Sizing does matter: Although U.S. women average a size 16 to 18, retailers and brands continue to be lethargic in incorporating a broader range of fit options. While there are exceptions — Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung, Eloquii, Lane Bryant — the plus-size vertical has remained mostly on the periphery of the fashion industry.
“We’re lacking communication between designers, buyers and the actual customer,” said model and social media star Ashley Graham, a champion of the body diversity movement. “Designers — Prabal [\Gurung, Michael Kors, Christian Siriano — go up to a size 20, but the buyers won’t buy it because they don’t think the customer will come into the store. That customer has been told for so long that that size doesn’t exist for her, so how does she know?”
Experts agreed that incorporating the plus-size consumer into a brand strategy should be considered just as seriously as implementing a new social initiative, selecting a solutions provider and deploying an in-store experience.
“We are the norm — the average size of the American woman is a size 16. Is this interesting and different? Not really, but for fashion it is,” Graham said.
In an environment where retailers and fashion brands are struggling to deliver consistent top-line growth, maintain brand loyalty and win new customers, sales trends show promise in the plus-size segment. According to NPD Group, “U.S. sales of women’s plus-size apparel (including plus size, petite plus and junior plus) increased four percent from $20.4 billion in 2015 to $21.2 billion in 2016.”
Though a notable increase, this is still a minor share of the global fashion and footwear industry’s worth — an approximate $1.7 trillion in 2016, Euromonitor reported.
“Luxury still needs to catch up to the consumer. Those brands that add in greater diversity will be rewarded. Progress is still slow, which is unfortunate given the scale of the opportunity,” said Katie Smith, senior analyst at Edited, a retail analytics platform.
Although these challenges aren’t reserved for the luxury category alone, the vertical is perhaps the most indicative of the state of the market, the progress and the ground still to cover.
“Brands should start by choosing the right vernacular. Pick a language and a story that welcomes customers and doesn’t alienate them. Select faces that they can connect with,” said Gil Eyal, chief executive officer and cofounder of HYPR, an influencer search and discovery platform that specializes in real-time analytics. “A second component is in actions. If you don’t carry certain sizes, or your store is plastered with Photoshopped bikini bodies, you’re going to make certain people uncomfortable. Put your money where your mouth is and make sure your stores and offerings match the inclusive language you’re using.”