Plus-Size Fashion Market – The Past, Present and Future

The guest author Sharfuddin Ripon has covered the topic Plus-Size Fashion Market very well. You will get many insights about the past, present, and future of the plus-size fashion market in the world.

What Lane Bryant started dated back in the 1920's is yet to home. The Size prefixed with `Plus` is still fighting to win hearts of wearers and the makers altogether. The segments belonging to plus-size have long been complaining about fencing them out by the industry venting out their utter frustration.

The industry, in response, until recently considered it a difficult market to fit in and so not worth of investments as well. Labeling the Plus Size label as discriminating to outdated to insulting, a growing number of women have long been asking to put an end to it. Some Fashion retailers separated plus-sizers out from the standard lines, some allotted a corner in their selling floors differentiating from the regulars, while some like Abercrombie & Fitch have abandoned or ignored them outright.

plus size clothing

What is Plus-size?

Women sizes [standard] in inches
plus-size fashion market

Men sizes [standard] in inches
plus-size fashion market

The women plus-size starts from 14 or L onward, while Men from 2XL. Even though the average woman in US, UK requires size 14, surprisingly most retailers’ sizes top out at about size 12.

The Plus-size territory

Crediting to the low or zero birth rates the world population is ageing. Owing to the Time Poverty and much mechanization the urban population, in general. Becoming fat faster and so is the `Fat Bikini` market. The average woman in US or EU falls now generally in 16 to 18 sizes. In US, one in ten aged 2 to 5, one in five aged 6 to 11 and one in five aged 12 to 19 is categorised obese. Indeed, normal weight levelers are now a minority as over 70 percent of all Americans are either overweight or obese. One statistics say, the woman that wore size 8 in 1985 in US now requiring size 14. In US, the plus-size market is valued to be 17.5 billion dollars, while in UK it is estimated to be worth 6.6 billion pounds. So to say, more women wear a size 16 than do women who wear size 2 or 0 combined.

On the other side of the Atlantic, obesity is on the rise in young people that adding prospects to the ever increasing 5.08 billion pounds plus-size market. Surveys results hinted 26.8 percent of women in the UK were either obese or morbidly obese in 2015. Obesity amongst the teens is on the rise. NPD reports that more teen girls than ever are buying plus-size clothes shedding lights on Plus-Size market while blackening the market prospects for juniors already experiencing a downtrend. The tilting of teens toward Plus-Size is something to be very worth noting and alarming too to the industry that so far considered plus-size clothing as an afterthought. Undeniably, all these facts pointing to a bright and rosy market flickers on the horizon.

Though there exist no credible studies in printed form so far, the conditions of the populace in rest of the world are more or less identical.

The Frustrations

It doesn’t fit me well, colors no good, fashion obsolete, priced unfairly – the venting of disappointments of Plus-sizers all around.

As far as Plus sizers are concerned, Men are more or less accommodated by the standard offerings of fashion houses, but the women not, thus remain in the center point of all discussions about plus sizes. From ill-fitting to monotonous colors to out of fashions are all that `curvy `chicks are complaining about their draperies. Frustrating too are the prices tagged with their sizes. Plus size women feel deprivation of justice to the pricing of their sizes in comparison with the standard sizes. If one basic Tee for standard size priced at $4, bears a tag of $10 plus for the plus size. Their world goes up side down when they experience ill fit even at that inflated prices. Since fashion industry lacks a uniform sizing chart, an extra large size of a store that fits a plus sizer might not possibly fit her one from another. What more to complain about, Plus-sizers are further marginalized as clothes belong to their sizes rarely appear in advertisements or shop windows.

Surveys conclude with the outcome that many women don’t like shopping in a separate category. In a 2015 survey of UK shoppers by Report Linker, 60.90% of plus-size consumers opted to shop a retailer’s core line rather than a plus-size offshoot. American Online retailer ModCloth experienced similar output when it surveyed 1500 women aging 18 to 35 wear sizes 16 and up. Approximately 65 percent said they wanted to see plus sizes draperies in the same section together with other sizes while 60% reported embarrassment for them if they so induced to shop in a separate store or department.

Why not Plus-Size, because the grapes are sour

Mark-Evan Blackman, the Chairperson of the Menswear Design Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, N.Y says, “She will buy if it fits her.”

Fashion designers and retailers alike have long been judged the plus-sizers as a high-risk segment, and a somewhat difficult niche for them to predict and navigate through. Even though over 60% of women in US alone are overweight or obese, plus-size clothing sell accounted for just 18% in 2016, according to NPD Group, a research firm that monitors consumer purchase data from over 165000 stores of the world. Unfortunately, Industry insiders use these sorts of statistics to qualify their marginalization of the Plus segment. It’s like grapes are sour, so better don’t taste. When brands can’t succeed their ill-fitting plus-size apparels, console them with the idea that they don’t belong any plus-sizers as their customers.

