The next frontier for Australian fashion is beyond a size 14

The immediate future of Australian fashion remains less than average,when it comes to size,but nominees at this year’s National Designer Award are determined to improve the outlook.

Lesleigh Jermanus,founder of Alemais,has been awarded the top prize,valued at $120,000 (including $20,000 cash),previously won by Romance Was Born,Dion Lee and PE Nation from theMelbourne Fashion Festival and David Jones. The visually-arresting designs from Alemais tick boxes for creativity,commercial appeal and sustainability but stop short of size-inclusivity at size 14.

Winner of the National Designer Award,Alemais founder Lesleigh Jermanus with models Thuy Trang,Anastasia Stanislaus and Kerrera Pidock at David Jones,Melbourne,

Winner of the National Designer Award,Alemais founder Lesleigh Jermanus with models Thuy Trang,Anastasia Stanislaus and Kerrera Pidock at David Jones,Melbourne,Eddie Jim

“We are really engaged with our customers and community,” says Jermanus,who also received the People’s Choice Award at a ceremony in David Jones’ Melbourne store. “But I can’t tell you how many customers write to us about bigger sizes.”

“We want to celebrate size inclusivity because these women do feel excluded,and it breaks my heart. As a small business,there are plenty of obstacles,but it is at the forefront of our future planning.”

Having worked behind the scenes at Zimmermann,Marcs and Nicholas the Label,Jermanus launched Alemais two years ago,and has already expanded into jewellery and swimwear but production challenges have prevented moving into larger sizes.

“Suppliers are reluctant to produce more sizes,so we need to work with them more closely to get past this,” Jermanus says. “We want to celebrate size inclusivity because it is the most exciting thing happening in fashion right now.”

Melbourne designer Elinor McInnes launched her label Joslin in 2018 and received the $10,000 sustainability award. Joslin’s romantic linen dresses currently stop at a size 18,but McInnes says that reaching this milestone took time.

The nominees and winners for the National Designer Award. (l-r) Models Anna Robinson in E Nolan,Anastasia Stanislaus in Alemais,Camille Macdonald in Blanca,Akelo Costa in Clea,Vanessa Slamin in Joslin and Jemma Wittwer in Beare Park.

The nominees and winners for the National Designer Award. (l-r) Models Anna Robinson in E Nolan,Anastasia Stanislaus in Alemais,Camille Macdonald in Blanca,Akelo Costa in Clea,Vanessa Slamin in Joslin and Jemma Wittwer in Beare Park.Eddie Jim

“As the brand grew we were able to produce more sizes,” McInnes says. “I would love to go up to a size 24,but my suppliers won’t produce 12 sizes in a row. The goal is to hit size 20 by the end of this year. I just need a few more stockists to back those sizes and our whole market will change.”

“I’m a small brand I can’t just back it myself. We have seen growing demand internationally,with Net-a-Porter buying up to a size 18 in our range,and it sells out. Australia is a bit slow to catch up.”

Nominee Emily Nolan has been reaping the financial and emotional benefits of size inclusivity since launching her tailoring labelE Nolan in 2019. Sharp blazers,cricket vests and trousers that would be at home in an episode of Peaky Blindershave found homes in the wardrobes of women of all sizes.

“With made-to-measure there is no such thing as a standard size which is incredibly important,” Nolan says. “With our ready-to-wear pieces I go from a size 4 to a size 24. The majority of my customers are exhausted and feel ostracised by bricks and mortar stores and the online offering of most designers.”

That feeling of exhaustion is familiar to Chelsea Bonner,founder of the size-inclusive Bella modelling agency. Following the positive attention Bonner’s plus-size show starring supermodelRobyn Lawley received at Australian Fashion Week in May,she hoped that the industry would change more rapidly.

“Fashion has evolved,with women not afraid to show their shape and curves and designers need to evolve with it,” Bonner says. “It is incredibly disappointing that designers aren’t catering for a broader range of people because that’s where the market is.”

More than half the award judging panel work for David Jones and head of womenswear Bridget Veals acknowledges that size inclusion is good for business,but more work needs to be done.

“Size inclusivity has been important to us for a long time,but it is very difficult to do as a strategy,” Veals says. “We would like to nail it,but it is going to take more designers to make more sizes.”

“More of our brands are increasing their sizes. Have they gone far enough? No.”

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Damien Woolnough is the Style Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

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