‘As a local business, I want you to represent my province’

St. John’s woman claims local clothing designer does not support realistic body standards.

Sarah Dawe is not happy with local fashion designers "uncomfortably small" mannequins
Sarah Dawe is not happy with local fashion designers’ “uncomfortably small” mannequins. She says she is fighting for changes in the fashion industry by starting locally. Ashley Sheppard/Kicker 

Ashley Sheppard
Kicker News

A St. John’s woman is taking on fashion retailer Sooley Designs over mannequins she describes as “uncomfortably small.”

I urge the company to consider the damage they have caused to the eating disorder community, and please try to be more inclusive and diverse,” read Sarah Dawes’ post, which has been gaining attention on social media in recent days.

Dawe is in the process of recovering from a long-standing eating disorder that has impacted her for much of her life. She says she noticed that Sooley Designs, a fashion retailer that custom-makes clothes in St. John’s, has been supporting ‘unattainable body standards’ through their mannequins, models and the 0-10 sizes they have available in-store.

Dawe says her objective was to start a conversation about body image in the fashion community on a local level. But she says many people have gotten the wrong impression from her post.

“I’m not attacking a local business in any way,” said Dawe. “I just want to start a conversation in my community because this is the corner I was given to make a difference.”

The post primarily targeted the mannequins in the storefront window. Dawe says they reminded her of when she was at her lowest – and she says that’s no way to represent a brands clientele.

Others on the post who came to the company’s defence, said the mannequins were ‘artistic’ and ‘theatrical’ and not representative of the body type Megan Sooley, owner of the company, caters to.

“Art never is just art,” said Dawe. “Art means something, and to me, this art means a toxic image.”

Since she was in high school, Dawe says Sooley Designs has been popular among students who adhered to a petite body type. She says she felt excluded and like she was not able to partake in the trend.

Sooley Designs custom-makes clothing for customers, but Dawe says the sizes they have available in store range from 0-10. She says one of her concerns is that people who wear sizes above 10 might not be able to fit into the samples to consider purchasing.

“If you’re selling to local customers, you should adhere to all of them.”

Mannequins at Sooley Designs in St. John’s.

The feedback Dawe has received has been both positive and negative. She says lots of people have been overwhelmingly supportive and have joined her to fight for body inclusivity. Others, though, have expressed varying opinions.

“I expected change,” said Dawe. “I expected a conversation. I expected people, even who disagreed, to put in their two cents respectfully – not come for me, or my co-patients, my co-survivors, with all this negativity.”

Emily Clowe is graduating high school this year, and like many girls, she went to Sooley to find a dress for the special day. She says she was wary at first, because she doesn’t fit the demographic of women she thought Sooley designed dresses for.

But Clowe says the company has gone out of their way to cater to her needs.

“From the moment I walked in the store, all the girls there made me feel comfortable and welcomed,” said Clowe. “(Megan) made me feel really good about myself.”

She followed by saying that mannequins do not determine where she chooses to shop and that she feels bad seeing a local business be targeted for something that is common practice in the fashion industry.

“It’s not a plus-sized store,” said Clowe. “I wouldn’t expect them to have plus-size mannequins.”

Dawe says she met with Sooley upon her reaching out to have a conversation about the matter. Dawe says it was uncomfortable, and nothing was resolved.

“She has every right to defend her business,” said Dawe. “Like she said, she built it from the ground up and I really, really respect that. But that doesn’t make her immune to criticism.”

Kicker contacted Megan Sooley for comment on the matter. She did not respond before the time of publishing. She did, however, comment on the Facebook thread.

Sooley Designs has since taken down the mannequins in the window and replaced them with different ones.

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