STYLE: Confessions of a size 22 fashion designer.


Charina, Lalabelle’s head designer.

Charina Warne is a 24-year-old fashion designer behind the plus-size label LALA BELLE. She sat down with her sister Jade, a writer, to discuss plus-size fashion, body-shaming in that no-BS sisterly way. Take a read.


Jade: What’s up with plus-size fashion? Why does it suck so much?

Charina: “For starters, cheap clothes (I’m talking Paddy’s Markets-cheap) are generally crap. If you’re paying under $50 for pants, you’re likely to get mass-produced disintegrating cotton, tie-dye vomit and an elastic waist. When you grade that same garment up to a size 22 you get all of that – IN MONSTER PROPORTIONS!

Secondly, there’s a massive lack of investment in plus-size fashion on both sides. Have a look at what any big department store offers their plus-size shoppers. Where their straight size range will feature garments from $20 to $2000, their plus-size range will be a few hundred dollars – max – with the bulk of garments under $100. So there’s an assumption there that plus-size girls a) aren’t going to the same jobs or parties or events as straight sized girls and b) they’re not interested in spending money on a good dress to wear. lalabelle_charina_streetstyle2


On the other side, girls my size have grown up feeling bad about fashion. It’s not something we could engage with, experiment with or get pleasure from. We’ve never had access to dresses that were better than our friends’. We’ve been told day after day that our size is something that has to change which, by definition, means it’s not worth investing in. Both sides are shifting, but change takes time.”

Jade: OK, but there’s a really strong plus community out there now? Why aren’t more designers tapping into demand from this market?

Charina: “Because it’s not cool and it’s not easy. Think about it: would you rather design for a leggy teenager who literally gets the establishment thumbs up if she’s wearing a garbage bag, or would you take on the challenge of making a thirty-something size 26 girl feel great about herself just the way she is?

A campaign image from Lalabelle’s new range.

It’s awesome to see the THE ICONIC Curvy, City Chic, TS14+, ASOS Curve offer some affordable, accessible pieces. But I have an Alexander McQueen bag, Ellery sunnies, Marc Jacobs earrings; I want to wear clothes that make me feel like a rockstar… even if that’s in my own mind! There is stuff out there, but so often it’s missing that pulse-racing, high-voltage, Claudia Schiffer/Linda Evangelista/Kate Moss/fashion-with-a-capital-F wow-factor. I knew I’d have to design that myself.”

Jade: What do you think about designers who say they can’t afford to make clothes for bigger sizes?

Charina: “I get what they’re saying. Size 8 hips are 92cm, size 26 hips are 140cm. That’s around half a metre difference, so when you’re working with expensive fabrics, the price is going to change. When you post, the garment’s going to be heavier and the box bigger. We’ve chosen to make everything in Australia, but the obvious solution is to mass produce overseas. If the result is a better deal for shoppers and more options for plus women then, as a business person, you have to investigate that.”

Jade: Size and fit are two massive concerns for curvy shapes. How do you address this?

Charina: “My weight fluctuates a lot. When I started the business I was a size 26, now I’m a size 22. Of course I want our sizing to make sense for someone like me, so at LALA BELLE we group  sizes together – S (16 – 18), M (18 – 22) and L (24 – 26+) and we also use amazing stretch fabrics – genuine stretch leather, stretch French lace, neoprene and an incredible stretch ponti – which breathe and support and move with your shape. Any tailored pieces are cut to flatter with room, and we also have these really clever stretch panels that run down the centre back or side seams, which should really be standard in clothing for all women all the time. Every woman, no matter what size , expands a little during the day – how about we build clothes that cater for that!”

Jade: You’re a size 22 and 178cm tall. How do you feel about the word ‘fatshion’?

Charina: “Fat is an ugly word. In Australia, it’s plastered over newspapers and yelled in schools like it’s this symbol of ultimate evil,  which is hilarious. Fat strikes fear into the heart of strong, intelligent, beautiful women everywhere. Why? Fat is a vital part of life. It’s a statement of fact. I’m fat, but I’m not a fatabulous fat activist fatashionista! I’m not scared of it but I’m not interested in it either.”

FYI: This post isn’t sponsored but the girls from LalaBelle are offering Mamamia readers a 10% discount off any of their styles if you’re interested. Check out their leather jackets and killer party dresses here.

What do think of the plus-size clothes currently on offer? Love or loathe?

00:00 / ???