The definition of ‘ideal beauty’ is changing

By Archana Heenpella

“We really need to stop treating people who are plus-size and wear plus-size clothing as though they’re an entirely different species” – Shavini Ruberu

With Tyra Banks’ recent cover shoot for Sports Illustrated magazine – and her instantly memorable quote, “scr*w cookie-cutter beauty!” – yet another voice was added to the clamour for greater inclusivity in the fashion and modelling industries.

While the “America’s Next Top Model” host is by no means a plus-size model, her comments come at a time where the fashion industry is beginning to re-evaluate its own standards of size and beauty.

Even in Sri Lanka, the land of endless dinner parties and an insatiable appetite for “buth” packets, plus-size brands, clothing, and models are on the rise. While these industries are nowhere near representative enough, strides are being made to mainstream plus-size fashion, as opposed to its near-status as a niche market.

This week, The Sunday Morning Brunch spoke to Shavini Ruberu, Co-owner of RIPE; a multi-label brand that aims to make fashion a force that celebrates and uplifts women, and also one that incorporates inclusivity at the heart of what it does.

When we asked Ruberu what her thoughts were on inclusivity in fashion in Sri Lanka and whether she thinks there’s enough choice when it comes to plus-size clothing, here’s what she had to say.

“Globally, people are becoming more accepting, even more appreciative, of people of different shapes, sizes, and colours, and that’s beautiful. While the fashion and design industry in Sri Lanka has come a long way in terms of inclusivity in the last 10-15 years, we still, however, have a long way to go.

“The definition of ‘ideal beauty’ is changing and it’s important that Sri Lankan designers, labels, and retailers get with it. Designers rarely make the same clothes in size variations, it always differs in cuts and styles for plus sizes. It’s also more or less the same unflattering designs that are sold.”

What is RIPE?

Our conversation also segued into her brand, RIPE, and the inspiration behind it.

Ruberu shared that RIPE is a multi-brand store, whose main aim is to build a community-based fashion and lifestyle store by giving young entrepreneurs a platform to retail their products.

She shares that they “mainly retail everyday wear by Sri Lankan designers, although we do have a range of other products mostly by small business owners in Sri Lanka.

We cater to everyone, be it ladies, gents, or kids and we have a range of wellness products, skincare products, accessories, and more”.

As for the inspiration to start RIPE: “It’s been a longstanding dream of my mom to have her own retail store, so let’s just say it was meant to be!”

The ethos

We also switched the discussion to empowerment and asked Ruberu how her brand supports women. She shared that her intention was to bring passionate individuals “who may or may not have a business or brand” together, and to help them create that. “Our plan was to do this while opening several avenues for them. Most of our suppliers are young female entrepreneurs.”

She also shared that in terms of customers, her store is for everyone. “We want everyone who walks in to feel like they can find what they’re looking for, feel good in it, and make them feel more confident about who they are. We have clothes for women of all shapes, sizes, and colours!”

Ruberu believes that choices for plus-sized individuals are very limited and that’s a segment of the market that faces discrimination – almost as if they’re ignored.

Through RIPE, she wants to celebrate women of all shapes and sizes. “That’s why it’s important to provide a platform for buyers of plus-size fashion. We’re still building our portfolio of designs given that we’ve been in business for just one month!”

We then asked her what more needs to be done in terms of inclusive design and modelling, and how far we need to go. She commented that, for starters: “We really need to stop treating people who are plus-size and wear plus-size clothing as though they’re an entirely different species!”

Ruberu also opened up about the many unspoken rules that apply when it comes to being plus-size: “Wear this, not that; do this, not that. It’s just unnecessary.

Designers, labels, and retailers really need to communicate with their customers.”She noted that since starting the store, they’ve discovered a huge gap in the market for stylish, plus-size clothing. RIPE, in fact, asks its suppliers to supply bigger sizes. She said: “We also have a designer who caters specifically for plus-sized women under the label Cherub, which carries one-of-a-kind batik dresses, tops, and more.

“All things considered, we do have a long way to go when it comes to size inclusivity in fashion, but we have certainly come a long way from where we were. I see more brands using plus-size models as well and it’s a great start.”

We finally asked her thoughts on whether we’re moving away from “cookie-cutter beauty” and are more accepting of diversity.

Ending on a positive note, Ruberu shared: “We’re certainly moving away from cookie-cutter beauty. We’re becoming more accepting and appreciative of all kinds of beauty.”