Last month, in a gala ceremony in downtown Montreal, Mahrzad Lari was feted as one of Quebec’s most exciting new fashion talents.
Lari, a co-founder of plus-sized men’s label Wide the Brand, was humbled by the prize, which came with a $105,000 grant. It was awarded by fashion development non-profit Metropolitan Fashion Cluster to recognize his work in the realm of diversity and inclusion.
“It’s validating,” says Lari, who co-founded the label in 2021 after raising $50,000 on Kickstarter. “As an entrepreneur, [but also] as a plus-sized person of colour.”
He adds: “When an industry that can be so harsh decides to give voices to people who don’t fit the norm of the standards of beauty that we’re used to, it’s very validating.”
To understand why Wide is such a ground-breaking brand, consider the experience of many of their customers.
“Our guys have never shopped,” Lari says. “They mostly wore jeans and t-shirts from places like Walmart, because that’s what they could find.” As a plus-sized man, “you don’t buy what you like, you buy what’s available.”
In fact, having fashion-forward options as a man living in a bigger body is so new to many of Wide’s customers that it’s almost overwhelming, Lari says. “When you throw options at them, it’s almost like they don’t know what to do with them,” he adds.
Stylish solutions to address daily frustrations
Since their launch, Wide has rolled out a line of carefully curated, meticulously considered pieces designed to fill a gaping hole in the market.
“We focus on [recognizing] a frustration and finding a high fashion solution to it,” Lari says. For example, their dress shirts are designed to slip on over the head, with only three buttons down the front.
“For me, one of my biggest insecurities was having buttons pop or gape. When you’re sitting and you realize one of your buttons are open, it’s just embarrassing,” explains Lari, who worked in fashion for over a decade before co-founding the brand. The Wide solution? Cutting a pattern that didn’t need buttons and choosing a fabric with the right amount of stretch.
Similarly, their pants are cut with a higher rise and made in a stretch fabric that allows movement, to avoid what he calls, “exposing the plumber’s crack.”
While style matters, function is also key, often informed by Lari’s own day-to-day experiences. “The inside of our puffer jacket is completely designed in jersey, because I know that as a plus-sized man, I tend to get hotter in the winter, so I didn’t want nylon that didn’t breathe,” he says.
Deep down, there is still this notion that for a man to be considered attractive, he has to be muscular and strong.— Mahrzad Lari
Lari says it’s still “surreal” to be able to open his closet and see it filled with things he actually likes. “It’s a very weird feeling, because yes, it’s our brand and we made them, but I’m also wearing clothes that I only wished I could wear a few years ago.”
As the label has grown, they’ve built a roster of returning customers.
“The beauty of this brand is it’s such a community,” Lari says. “We’re able to design things and say, ‘That is so Luke, that is so Mathieu,’ because we’re very close to our customers now.”
That community aspect – which Wide plans to grow into a larger lifestyle platform this year – is at the heart of why Lari and his team do what they do, despite the endless struggles of being a startup that also manufactures everything locally.
“It’s a very emotional thing for guys to find pieces they love,” explains Lari, referencing an e-mail from a client he’d just received, accompanied by some images of him wearing Wide. “He went to a Christmas party, and he said it was the first time in his life that he’d felt attractive.”
Tackling the stigma of being a man in a larger body
The goal of Wide is to create a space for people just like him to access the transformative power of clothing, Lari says.
“There are so many elements in the world to ruin your day and make you feel insecure, and if you can have one piece of armour that can help you take on any challenge, it’s your clothing.” That “piece of confidence,” should be available to everyone, every day, he adds.
To get to that place, however, Lari believes it’s imperative that society tackles the stigma around being a man in a larger body.
“For the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve been seeing a huge evolution with women and the body positivity movement, but the same hasn’t followed for men,” he says. “Deep down, there is still this notion that for a man to be considered attractive, he has to be muscular and strong.”
To prove his point, he references the standard terminology that gets applied to the section of a store that caters to men above an XL: big and tall.
“When we introduced ‘plus-sized’ menswear, there was this uncertainty, because people are used to ‘big and tall,’ and all of a sudden to call a man plus-sized, it’s insulting to them. It hurts their ego,” Lari says. “At the end of the day, it’s just a label, but [men have a] very twisted relationship [with] being fat. They’re constantly being reminded that if you’re fat, you’re the funny friend, not the hot friend.” When you’re fat, he says, “you’re secondary.”
Lari hopes that, just as plus-sized women have been able to fight for equal treatment in society – a battle that is ongoing – plus-sized men will also find greater inclusion and an end to the grinding, relentless judgment people in larger bodies face.
“It’ll take time, but I’m happy we’re starting to have these conversations, and we’re fortunate enough to be at the forefront of it.”