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Meet Alice Rodrigues: At the Forefront of Womens Plus Size Apparel Product Development

Alice Rodrigues, Senior Consultant at Alvanon, is the lead instructor of the Fundamentals of Plus Sizes online course.

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M Hi Alice, tell us a bit about yourself! How did you become an expert in Plus Size apparel product development?

A My whole life I always wanted to make clothes, and went to college for fine arts and fashion design. I worked in the garment industry for over 30 years in manufacturing and retail, mainly in womens apparel, before joining Alvanon in 2011.

I was first introduced to plus sizes in the 1980’s, working for a company that developed styles for a Plus exclusive retail chain. Back then, there was little if any information about making and fitting plus clothing. “Plus” size mannequins, if you could find one, were basically just larger versions of a size 10 body (and in the 80’s, those were not realistic to begin with!). I met a size 18 woman who was willing to model, and padded up the largest mannequin I could find (I think it was around a size 14) to match her body as closely as possible, using shoulder pads and quilt batting. It didn’t take long to realize that all my experience and training about fit and patternmaking had to be completely re-thought to achieve the same quality of fit for plus women as was expected in missy sizes.

Darts were deeper, longer and lower; balance for tops and bottoms was completely different from missy sizes – traditional assumptions about pattern piece relationships, waist shapes, armholes and sleeves or neck balance didn’t work. Style lines and details needed to be adjusted to be flattering and functional. When we did finally get there, and were able to create well fitting clothes for plus women, what I saw was overwhelming. Women burst into tears because they had previously only found clothes that were limited in style, not balanced or fit correctly for their bodies, and usually uncomfortable; they had never had clothes that actually fit well and flattered their bodies.

From that point on, creating quality fit and styled clothes for plus women became a passion. The emotional connection that came from being able to have a positive impact on someone’s self image and self esteem could not be matched; these women had largely been ignored or even intentionally excluded by the fashion industry, and they deserve better.

M Why did you want to create the “Fundamentals of Plus Sizes” online course?

A I wanted to create “Fundamentals of Plus Sizes” to share my experience and passion in developing well-fitting plus product with others. There is an increasing number of women in the world who are plus sizes and shapes. The inclusivity movement and the rise of social media has put a spotlight on the lack of fashion options for anyone who is not within the traditional missy range of sizes. Women of every size and shape want the same things from their clothes; choices, style, good fit. The idea of plus women wanting something different from their regular sized sisters has been dispelled. With the majority of women in the US being bigger than size 14 the demand for quality fashion in bigger sizes is on the rise. In a world where more than 2/3 of women are plus size and less than 20% of clothing is offered in their sizes, something is very wrong, and businesses that don’t respond to this are missing out on a great opportunity.

M What are the benefits of taking the course?

A Virtually anyone entering into or already in the plus market can benefit from “Fundamentals of Plus Sizes”. Understanding the macro socio-economic factors that affect the size of a population provides context that can help quantify plus market opportunities in a specific region, and inform sizing and distribution strategies. Knowing how shapes of bodies vary, and how diverse body types grow and change shape across a size range helps identify the optimal body profile shape for a brand, and help in determining which and how many body types for which they should develop products. Beginning and intermediate level associates will benefit from exposure to the technical and aesthetic aspects of creating plus apparel, and learn how to avoid some common novice missteps.

M Is this course best suited for individuals or teams? For which type of organisation?

A This course would be good for both individuals and teams. Product development, designers, merchants and technical teams can all benefit from the information in the course. We cover topics ranging from the history of plus size product, and why it has historically been neglected, and the technical and aesthetic implications of creating plus clothing vs regular sizes.

M How does this course differ from other courses? What is unique about it?

A This course can be taken all at once or in segments that suit the user’s needs in terms of both time and subject matter. The sequence of topics builds from the history and basics of plus body types to detailed explanations of the technical and aesthetic considerations one must be aware of in order to execute Plus product successfully. Through our engagements with clients at Alvanon and discussions with industry peers, we’ve heard a lot of demand for training on this topic, very little is available today and certainly even less so online. The beauty of online is that it allows product development teams, internal or extended (including vendor personnel) to take such a course from remote locations conveniently, at their own pace.

M How did you build the course? In what ways did you work with MOTIF?

A Working with the MOTIF team was an eye-opening experience in learning how to take years of industry experience and translate it into a format that could be understood and followed as an educational and engaging online course. Taking content into story boards, writing scripts, structuring the content in bite size lessons, devising interactive exercises and activities for learners, leveraging various formats such a video, animations to their best effect required strong collaboration with a team with diverse and complementary technical skills. Having the contribution and perspective of a renowned plus size model was enriching in the process of developing the course and is a great added benefit ultimately for learners. The amount of work that goes into delivering a high quality learning experience is often underestimated, if not unsuspected.

M What were the challenges you faced during the course building?

A I have taught many people over the years, but mostly in person either in a classroom or the workplace. The biggest challenge was to think differently about what I do, how to communicate it in an online course format to keep learners engaged, to calibrate it for an audience which may be broader than what you usually experience in face to face training. Through the feedback we get from learners taking the online course we can make adjustments and/or plan for additional modules of instruction to continuously improve the content and learning experience.

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M Could you share any advice to learners taking this course so they make the most of it?

A The techniques highlighted in this course are ones that I have used successfully myself but they are by no means the only ones. Take your time. Even if there are aspects of the information that are familiar to you intuitively from your own experience, seeing it in writing and in visuals can help bring it more into focus. Try the techniques outlined in the course to help guide you to faster and more effective solutions. Naturally, you will adapt them to your own environment and unique product needs. 

While taking the course engage in the discussion activities and share your experience with others. Don’t be shy, be candid and constructive. Nowadays the ability to build your network virtually is a valuable asset for your career, keep the connection with fellow learners on your preferred social network.

Revisit the course! You have access to it for a full year, so refresh your knowledge and check out the discussion boards to pick up new ideas.

M To close on a more personal note, what does your wardrobe look like?

A My own style is sort of casual/Bohemian. Growing up in Boston, variety in your wardrobe meant you had a short sleeve black top, a long sleeve black top, black jeans, black trousers, and a black skirt, topped off with a black coat, all very tailored. Living in South Florida changes how you look at color, style and fit; black just doesn’t cut it when the sun is shining every day.

M A favorite or inspiring saying to leave us with?

A “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Fundamentals of Plus Sizes Online Course

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