Everyone deserves to feel as good in their clothes, no matter how their body is shaped. That’s a message Winnipeg designer Andréanne Dandeneau, owner of Anne Mulaire, said she hoped to convey when she launched inclusive sizes, from extra-small to 6X, for all her clothing lines this week.
Dandeneau first noticed a problem with her inventory while watching people browse her booth at trade shows.
"I had different women coming to the booth and not finding what they wanted," says the Franco-Manitoban designer, her mother tongue squaring the edges of each word. "So, for me it was always a huge importance to look at that."
To remedy the issue, Dandeneau embarked on six months of research to develop better sizing options. She brought in 80 models of various body types and began the tedious and mathematical work of grading, which can be explained broadly as creating a sizing chart.
In Dandeneau’s workshop on the third floor of the South Osborne Xchange building, the whir of sewing machine motors and the clack of their needles fill the air. Above, a canopy of extension cords droop from hanging outlets. The delicate fabrics of Anne Mulaire lie rolled up or draped in finished form from steel racks, in stark contrast to the other half of the shared workspace, where the camouflage jumpers and orange vests of a hunting outfitter are piled halfway to the ceiling.
Two of Dandeneau’s workers buzz around a clutter of yarn spools and sewing knick-knacks. They work steadily to expand the clothing line, hardly seeming to notice their boss as she walks by.
Dandeneau herself is as stylish as you’d expect from a designer, her long vest flowing gracefully with each step. Two leather circles like tiny drums hang from her ears — a connection to her Métis identity.
You can see her Indigenous heritage in all her work, she says, from the fact that her grandma taught her how to sew to her commitment to sustainable clothing.
She orders custom-made fabrics of bamboo or terrycloth interwoven with organic cottons and Lycra, she says, pinching a length of sheer fabric between her thumb and forefinger. She said she’s careful to ensure the supply chain maintains her standards.
"We are connected to the earth," she said. "So, you can’t have not sustainable."
That’s another reason it’s important her clothing is more accessible. To live sustainably, people need options that fit their body and fit their life, she says. In other words, for a lifestyle to be widespread, it needs to cater to a more universal audience. Inclusivity and sustainability go hand in hand, she said.
"You can’t have one and not the other."
For some, inclusive sizes can serve as beacons of acceptance.
"Normally, when we would go to the store, it’s like, here are your three customary options for your size," says Teri Hofford, a Winnipeg photographer and author whose work focuses on body image. "When you see that you also finally get to have similar options to your smaller friends, you feel included in society. You don’t feel like outcasts. And you’re included for who you are."
In her work as photographer, Hofford has worked with hundreds of women of all body types. Her photos are sometimes textured like Renaissance oil paintings and feature about as much bare skin. That’s bound to stir conversations about bodies.
"To hear the stories about how much anxiety people have just about going to stores to try on clothes is really unfortunate, and it just shouldn’t exist," she says. "Because clothes are something that everyone should be able to experience. And nice clothes, and affordable clothes, and so on."
In Hoffard’s experience, Winnipeg’s lack of options makes Dandeneau’s expanded sizing options nearly revolutionary. Of course, she says, it shouldn’t be.
Dandeneau said Anne Mulaire’s next step is to expand into the United States. She’s determined to carve out a market, she said, while leaning into her identity as an Indigenous, sustainable and inclusive designer.
"I’m a triple threat," she said.