Growing up Zach Miko never considered that he could become a fashion model. He was much bigger than his peers from a young age and by 13 he was 6’1”, often the subject of schoolyard bullying. He felt like an outsider.
“I couldn’t be a model the same way I couldn’t be the King of Norway, it just wasn’t an option. I couldn’t model because I was big and society had told me and people like me that we didn’t deserve to be seen in that way,” said Miko, a neatly-bearded man with a tattooed bicep who stands at 6’6” and 275 pounds.
In 2016, things changed for Miko when Ivan Bart, President, IMG Models and Fashion, the agency that represents Kate Moss and Bella Hadid, stumbled upon his Instagram account. Quickly, things changed for him. He was named as the first model in Brawn, a newly-launched men’s division of IMG Models that would represent generously proportioned men.
Male models are packaged two ways, typically: carved like a Roman statue with its fetishised vision of ideal masculinity and virility or rake-thin, slim bodies with narrow waists. These are ideals broadcasted on our screens and telegraphed in the pages of our magazines. Yet, the reality is that most men do not look like these svelte or willowy characters.
“I am very lucky to be a model. I have been a professional model with IMG for 5 years now and I still have a hard time telling people that when they ask 'what do you do for a living?' I want to normalize bigger bodies for men in the media and fashion world. When I was younger I had terrible self-esteem, partly because I didn’t have a role model who was my size who was considered attractive, desirable or worthy of admiration,” said Miko.
Since joining IMG Models, not only has Miko become the first and only plus-size male model for US retailer Target, he has embarked on a public advocacy campaign to promote body positivity for all, not just the few.
While diversity and inclusivity have become buzzwords in fashion in recent years, they are very rarely faithfully enacted by brands. The conversation reached the women’s fashion industry a number of years ago. Models like Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine have become veritable household names. But size inclusivity, especially in men’s fashion, is virtually non-existent. IMG Models is the first international agency to champion a broad range of male body types.
Finding male models to become Brawn men proved challenging initially. Josh Stephens, a Manager at IMG Models, is responsible for representing the agency’s Brawn talent. He said the process was slow, involving a lot of cold calls and researching. However, as years pass, and with the ubiquity of social media, things have started to speed up.
“When you grow up a larger size there are few options for clothing altogether, let alone something fashionable,” said Miko, who spent more than half of his life in his father’s clothes due to a lack of suitable options.
Miko describes the experience of shopping for his body type as nothing short of humiliating. While options exist, he was continually met with clothes that made him look like, in his own words, “a 6’6” toddler.”
“Men’s designers did, and still to this day, mostly design for one type of silhouette only. Their collections usually stop at a 36 inch waist, I have not been a 36 since I was about 13 years old.”
Brands are slowly catching up to the conversation. On the high street, retailers like H&M, Topshop, River Island, and Gap will offer a wide range of sizes but in-store availability is limited.
For the full range, one has to take things online. In many of these stores, bigger men fall under the Big & Tall category: River Island offers up to a 5XL and 46” waist within that range and it can be ordered directly from the store; Tommy Hilfiger offers up to 5XL and 50” waist and the brand is hoping to be able to order these sizes directly from the store by the end of the year.
In terms of a luxury offering, MR PORTÉR offers men’s clothing up to a 6XL. They stock brands like Gucci, Brunello Cucinelli, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Tom Ford, amongst others. They offer a range of tailoring to more casual pieces, shirts to hoodies.
“Brands now understand the broad base of consumers they have access to within the big and tall category,” said Stephens.
However, that is not to say every brand understands how to approach the plus-size men’s market. Fashion, after all, is an industry that prizes exclusivity and specific physical ideals. Alienation to certain groups is inherent to the system.
“I think that’s one of the most important things to note within the industry, some haven’t warmed up to the idea yet because they’re not familiar,” said Stephens.
Furthermore, men like Miko, and so many like him, there is the categorisation of the other: big and tall. For fashion to truly break boundaries, it would take incorporating this into its mainstream range.
Miko said, “If John Goodman was named ‘People’s Sexiest Man’ when I was a kid I cannot tell you what that would have done for my self-worth. I want to show younger generations of all shapes and sizes that there is someone like them on the cover of their magazines and that they are just like me — they are valuable.”