Charm Patterns and Size Inclusivity

There have been many discussions lately about indie pattern sizing, and I wanted to update you on what I have been working on behind the scenes to improve our inclusivity. Much of this I hoped to keep under wraps until I had concrete results and plans to share with you, but it is clear that we would all benefit from having an open conversation now.  

What We’re Doing Now 

I’m happy to say that we have been taking steps towards improvement: we have been drafting the next patterns (and the Lamour reissue) in dress sizes 2-20, and cup sizes A-H. This is a substantial step up from our current offerings of 2-16 with B-DD cup sizes. We are also working to increase visibility of other body types with the introduction of a second model (who wears about a 16H) for the official photos for these next patterns. I have previously been the sole model for Charm Patterns for a variety of reasons (including branding, logistical, and financial), but I am thrilled to add new faces and body types to Charm’s visual representation. I realize that there is more to be done in the future: hiring additional diverse models, hopefully adding additional sizes, and promoting as much inclusivity in our social media presence as possible. 

Additionally, I would like to say that Charm Patterns is a feminist, woman-owned company made up of a talented family of contributors, employees, and freelancers which includes women of color, LGBTQ folks, and plus size people. I believe that diversity is our strength, and I am proud of it. While this is a separate issue from size inclusivity, there are overlapping areas of concern and representing our diversity is a priority for me.

The Backstory 

Charm Patterns turned one year old in October 2018. My first size chart included dress sizes 2-16, which was the same as every other pattern line I have released (including Butterick, which uses different names for its sizes but is fundamentally the same), but I made the inclusion of four cup sizes, B-DD. I was quite proud of this, as having this many cup sizes is unique in the pattern world. I always knew that I would want to increase the dress sizes offered as well, but that it would take time to establish myself as a financially healthy company. Full disclosure: Charm Patterns is doing well enough for me to have recently hired a full time employee and rented a studio space, but I currently take none of the profits as personal income; I invest them back into the company. I am a single woman and don’t have a second income to rely on, so this means that I support myself through teaching and other projects. It also means that I have to be incredibly careful financially, or I could easily put myself out of business. 

When researching the market for plus sizes in 2018, I hired two patternmaking and fit consultants and I published a plus size survey to gather information about my demographic. I promoted the survey through Instagram, Facebook, and my blog, and received 955 responses. The surprising part of the results was that 629 of those respondents were already within my size chart (48” bust and below). This meant that 65 percent of people taking the survey didn’t realize they were already served by my sizing, and it left just 326 potential customers for a plus size line. Clothing sizing is confusing enough, and it was clear I needed to first improve public awareness of the sizes I already offered. 

Meanwhile, my consultants advised me that the best way to add a plus size line was to develop an entirely new sloper (aka sample size pattern) for a plus size profile customer, and to grade up and down from that size for an entirely new range which would be printed separately from the current size range. This presented a huge financial problem for me: this approach would double most of my costs and my time. To give you an idea, the Night and Day Dress took eight months to develop and the initial costs were in the $15,000 range. Even if I had the money (I didn’t), as a single overworked small business owner, I didn’t see where the time to develop this project would come from. And, of course, having only 326 customers with professed interest would not make the new line financially viable. With a minimum print run of 1,000 copies, taking this approach would be problematic for Charm’s financial sustainability.

However, there is a second way to do things which requires more testing and isn’t perfect: adding a maximum of two sizes to the existing range. This would mean that I could take my largest bust size up to a 52” without having to print and develop a second range. That will obviously not cover everyone’s fit needs (and I don’t believe there is a single pattern out there that can do that, unfortunately) but it will cover around half of the 326 people who filled out that survey and didn’t fit into the current range. I have shied away from this option as it was presented by my consultants as being imperfect, and I hold Charm Patterns to a very high standard. But with more thought and requests for improved sizing, I have decided to test the sizes 18 and 20 and hope for the best. I’m pleased that we are able to take this approach, and I will be calling on you to test! 

The Future 

There is still more that I hope to do to improve our sizing. If your size is not included in the current plans for expansion, please know that I hear your concerns and will be constantly looking for ways to make changes in a thoughtful and sustainable way.

As you can see from the survey numbers, we are not talking enormous profits and huge numbers of customers. Though I know we all feel like sewing is our world, we are still a niche and no one is getting rich from publishing indie patterns. But this is a labor of love. After a decade in this business, I still fall asleep thinking about sewing, and I wake up imagining what I’m going to create next. I know you all feel the same, and that is our common bond. Thank you for reading, and I can’t wait to tell you what’s next for Charm Patterns.