerian women typically acquire apparel by visiting a dressmaker and ordering custom-made garments that fit their proportion and style needs. But local dressmakers don’t always have the expertise to make modern fashions.
It’s a common problem for fuller-figured Nigerian women, and a personal challenge for Adelaja. She chose to study apparel design at WSU to help women rise above these limitations.
“In my country, I once had a dressmaker who turned down clients based on their body size,” she said. “I was inspired to learn how to sew to meet the needs of these women – and make them realize their body is not wrong, it just requires the right expertise. This will affect their self-confidence, and the way they feel about their body size and shape.”
Western, mixed styles preferred
To gauge Nigerian women’s preferences, Adelaja sent surveys to members of women’s associations, religious groups and companies. Of the 97 women who responded, 46 percent wanted western styles while 48 percent preferred a mix of western and traditional garments. Only 6 percent preferred traditional styles.
In Nigeria, western styles mesh with cultural sensibilities, Adelaja found.
“Most women would say, ‘I like this style, but I won’t wear it because it’ll expose my shoulders. Can you add something?’” So she added jackets and featured cuts that provided for more modesty.
Designing for real people
She designed her collection for six women who are attending a social event. In Nigeria, a group of women commonly select a single Ankara fabric, or colorful African print, for an event. Then, each woman goes to a dressmaker to order a custom design.
Adelaja displayed her designs in sizes ranging from small to triple-XL in a fashion show at WSU’s African Night and in the AMDT Exhibition Hall. Her results show that women of all sizes can be fit and flattered in preferred fashions.
“Her designs are a wonderful demonstration of fitting across a range of six sizes,” said Carol Salusso, Adelaja’s advisor and AMDT associate professor.
“Conventional sizing tries to convince people that they’re not the right shape: If your body isn’t what our culture wants it to be, it’s wrong. I think that’s wrong,” Salusso said.
When clothing fits, “everybody looks good. Nobody’s excluded,” she added. “If you design using real people as fit models, real people can wear it.”
Master patterns, African fabrics
Looking ahead, Adelaja sees a need for master patterns for different body shapes and sizes. She also sees economic potential for designers and manufacturers looking to serve African women of all sizes.
“There is a huge opportunity for manufacturers to adopt western styles into African fabrics like the Ankara print used in my collection,” she said.
Learn more about apparel design at WSU at http://admission.wsu.edu/academics/fos/Public/field.castle?id=7539.
Oluwatosin Adelaja, WSU master of arts graduate, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Carol Salusso, WSU Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, 509-335-3821, firstname.lastname@example.org