A Plus Market for a New Generation of Retailing
Apr 15, 2021
As the body positivity movement continues to gain momentum, brands are embracing size inclusivity to offer products and styles that fully fit the needs of their customers. Concerns with lack of assortment, improper fit, and body shaming that have been voiced by customers over the years are finally being met with innovations and systematic changes that accept plus-size bodies. Following in the footsteps of companies such as H&M, Nike, Anthropologie, Asos, and Reformation, Lululemon’s Athletica is one of the latest retailers to offer ‘inclusive sizing’. a wider range of plus-size options has resulted in the expansion of current women’s, men’s, and kids wear assortments while furthering the development of new and necessary product categories such as plus accessories, plus men’s shapewear and furniture designed with plus bodies in mind (referred to as bariatric design.) Yet, as the plus-size market expands, many consumers who have been ignored by straight-size retailers for years are skeptical about the touted ‘embrace’ of inclusivity. They may be on to something, as marketing experts say that adding these sizes can help a brand appear more progressive and inclusive, and retailers stand to profit from size inclusion as the percentage of consumers who wear plus-size clothes rises. In this article, Fashion Snoops outlines the most important shifts and innovations impacting the plus-size market and how savvy brands are authentically speaking to this consumer cohort to offer exciting plus-size products.
PURVEYORS OF PLUS-SIZE
The plus-size market is significantly more established in womenswear than in other markets, dating back to the 90s when the British womenswear brand Evans became a market leader featuring apparel above a UK size 14. Today Evans sells exclusively online and features clothing, lingerie and wide fit shoes. Another retailer that has consistently been ahead of the curve is SimplyBe (also from the UK), an online department store that has been around since the 2000s and offers a full assortment of brands in addition to their own label. On the luxury end of plus and dating back to the 80s, Max Mara-owned Italian brand Marina Rinaldi was the first brand to introduce the expression taglia comoda, meaning comfortable size. The label remains one of the few plus-size brands sold at department stores including Harrods and Nordstrom in addition to their own stores.
E-commerce has provided a lifeline to customers seeking plus-size offerings for every occasion, especially since brick and mortar stores tend not to stock expanded size ranges in store. ASOS Curve is the clear leader of online plus-size both in womens and men’s (including tall offerings). At any given time, ASOS Curve offers over 1,000 items under their own label, while also stocking noteworthy assortments from Wednesday’s Girl Curve, Collusion and Missguided Plus. Other notable high street retailers that offer designated plus-size ranges online include New Look Curves, Violetta by Mango (which is to be integrated under Mango label), Oasis Curve, River Island Plus, Boohoo Plus, H&M Plus Size and Junarose by Vera Moda.
FILLING THE VOID
While the high street is finally keying into expanded plus-size ranges, there are also notable designers that have cultivated their own brands out of necessity and achieved significant followings. Patricia Luiza Blaj of Loud Bodies in Romania worked as a writer in the fashion industry and felt limited by ill-fitting clothes and a lack of styles for larger bodies. She created Loud Bodies as a made-to-order brand that serves as a “love letter to every person who’s ever been made to feel less than, unworthy, or not good enough by the fashion industry and our society.” Noting similar limitations in plus-size offerings, Nana Rasoeva made a career change and founded luxury label The Hour London, which offers elevated essentials that flatter fuller figures. Trousers are a strong point, with a tuxedo style that features a high waist, discreet pockets and satin panels.
INCLUSIVITY IS KEY
Perhaps one of the best examples of where the fashion industry is headed as a whole comes by way of Universal Standard’s collection of luxe basics for women. Known as the most inclusive label in the world, founder Alexandra Waldman aims to bring all women together, with an extensive size range of 00 to 40. Universal Standard’s most popular items are denim, which proves the point that style and quality basics are needed in expanded size offerings. The brand has major clout, with previous collaborations with Rodarte and a Spring 21 capsule collection with Erdem.
While new brands and plus-size offerings clearly cater to consumer demands, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of representing plus-size women and men in fashion and culture. Ashley Graham, Paloma Elsesser and Lizzo have been at the forefront of the #BodyPositive movement. On another positive and promising move, the fashion industry has embraced plus-size models on the runway, as featured in Versace and Fendi’s Spring 21 collections. Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Vol. 2 show brought the heat with a cast of diverse shapes, genders and ages, serving as a prime example of what we, as an industry, should strive for.
Considerations are increasingly being made for plus-size accessories to accommodate differing sizes in footwear, jewelry, and even COVID-safe facemasks. Women on the bigger side of the plus-size range (18+) often have difficulty accessorizing due to a lack of jewelry options made to fit on a larger form. Pieces often pinch, or sit unnaturally on the body, highlighting the lack of specific attention paid to proper scale and overall jewelry design for a larger body type. Universal Standard released a limited-edition collection of gorgeous jewelry in extended sizes. In the footwear market brands like Smash Shoes and Eleanora Anukam Footwear are expanding shoe sizes 9-14 and designing footwear, particularly boots, that take calf dimensions into consideration.
