with Bree McCann
Interview & Words: Elisa Routa / Photos: Courtesy of Code B
Plus-size fashion didn’t really exist ten years ago. Earlier this year, Dutch Model Jill Kortleve became the first body-diverse model to be cast in a Chanel show. While more and more fashion brands push boundaries by embracing new voices—size representation and diversity seem to be, more than ever, a current topic within the fashion world.
As both a model and swimwear brand founder, Bree McCann has been working to bring representation for all body types to the center stage. In November 2019, Bree launched Code B, a size-inclusive swimwear inspired by her career as a model: “I was too big for mainstream clients and too small for plus size clients. There were no cool, fashion-forward swim brands that catered to the middle ground.” Today, casting models with different body types, showcasing unrepresented women, the Noosa-based model-turned-entrepreneur dedicates her work to shape a more diverse world within fashion. My biggest goal for Code B is to make women feel good about their bodies,” she explains. “I want our customers to feel confident at the beach and I want them to feel represented.”
In recent years, the term plus-size has sparked controversy, described by some as outdated. However, despite the negative connotations it may carry, it seems that being able to even have this debate somehow reveals that the fashion industry is facing a deep evolution. And Code B is proof of that. In the following interview, Bree McCann speaks out about sizing in the fashion industry, advocacy, self-love, confidence, body positivity, and inclusion. “It’s all about choice for me,” she says. “The choice to show as much or as little as you want to. The choice to express yourself however you want to. I think of body confidence as a choice now. We are all created differently and that should be a positive thing.”
When were you first introduced to fashion?
Fashion has always been a part of my life. I haven’t always made fashionable choices but the interest was always there haha. My mum has told me that I was opinionated about my outfits from a very young age and in school I was always doing crazy things with my hair and cutting up vintage clothes. Today, I’m an Australian model, designer, and surfer based in Noosa. I have been modeling for about ten years now. I spent my first few years as a model based in London working in Europe, then the next five years based in New York. At the end of 2018, I decided I wanted to come home. My husband and I bought our first house by the beach and we are in the middle of renovating it. I still travel constantly for work so I am back and forth a lot but I love the life we’ve made back in Australia.
“I saw mainstream brands and I saw plus-size brands but there was nothing in the middle – which is crazy because that is where the majority of women are.”
Why did you decide to create Code B and what influenced you as both a woman and a model to launch your brand?
I launched Code B in November 2019 after working on it secretly for about a year. It’s still very new but I’ve had to learn fast and adapt quickly. There’s no big corporate backing – I’ve done everything on my own down to every last measurement, tag, and detail so it’s been exciting and hard at the same time!
As a model, I spent a lot of time not fitting in anywhere. For most of my career, I was too big for mainstream clients and too small for plus size clients. I always worked solidly but my burn was slow and I always felt divided between the two – like there was an unnecessary disconnect.
I created Code B because I wanted to bring something different to the table. I saw mainstream brands and I saw plus-size brands but there was nothing in the middle. There were no cool, fashion forward swim brands that catered to the middle ground – which is crazy because that is where the majority of women are.
“I wanted to make swimwear that catered to curves and regular bodies.”
How would you describe Code B to someone who doesn’t know anything about the brand?
Code B is the culmination of everything I have learned over the years. The swimwear industry is massive and almost totally saturated yet to me it felt outdated. Most of it doesn’t fit the majority of women. I was being sent a lot of swimwear and I would always get a Large and even then it was always too small and skimpy. I realized that no one bigger than me could wear it! That is how Code B was born. I wanted to make swimwear that catered to curves and regular bodies. I also decided to make the sizing 1 to 5 because I felt that ordering an XXL didn’t really make women feel good.
What’s your opinion about the (lack of) representation of plus-size models within the fashion industry today?
To me it’s pretty simple – we need to see different shapes and sizes represented. For so long, we have only seen one body type and we have all been trained to believe there’s only one way to be beautiful – tall and thin. But that’s getting old.
“It’s cool how far we have come in terms of body positivity, body acceptance, and self-love.”
Would you say that you’re using fashion as a celebration of women’s bodies and self-expression?
Definitely! It’s cool how far we have come in terms of body positivity, body acceptance and self-love. Ten years ago those words were not even in our vocabulary. It’s all about choice for me. The choice to show as much or as little as you want to. The choice to express yourself however you want to.
Diversity is normal for me. I don’t really understand why so many brands still only shoot on one type of model. It doesn’t make sense. Society has changed and consumers want to see diversity now. People want to see more relatable images. For Code B, I cast models of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicity. There’s so many incredibly unique models out there! I just wish I had the capacity to use more of them.
You’re creating a bridge between fashion and society’s issues. Would you consider yourself a social advocate?
In the beginning, advocacy was kind of something that just came with territory and I was reluctant to really push the boundaries and speak out. I think in those early days, as a young model starting out, I just wanted to work. I wanted the same opportunities as other models and I didn’t want to upset anyone. However, now I have come full circle. I am really proud to have a voice and I believe in what I’m doing.
Do you get the feeling that Code B breaks barriers in fashion and defies the modeling norms? What’s your number one ambition?
It’s funny because when I started out in fashion, I really just wanted to give modeling a try. I never set out to defy anything. I never expected that my body and the term plus-size would become the topic of so much conversation over the years. It’s kind of similar with Code B, I just knew that I wanted to do things differently and I wanted to use diverse models. My biggest goal for Code B is to make women feel good about their bodies. I want our customers to feel confident at the beach and I want them to feel represented.
“Diversity is obviously not a new conversation but it’s one that we need to keep having because we have the opportunity to change things for future generations.”
It seems plus-size fashion has evolved almost as dramatically as fashion itself. However, there’s still a long way to go. Tell us a bit about your vision of the fashion industry today.
I have definitely witnessed a huge evolution in terms of diversity in the fashion industry. My first major job in 2010 was working with ASOS Curve in London and at that time, this was a totally new category. No one had ever really done plus-size fashion in a cool way before. That was a huge turning point for me, also because it was the first time I realized that there were a lot of other women out there like me. Fast forward to now and I actually feel really positive about where we are at! I think the message is finally filtering through to all areas of the fashion industry.
I see curvier models doing incredible things these days – Jill Kortleve just walked for Chanel, Fendi, Jacquemus and was on the cover of Vogue Paris. Victoria Secret, Sports Illustrated, and Calvin Klein have all started using amazing diverse models lately and I love it! I love seeing it and I love how far we’ve come. Diversity is obviously not a new conversation but it’s one that we need to keep having because we have the opportunity to change things for future generations.
“When I started modeling, there was no place for me. There was no career path for my size. I’m proud that I resisted it all to stay who I am.”
What would be your message for plus-size women out there?
I think of body confidence as a choice now. We all have our moments no matter who you are but at the end of the day, I like being curvy and I like to enjoy myself so I don’t really care what other people think of my body anymore. We are all created differently and that should be a positive thing. Beauty is confidence! I think women are most beautiful when they are relaxed, happy and content.
What are you the most proud of so far?
When I started modeling, there was no place for me. There was no career path for my size. I was told I had to lose weight or gain weight – you couldn’t be in the middle. Looking back, what I am most proud of is having the confidence not to change my body. I came into the industry exactly the same as I am now and I’m proud that I resisted it all to stay who I am.
What’s next for you?
Working on the next Code B collection and extending the size range. I want to be more inclusive and more diverse in the future.