If you're a blue-jeans-wearing kind of gal (or guy), then you're aware of the fashion revolution that is stretch denim – but what you may not know is that the research and development of stretch denim was funded by Big Food (namely, Nestle, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola), in order to prevent fashion-conscious Americans from noticing that they were gaining weight.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the American Academy on Obesity recently discovered that in the 1970s, Big Food became increasingly concerned that people's tightening waistbands might prompt them to take a closer look at what they were eating. Nestle, Coca-Cola, and other food conglomerates began working with fashion companies like The Gap to brainstorm solutions.
First, they persuaded Express, The Gap, and Old Navy to increase the actual size of their blue jeans, while decreasing the listed size; in other words, what had been a size 14 was now a size 8.
“It's the perfect body-image enhancement,” boasted an Old Navy marketing director following successful implementation of the company's size-expansion policy. “In a sense, people get to lose weight without even trying!”
Some Big Food executives expressed skepticism over just how much jeans-producers could alter their size scale before consumers began to catch on. “Are we going too far?” asked Coca-Cola Vice President of Marketing Ken Greene. “What if people start thinking that the listed size was misprinted?”
Lucky Brand Advertising Director Lisa Hurley assured him that there was no such danger. “With regard to inseam,” she explained, “consumers demand impeccable accuracy. But with regard to all other measurements, the sky's the limit. The power of self-delusion is truly infinite.”
Effective as the size-upping scheme was, however, Big Food executives quickly came to realize that sizing adjustment alone would not suffice, given that jeans-wearers almost invariably continued gaining weight long after they'd purchased their vanity-sized denim. Big Food feared that over those ensuing months and years of continual weight gain, some customers might begin to notice that their jeans no longer fit, potentially prompting them to contemplate unthinkable: changing their diet.
It was a conundrum: how to make the very same pair of jeans continue to fit over a lifetime of weight gain? Big Food poured billions of funding dollars into what seemed an impossible task - until, ultimately, food and fashion collaborators conceived the idea of stretch denim.
Old Navy CEO Chad Miller bragged, “Our size 10 jean can now accommodate a size 16 body – and everything in between. We've successfully accounted not only for weight gain but also for yo-yo dieting.”
In another FOIA-disclosed document, Nestle executive Brittany Powell raved, "This miracle fabric essentially enables us to 'stretch' the truth, as it were, convincing consumers that they're staying the same size when really they're practically busting at the seams - or would be, if not for this magical new material."
While some Americans have expressed dismay at the collusion between Big Food and Big Fashion, corporate executives make no apology for what they describe as a natural partnership. “We want people to keep eating and we want them to keep wearing jeans, and we're working together to make both those things happen. What's wrong with that?” asked General Mills CEO Stanley Gladd.
As PepsiCo executive Debbie O'Keefe put it, “We take enormous pride in our role in helping Big Fashion get even bigger. In every sense.”