BEYOND BIG & TALL
In the menswear market, representation is key as the men’s body-positivity movement runs significantly behind the women’s across media. A new wave of acceptance is being led by blogs like Notoriously Dapper and Chubstr which provides a positive space for plus-size men to explore fashion and connect with like-minded individuals, while modeling agency IMG’s decision to include a “brawny division” in their model portfolio has seen an increase in men of different build from “sportier brawn” to “bulkier brawn” represented in ad campaigns and e-commerce images.
ELIMINATING “HUSKY” IN CHILDRENSWEAR
Plus-size children are starting to demand access to the same cool, well-made clothing that is available to straight-sized children. For a market that is in high demand, it is considerably sparse. Filling the gap for plus-size kid’s assortments is becoming increasingly important, as plus-size children suffer measurable feelings of isolation and body-image issues. A recent report by the US non-profit organization Heart of Leadership shows that 53 percent of girls express dissatisfaction with their bodies by the age of 13 and up to 50 percent of girls in grades K (kindergarten) through 8 are concerned about their weight; reaching them young is essential. Many big-box brands are removing verbiage like “husky” from kid’s collections to embrace more generic and inclusive labeling. UK-based retailer Next offers plus-size kids assortments for ages as young as three. Next does not advertise as a plus-sized brand, however, it describes its styles as “more generous through the waist and hips for a more comfortable fit.”
Cultural conversations around size-inclusivity, gender expression, and body acceptance have caused brands to truly consider how to bring equity into their merchandising strategies. In the post-pandemic retail landscape, consumers will be looking to brands to serve products that provide solutions in line with their unique needs. A best-in-class example is Nettle Studios which is seeing a 300 percent increase in sales after expanding their sizes in 2020. The brand’s innovative approach to size inclusivity led to the release of One Size +, a specialized size that encompasses the sizes XL to 5XL. Other stores seek to eliminate the “plus-size section” altogether by incorporating extended sizes within straight sizes. The strategy means that shoppers do not feel separated or sorted from their friend group when shopping brick and mortar and ensures the same quality of experience for all consumers. In addition, select brands are devoting greater attention to gender-neutral plus-size clothing to further speak to the unique requirements of consumer preferences. Girlfriend Collective launches For Everyone, a collection of genderless basics that include their own size ranges. A pioneer for inclusivity, Girlfriend Collective already carries sizes XXS-6XL, and now offers genderless assortments in sizes 1-12. Converse unveils “SHAPES,” a gender-free clothing collection for “every body.” Condensing the 14 traditional men’s and women’s sizes into four sizes inspired by body shape, not gender, each piece features adjustable design elements that let you create freedom and movement. As inclusivity continues to rank high among consumer chosen preferences, we will continue to see retailers responding with innovative merchandise strategies that speak to specific consumer needs.
SIZE INCLUSIVE DESIGN EDUCATION
As the inclusivity movement gains momentum, design students are requesting compulsory requirements for curriculums such as working with different sized fit models every term, and pattern textbooks with plus-size design in mind. While these demands for systematic change have all yet to be met, students that take it upon themselves to expand their design education into the plus-size market will be better equipped to continue forward in this emerging environment. The online learning platform Craftsy offers a plethora of virtual plus-size design classes making it an accessible resource for virtual design students. The subscription-based service made a comeback in July 2020, after initially launching under the name “Bluprint” in 2011. Innovations in this field are further driving progress for designers looking to design into more inclusive styles. Technology innovator Alvanon is revolutionizing the sizing model with its innovative infrared body scanners. Alvanons body scans allow designers to cut costs and create better fitting samples at an earlier stage of development. Alvanon has already created over 6000 virtual avatars or “Virtual AlvaForms” for their clients.
After years of lack of investment in the plus-size category, a new wave of cultural interest in body positivity and inclusivity is fueling new innovations and product adaptations in the plus-size market. No longer interested in standard basic styles, consumers are demanding that clothing fit them as they are with the aim of fighting back against a fashion industry that at one point dictated size “ideals.” For savvy brands looking to gain the loyalty of their consumers, there is an opportunity to create product assortments that break the sizing, merchandising, and style mold to win over a new generation of fashion lovers of all shapes and sizes.FashionUnited & FASHION SNOOPS (FS) ave partnered to explore important shifts that will impact consumers, as we both believe it is essential to inform you of future inspirations, business shifts and design strategies. The reports from FS will provide actionable strategies for innovations across marketing, development and design. In this report, written by Carrera Kurnik, Culture Director & Consumer Insight Strategist at FS and Melissa Moylan, VP of Womenswear at FS, we examine A Plus Market for a New Generation of Retailing.