Angela Sloan-Treadaway spent much of her life trying to make herself small.
Size 8-10 was what she considered normal for her, but at times she was also sizes 6 and 4.
Food had long been a laden subject in her life, and for 20 years she suffered from an eating disorder before finally reaching breaking point in 2020.
After a bout of bad stress, she went on antidepressants and gained significant weight.
“But I didn’t care. I was so f****** sick of it,” she says.
“I would check my weight three to four times a day. My body is beautiful in all seasons, and I was done with it.”
One day, she took her scales into her workplace, went out the back where she knew there was a small sledgehammer, and drove it into them.
“It was the most wonderful thing in the world. It felt like a breath. A deep breath that I had been longing for, for so long.”
Soon after, Covid hit, she quit her job, and she started designing and making clothes full-time.
The 34-year-old runs her business Sloan Shop from her lounge in Tauranga, sewing clothes to the exact measurements of her customers, meaning they fit their individual bodies perfectly.
“I can tell you bust measurements, and I can tell you the lengths, but I can’t tell you what the average size is. The point of my label is that it’s made in your size, for you.
“I love when I make something for a very tall person or a very short person, or a very small person, or very fat, or that mixture of in between, because I know they would have struggled to find something without altering it.”
So popular are her designs – made from linen, recycled cotton, retro fabrics and vintage sheets – she’s shipped them to seven other countries outside of New Zealand.
The need is there for customising, she says, and comments from essence readers on social media about the reality of shopping when you’re plus-sized show a collective opinion that the range of clothing for plus-sized New Zealanders is limited compared to that for smaller people, especially when it comes to buying in-store, as opposed to online.
Readers say many are dowdy or “granny designs” that cost more, or are the opposite – cheaply made and ill-fitting.
“I don’t want to wear a dress that makes me look like I just walked out of Gloriavale,” wrote Nat Scott.
Finding women’s shoe sizes larger than 11 was also a problem for some female readers; and the same with bigger bra sizes.
Another woman, who did not want her real name used, is in her late-40s and between a size 18-24, depending on the fit. She described shopping for clothing as a plus-size person as being “frustrating and stressful”.
“I haven’t worn a button-up shirt for years for fear of the buttons popping off.”
Laila Jeffries is on the waitlist for publicly-funded breast reduction surgery, and hasn’t found a single shop in New Zealand that provides options for her current K cup.
Many readers said they had resorted to buying plus-size underwear and clothing from the US.
For those suffering from lipoedema, a condition where there is an abnormal accumulation of fat under the skin, creating a painful swelling in the legs, thighs, buttocks and the arms, it’s even harder to shop for clothes.
Lipoedema sufferer Alison Sinclair, a chaplain for The Salvation Army in Rotorua, says there is a “big disparity” between the size of her body from above her waist to below it, and that buying clothes is a “nightmare”.
Lexi McGovern has polycystic ovary syndrome and struggles with hormone regulation, which affects her weight.
She says the lack of understanding and willingness to learn from some around people not being able to control what they weigh because of medical issues is “astounding”.
Society is continuing to want to make “fat people” invisible, adds Jared Witana.
It’s terrible. In my case, your choice is T-shirts with s***** dad jokes on them, and pretty much anything in khaki and camouflage. There’s not much to choose from, so I’m walking around and I’m seeing other larger guys, and we look like clones. We all look the bloody same.
Standing at 6’1 and weighing 160 kilograms, the fashion design graduate makes 30 per cent of his own clothes, saying the options for buying the other 70 per cent are dire in his home city of Rotorua.
“It’s terrible. In my case, your choice is T-shirts with s***** dad jokes on them, and pretty much anything in khaki and camouflage.
“There’s not much to choose from, so I’m walking around and I’m seeing other larger guys, and we look like clones. We all look the bloody same.”
For another Bay of Plenty woman, who did not want her real name used, shopping for clothes is “challenging, demoralising and frankly depressing” at her size 18.
Rotorua lacks the plus-size stores Tauranga does, such as City Chic and K&K Fashions, that also sell plus-sized bras, she says.
“I really feel for people who can’t afford [to shop around] and instead have to go with anything that will fit.”
And like Witana, she says there’s still judgment of larger-sized people.
“I still get called fat and made fun of. I’ve overheard people comment on my food choices, too.
“I’m literally a professional female in the workforce, and still have to put up with a high school mentality.
“I think everyone in the plus-size department can agree that we all know how much we weigh, what size we are, and what society’s standards are.
“Some people are happy with themselves as they are, which is great; others aren’t, and are constantly yo-yo dieting to try and change. Either way, it’s simply not okay for a person to bully and judge another based on their appearance or size.”
Also, clothes aren’t just clothes, she says.
“The right outfit improves confidence, increases self-esteem and boosts productivity, because you feel good.
“At the end of the day, I know that it’s my body, my choice, and if I want more clothing [to select from], I need to drop weight. But, I certainly think that catering to larger sizes can only be a good thing for business and people’s self-esteem.”
Kataraina Ramlose isn’t plus-sized, but has friends in their early-20s who are.
She says they find shopping hard, and just like their smaller friends, want to feel “sexy” too, but are often faced with designs “people in their 20s and 30s don’t particularly like”.
“Some are confident with their bodies and want to show it off but they can’t find the clothing to actually do so, because what’s available is usually designed to hide the plus-size body. “I’m happy that we’re getting into an era of accepting plus-size bodies and embracing them rather than trying to hide them. We just need clothes to follow suit now.”
Hine Rangihau, 35, is size 16, and feels many stores are becoming more inclusive, but it’s still a struggle – even in op-shops, where much of their larger range is bought by smaller people for the “baggy aesthetic”, or oversized look.
Pāpāmoa’s Lisa Watson (size 16-18) says there are options out there, and some of her favourite stores include Shine On, ETC Clothing, Ruby + Rain, Postie Plus, Augustine and Emily Rose Designs.
“I have always said you can still look fab in any size.
“If you accessorise, one outfit can be worn multiple ways, and you can make the frumpiest of dresses better if you use a belt, depending on body shape. I prefer my dress sense now more than when I was a size 12, way back in the day.”
Sloan-Treadaway says there are an increasing number of boutique New Zealand-owned brands that are listening and catering to those over size 14-18, which is the average size of women in most countries – not 12, as social media has “ingrained” in people.
But accessing shops outside of big cities is a problem when buyers want to try on clothes before purchasing.
As for the cost, she accepts plus-size clothing can be more expensive, but a lot comes into it, especially if it’s a handmade item.
Many bigger franchises produce stock standard sizes, then make each size larger by a few centimetres.
“They don’t think about the fact that not every plus-size person is going to be six [feet] tall,” she says, explaining she herself is 4’11 and found some chain store tops touch her knees.
“We have been taught, generation after generation, that the smaller you are, the better you are. But small doesn’t always mean healthy, and fat doesn’t always mean unhealthy.
“It’s so harmful, and something that really needs to be changed.
“Fat people are owning their fatness, and it’s beautiful.