China / Society

Overweight people promote plus-size fashion

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-10-20 11:20

HAIKOU - At a height of five-foot-seven and weighing in at 220 pounds, 30-year-old Zhong Yun is a bit bigger than most Chinese, but he has never failed to present himself in a fashionable way.

Donning brown aviators and a denim shirt tucked into faded jeans, he looks like he might've just come from a photo shoot.

Zhong is a Chinese entrepreneur who seeks to help other overweight folks look and feel stylish, despite a lack of clothing tailored to their specifications.

"I want to help fat people become fashionistas," he said.

With the rapid development of Chinese society and economy, the wide availability of fatty food, increasing car ownership and less exercise have all had an effect on the body size of the people.

Statistics show that every one out of at least five among China's 1.3 billion people is overweight, and 120 million are obese.

At 198 pounds, 30-year-old Wu Nan is the heaviest "official model" for Taobao, a Chinese website equivalent to eBay. Nicknamed "Pangpang" (fatty in Chinese), Wu is a professional plus-size model.

However, she said she used to isolate herself because of her weight.

"I gained 70 pounds after giving birth to my son. I felt totally distorted," she said, adding that she quit her job as a French translator and locked herself indoors at home. "I was afraid of meeting friends. I didn't go to clothing stores, because they didn't offer my size."

During the three years following her pregnancy, she tried every means to lose weight, but never succeeded. But one day, she saw a picture of a British plus-size woman named Chloe Marshall, a size 16 and competitor in the Miss United Kingdom beauty pageant.

"I thought, 'why don't I give myself a second chance?' A chance to be beautiful without being slimmed down," Wu said.

She went to a plus-size tailor not far away from her home in South China's city of Shenzhen and volunteered to be a model.

"I gradually accepted the larger me in front of the camera," said Wu, "I was still trying to lose weight, but I love who I am now."

"Being overweight usually causes stress, which in turn makes the weight situation even worse," said Jiao Donghai, director of the Weight Reduction Center at the Shanghai Xiangshan Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Jiao believes stress can cause endocrine disorders, as well as decrease the willingness to socialize and exercise, all of which can aggravate weight problems.

Zhong Yun once suffered from the kind of stress Jiao talked about, but is trying to help overweight people overcome the challenge through his fashion advice. He found getting suitable clothing is one of the biggest headaches for overweight people.

"I sometimes looked for a whole day in department stores and still ended up with nothing," said Zhong, "I hated to hear the saleswoman say 'sorry, no your size."

Initially a fashion designer for women, Zhong was inspired to shift his career for overweight men when he met Ma Liang, the proprietor of an online store who suffered from the same difficulty.

They started a shop on Taobao selling plus-size clothes designed for large-sized westerners, thinking they might fit overweight people in China.

But the feedback from customers was not good. "At 220 pounds, I have to wear the largest sizes from most brands. However, I'm not tall enough for the sizes. My customers have the same problem. The foreign clothes are too long," said Zhong.

"So we have to redesign for overweight people according to our figure," Zhong said.

For example, one of Zhong's shirts features an extra button down the front to suit men with larger bellies. The pants he designs feature adjustable lengths to suit different proportions.

"The customers are really wowed when they find that they can wear our smallest size."

Displaying their products proved to be another challenge, as appropriate models are hard to find. Zhong and Ma eventually solved the problem by simply modeling the clothes themselves.

In their photography studio, Ma dons a red-and-blue checkered shirt tucked into black pants with checkered turn-ups. A white bowtie, white belt and pair of white loafers make the outfit both elegant and casual. Zhong hands an issue of men's magazine "GQ" to Ma and asks him to imitate one of the models depicted inside.

"It was difficult at the beginning, but professional models cannot show how our clothes help overweight people look better," said Ma. "We have to demonstrate by ourselves."

"I hope my designs can help more overweight men become fashionable and regain their charm," said Zhong.

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