I t’s no secret that the fashion industry is an exclusive club. Regardless, it seems odd that in 2020 fashion itself isn’t more inclusive, especially with so many companies speaking out about the need for better representation. As a product manager, I know that brands design clothes with a specific audience in mind, but defining that audience strictly by size, gender, and/or age feels a bit archaic. After all, women wear pants these days (much to the shock of our ancestors, I’m sure) and more and more men are exploring skincare, makeup, dresses (“tunics”), and skirts (“kilts”). Conventional wisdom says it makes good business sense to hyper-target a certain demographic: but these aren’t conventional times, and I wanted to explore if that wisdom was worth disrupting. Here’s why this is so important to us:
To be honest, inclusivity was not something that I started with at the beginning of the design process. Stellari usually begins by focussing on 3 core aspects: sustainability, versatility, and functionality. As I began pulling inspiration from an array of style influences, I found myself gravitating towards things typically considered “masculine” or “menswear.” I loved the traditional image of a cowboy in the Old West dressed in long dusters meant to keep out the elements while still allowing them freedom of movement. I also have a particular penchant for the fantastical, loving the long capes and cowls of roguish adventurers over the princess (but let’s not kid here, I also love me a beautiful gown).
The cardigan started out more similar to a traditional hoodie, but the look evolved during a visit to India where I was enchanted by the sarees and how just draping them differently could dramatically transform the entire look. Sarees are extremely functional in their simplicity: veiling or covering your head is common all over the world for women and what makes sarees stand apart is how easily they can transition down for casual settings and quickly back up back for more modest or formal settings (like church services, mosques, and temples). And while a hoodie isn’t exactly what I’d call chic, I find sarees very elegant, so the design direction for the cowl hood became a little less Assassin’s Creed cosplay, and a little more functional in the modern world.
After months of prototypes, the end product was a design I believe nearly anyone can wear and adapt to their personal style. This means how you wear the cardigan will likely be vastly different from how I wear it. In fact, I was surprised during a photoshoot when one of the models decided to wear it as a stole. I hadn’t thought of it being worn that way, and it looked amazing on her!
I grew up in the Midwest in the 80s. As a skinny little Asian girl who barely weighed 80 lbs soaking wet all the way into my 20s, finding clothes that fit right was always a battle--until I moved to Japan that is. Suddenly I had a wealth of options! But that didn’t change the impact of going through my teen years feeling self-conscious and “weird.”
Not being able to express your personality because the system (fashion industry) doesn’t seem to care about you is incredibly frustrating. No one wants to feel self-conscious in their own skin, and clothes are a second skin. Finding gender, size, and body-inclusive pieces can be especially difficult. Add sustainability and quality to the mix and the options shrink even more.
What you wear should be one of the many ways you get to share your story with the world exactly the way you want to...and like all stories, our tastes evolve and change over the years. I want to make something that my goth Asian-American teenage self would be able to buy and wear for years and years to come, no matter how my tastes changed, how much weight I gained or lost, or who I might become in the future.
When many companies talk about diversity or inclusivity efforts, they often mean just one aspect of the business--usually employees (and sometimes leadership). I wanted to build a company that holistically looked at inclusivity. I already knew from experience working in the video game and tech industries that inclusivity and diversity in the workplace mean more viewpoints, more ideas, and more creative problem-solving. Some of the greatest ideas come when you listen to someone who never had a seat at the table before. Would the Universal Cardigan be what it is if our production team all came from the same cultural background, were in the same age group, had the same aesthetic taste, or all wore the same size?
Product testing on a diverse range of sizes, ages, races, sexual orientations, and genders made the Universal Cardigan better. Period. Since I don’t know what I don’t know, it was vital to bring more voices into the mix to make the best product for the Stellari community. Everyone has a lived experience and can provide insight into areas that are blindspots for others. By being more inclusive as a company and making more inclusive products, we open ourselves up to new audiences. It just makes business sense.
Not every item Stellari makes will be as “universal” and versatile as the Universal Cardigan. People have different needs, and there’s varying demand for certain things (e.g. women with very large breasts tend to buy bikini tops with more support). But, even when we produce something a little more targeted in use cases, we won’t limit your experience by telling you how you should use it.
Designing something inclusive isn’t something I had any formal education in, so I’m positive there’s tons of room for us to make even better decisions in the future. If you have suggestions, please give us your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear it!