The body positivity movement has gained a lot of traction in the last decade. The runways look a lot different than they did a decade ago. We are seeing a lot more diversity on the runways and in the retail stores than ever before. But this is just the start of the diversity journey. The industry needs to continue its stride in becoming more diverse and size-inclusive.
The demand for brands to cater to the plus-size population has been rapidly increasing, due to advocacy by activists for recognition and mainstreaming of curvier body types. The cultural shift has led to brand manufacturers playing catch up to be more size-inclusive and meet the demands of the plus-size shoppers. This shift has been long overdue and much welcomed. The average dress size of women in the USA is somewhere between 16 to 18, in the UK it is 16 and above and in Australia it is between 14 to 16. However, there are only a handful of brands that cater to these sizes. The fashion industry has always been guilty of catering mostly to slim and petite size women. But given the fact that the majority of women don’t look like the models that we see on catwalks and are much curvier than magazine covers would have us believe, retailers are finally waking up to the massive potential in the plus-size market.
The plus-size market is estimated to be worth $9.8 billion in 2020 with an average growth of 0.2% per year from 2015 to 2020. Retailers are finally realising the lucrative potential of this market segment and are dedicating the time and resources to create plus-size collections. The plus-size shopper is savvy and not interested in drab, oversized apparels. They no longer want to be stigmatized by being forced to shop at ‘plus-size stores’, with a limited selection of styles. Acknowledging the change in consumer attitudes, retailers like American Eagle as well as departmental stores like Nordstrom, JCPenney, Target and Macy’s are introducing larger sizes in their apparel collections.
The challenges for the plus-size market stem from the industry’s historical struggle of being size-inclusive. Firstly, the industry suffers from a lack of size standardization across the board. A lot of brands are hesitant to dive into the plus-size market because there is a higher production cost in making plus-size collections. Bigger size clothes require more raw materials and sometimes more labour which translates to higher manufacturing, inventory, shipping and storage costs. They struggle to price these apparels competitively to maintain their profit margins without their customers feeling like they are being charged a ‘fat tax’.
Although the plus-size market is huge, a very small percentage of retailers are creating high-quality and voguish clothing lines that shoppers would like to wear. To create a successful plus size strategy the first step is research and development on the target demographic. The retailers need to understand the appropriate fit for curvier body types as their body definitions is much more pronounced in comparison to typical straight A-line shapes… Ateliers need to be re-trained to understand the nuances of plus-size apparel. There has to be proper training and support systems in place for different teams to ensure that the engineered product is high-quality and meet customer expectations.
To successfully launch a plus-size range, brands need to rethink their approach. One of the main reasons why plus-size collections fail to succeed under traditional brands is because they are marketed differently from other collections of the same brand. Retailers need to pay the same attention to their plus size range as they do to their other clothing lines. Brands also need to start allocating their plus-size collections the same retail space as they do for their other clothing lines. Brands like Kohl’s and Universal Standard are changing the old narrative of treating plus size clothing as an entirely different entity and giving their plus-size customers the same patterns, colour palettes and styles as they do with other customers. Retailers like Target, Nordstrom, and Old Navy are diversifying the size of mannequins in their physical stores to display their clothing. This representation is important for the movement because it’s one step closer to making plus-size customers feel like they are a part of the fashion community.
Brands like J.Crew and Loft are regularly updating the customers with their newsletter about the variety of sizes they carry in their brick-mortar stores. Others are creating landing pages dedicated to their plus size clothing line. Brands like Eloquii, Girlfriend Collective, and Savage X Fenty are bringing the spotlight on size-inclusive movement and paving the way for others.
While big design houses have continued to shun size inclusivity, more retailers are getting on the bandwagon to create high quality plus size clothing lines. The plus-size demographic spends a whopping $46 billion on apparels every year and manufacturers are finally waking up to seize this huge opportunity. And hopefully, we will see more retailers and designers embracing this size-inclusive movement.