The studies and the data analysed as of to date revealed the conception is far from the truth. "What Britain Wears: Niche Clothing 2017" the report points out that one in every five pounds spent on womenswear in 2017 was spent on plus-size garments. Designers, retailers, have for decades, treated the Plus-Size women as an entirely different species of consumers considering them as protective and not fashion-oriented. But today’s surveys and reports maintain that plus customers are pushing for color, on-trend fashion, and clothes that show off their bodies.

Fashion industry sidelined Plus-size garments being more expensive and accommodating the higher cost is not regularly feasible because of boomerang effect. By far, lingerie is the item that sweats the designers most while designing for plus-sizers. “Unlike pants or dresses, which can be scaled up using the same template, new bra sizes need to be specially designed and engineered, with special fabric, wires, hooks, straps and more. In fact, there are some 37 components in all. It’s not easy to get it all right, especially for full-figure variants that have to provide enough lift and also be comfortable,” Suzette Walters, J.C. Penny’s vice president of intimate apparel and women’s accessories maintained while talking to Bloomberg. The experience of ThirdLove is different to what J.C. Penny experiences. The ThirdLove, an American company producing and selling bras, underwear, loungewear, and nightwear offers more than 59 sizes, with the demand for larger sizes just hiking. At one stage they had 500,000 women remain on the company’s waiting list for bras in sizes like 44G and 46K.

Associated with the cost factor is the very image factor fashion industry is traditionally concerned about. Honestly, all these fear factors eyeing actually on the lack of willingness to serve an unserved market. Traditionally fat peoples are branded negatively in our society. There are industry members don’t like to get out of the Cool or Chic images by incorporating Plus-Sizes in their lines.

How to shape it to fit them well

Technically designing Plus-size draperies not as easy as regulars are. There may be a big gap in between size 6 and 12 than that of what is in between size 6 and 4 as because our bodies generally don’t scale up uniformly with every increase in the size chart.

It’s easy to calibrate the body dimension changes from a size 6 to a size 8 or 10, but measuring the changes in higher sizes become more difficult owing to irregular distributions of weights among peoples. One may require more width in his chest or her bust, while another may require more in waist or thighs even though maintains same weight as a whole.

The fitting problem continues to get worse the way fashion houses calibrate their size charts. A women’s clothing brand usually hires the popular fit model of size 6, being the standard one to work out size chart of a garment. The brand then does some sorts of grading using software to work out the other sizes in the chart. Depending upon their own business policies the brands add inches or more or less to the body dimensions to arrive at a graded size chart for a particular style.

Thus, variations in the values of sizes cause making a size 14 of one as 12 of another. The system responds positively to the sizes close to the size of the single fit model, but when you are, say, two to three sizes away from the model, fitting problems surface. This means sizes close to the fit model sell well, but the sizes away from fit not. This in no way meaning to blame the customers but the brands themselves or their system of calibrating size charts. 

Why on earth someone would empty wallet for something that gives nothing but fitting problems. The antidote to the problem is to use multiple fit models for sizing instead of basing upon one. By nature, a Woman belongs to one of the three types of figures; Straight, Hourglass or Uneven [top and bottom] one. While it seems a bit difficult to catch all three, but not at all to catch at least two to win the hearts of maximum plus-sizers. Of course, it would cost brands both time and money to work on more than one model [a live model for wear tests costs more than 100 dollars per hour], but the rate of return is good enough to cover this.

The Wind of change

The scenario is changing, though late but better than never. The ‘Big is Beautiful’ now. The segment so far recognized and served by the e-tailers, more and more fashion brands and brick & mortars are joining the cue to claim their shares in the rapidly expanding plus market, freeing them from the ‘grossophobia’. 

Jumping on board are the designers to see the sign of a smile on the faces of Plus sizers. There are even fashion shows being organised meant to display the draperies for Plus sizers."Fashion brands are rapidly responding to a cultural shift toward body positivity and a growing appreciation of curvy figures, by designing specifically for a larger range of sizes rather than just expanding their size range as an afterthought," as McKinsey & Co. cites in their report. ModCloth pioneering in the plus-size segment maintains as many as 80 percent of plus-size women would spend more on clothing if these fit them well. The gap in between the standards and plus-sizers will be fruitfully narrowed down if the later offered with more options with required fits and above all the, with due respects in the shopping environments. That is what Donatella Versace, the VP and Artistic Director of Versace group hinted at, “Plus-sized women shouldn’t think of themselves as a size. They should think of themselves as women with rich goals in life. Size doesn’t mean, really, anything. You can carry your size with pride and dress in a way that you like."

About the Author:
 Sharfuddin Ripon has served Bangladesh RMG industry for 20 years in various corporate positions. Associated with BGMEA Institute of Fashion & Technology, BIFT, Chittagong as guest faculty of Apparel Merchandising. He has published many articles on his blog Quality Fashion Lines.

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