Plus Size Retailers Leading the way: Innovative Fashion and Profits
Prominent brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Lululemon have been shunning women above a size 12 since their inception, catering to the super thin and the super young crowd. That's their marketing strategy. In recent months they've also felt a great deal of backlash as their company has become the symbol of difficult to attain perfection. Their message has been very clear; If you are a plus size you are not welcome in their stores. As a smart business strategy, Abercrombie's branding may be an err in judgement.
It may be time designers take a second look at trends. Sticking with a mandate that only serves extra skinny clientele may also mean thinner profit margins. ModCloth chief creative officer Susan Koger reported in an essay for The Business of Fashion that business is booming. The online retailer has made incredible gains after expanding their sizes to accommodate larger women. Since the 1960's women are now on average 25 pounds heavier. (The average dress size for women is a 14, according to a 2011 report from Women's Wear Daily.)
According to research firm, NPD, the plus-size market in the US generated $17.5bn in sales from March 2013-April 2014. A market research firm IBISWorld has reported that consumers are forecasted to spend $332 million on 14+ athletic gear in plus stores this year. Department store chains like Old Navy, H&M, Forever 21, and Gap have realized that money can be made in plus fashion. Target's AVA and VIV brand sales have exceeded expectations and plus retailers like Lane Bryant are making considerable profits. A lingerie company called Adore Me, found that plus size brunette models sold more lingerie then stick-thin blonde models.
So why are the rest of retailers so afraid to make the jump? Because adding new line is costly in the start-up process. Selling plus clothing, to do it right, requires research, clothing needs to be completely redesigned, and stores need to find space to showcase the clothes properly. Where do they fit our clothes? Somewhere between regular sizes and maturnity? The initial investment scares them off.
It's no mystery that design houses are having trouble staying afloat. It boggles the mind that they wouldn't want to cater to the women who want choice in clothes and have money to spend.
Retailers say they aren't seeing a return in profits, but they aren't selling me anything I want to buy.
They make the same stale argument; plus size fashion doesn't sell. Having shopped in large department stores, the plus fashion section was usually hidden that the back of the store, piled in bins in heaps, sizes were never restocked and style was nonexistent. The clothing didn't sell because it wasn't of high quality and the presentation was absolute crap. I remember an ill- fated trip to a well known department store to see my clothing selection reduced to one pile of grey misshapen stretchy pants or another pile of black misshapen stretchy pants and a stack of wrinkled blouses with cheap seams. They were basically selling me their old unwanted garbage.
Plus size clothing in department stores have fit problems. Have you ever tried on a plus size blouse and the fit was bizarre? This happens when retailers create a style on a small dress form and just enlarge it for plus. It's cutting corners. Plus clothing, in order to be wearable and have a proper fit needs to be recreated, redesigned on a plus size dress form. Plus size women are seldom a straight size. They have curves in different places and need skilled designers to create innovative designs to suit a variety of body types.
Retailers are missing huge opportunities for not embracing plus fashion, but luckily for us there has been a steady change in the clothing landscape. I encourage you to support your favorite plus retailers if you want to see expansion in choice and style. The market will never be driven by social pressures, it's always driven by the almighty buck.
Oh and Lululemon, they can keep their 100 yoga pants.