Last September, as children and preteens swarmed retail stores eagerly looking for new back-to-school outfits (after poring through magazines to see what was cool and trendy and checking out their friends’ looks for inspiration), approximately one-third probably left either empty-handed or, at the very least, feeling dejected.
According to the American Heart Association, one in three children in America is currently overweight or obese. But the U.S. apparel industry mostly overlooks overweight girls and boys, stores often don’t offer plus-sizes for children (or if they do, the pickings are slim) and, because of this, bigger kids are often forced to size up--resulting in ill-fitting or uncomfortable clothing that makes them look heavier than they actually are. It’s as if, to many retailers, overweight children just don’t exist.
Ruth Smith, a 50-something year-old mom from Bolingbrook, Illinois, is out to change all this. The Kickstarter campaign she launched a few days ago is already getting notice for its unique and just plain smart purpose: to create a clothing line, Hey Mom, It Fits!, for overweight children aged 9 to 12. A seamstress by trade, whose children grew up plus-size, Smith has been quietly crafting stylish garments for young clients out of her home for 25 years, making sure that both the fabric and the cut of each piece works for fuller bodies.
After seeing her own plus-size sons struggle in and out of ill-fitting mass-market clothing, Smith set out to design on-trend pieces that looked like the ones their classmates wore to school, but fit their little-yet-big forms.
When it came to designing, she realized that listening was the key component to making her sons happy with their fashion: “We had a back and forth: they would ask me to cut off the arms of something, which I wouldn’t want to do but they thought was cool, and I had to convince them to let some things go, because it just wasn’t going to look right on their bodies.”
Smith says that what retailers don’t understand is that there’s an inherent sensitivity required in tailoring for plus-size kids: “It’s not just about getting a bigger size, and it’s not about taking plus-size little girls into women’s stores just to find clothes to fit them,” she says. “I saw that all the time, and it struck me how they never got to look like little girls,” says Smith. “It wasn’t fair.”
These days, though her sons are grown, Smith is still hard at work creating plus-size clothing for neighborhood kids. Her Kickstarter is looking to raise $12,000 to allow her to turn her long-term project into a real business.
Her dream: a catalogue of classic, well-made designs that people can come back and reorder even years later. Retailers in Canada and Europe have approached her about stocking the line, but she currently can’t resource such a large-scale effort, a situation she’s hoping to change soon. In the meantime, she remains devoted to helping plus-size kids look better, feel more confident, and overcome the social stigma of obesity. “It’s little things, but they make a big difference,” she says. Case in point? Her favorite fashion moment: a local church fashion show in which one overweight little girl wore one of her outfits.
“It was wonderful — this little girl came out and everyone just gasped.”(You can see a version of the stylish dark denim ensemble the girl wore on Smith’s Kickstarter page.) “The way she held her head up high, and was smiling and so confident, I was really proud. She looked so pretty, and you could tell she felt it.”
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