The plus size market is anticipated to reach $697 billion by 2027, according to Allied Market Research. Combined with Gen Z challenging companies to break traditional beauty molds and embrace size-diverse fashion, retailers in 2021 can no longer risk excluding body types from their ranges.
We unearth this market's untapped potential and what retailers need to know in order to trade competitively.
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1. There's demand for plus-size apparel
Pinterest searches have spiked
Notable searches for "plus-size" on the platform in the US tail off with "summer outfits" and "swimwear." In the UK, there's been an upswing for "festival," "workwear" and the blanket term "women's fashion." This information indicates a yearning to uncover inspiration for post-pandemic dressing with consumers of all shapes wanting to shop for a Hot Vax Summer. Retailers who have neglected to cater to this demographic have missed a lucrative opportunity.
Investment has outpaced 2019
While Covid skewed traditional delivery cadences, product drops have returned to pre-pandemic levels, with investment in some categories higher than ever. Plus-size ranges are one area that's been recognized with core retailers growing own-brand collections 2% in the US and 32% in the UK vs. two years prior.
Non-plus retailers are seeing the opportunity
As body diversity becomes ingrained in fashion, more straight size retailers are embracing brands catering to above-average sizes. Recently, Selkie became the first brand to stock up to a 2XL (approximately a size 16) on Revolve, with plans to introduce styles up to a 5XL.
Opportunities within naming conventions
In an interview with Refinery29, the co-founder and creative director of Universal Standard that stocks sizes 00 to 40, Alexandra Waldman says, "the only right way to do plus-size is not to do plus-size." Across both the US and UK, the majority of ranges are tagged as "plus," creating an opportunity to absorb larger sizes into core ranges to avoid this consumer from feeling othered. Mango made this move, dissolving the Violeta subbrand (up to 54/XXL) into its mainline.
Size diversity within plus-size
Alongside more plus products stocked, there's been an increase in the number of styles available in sizes US 20 and above, with a 133% uptick in options reaching a size 26 vs. 2019. However, this is often viewed as the industry's cut-off point regarding sizing. At the same time, advertising is limited to curvier models on the more palatable side of the plus-size range, highlighting an opportunity to cater to the lack of representation and inclusion of self-described super fat folx existing outside these parameters.
Torrid closed above IPO price
Following the initial public offering price of $21 per share, shares in the plus-size brand soared 15% on July 1st. For the longest time, fashion has subscribed to a core set of sizes with any products falling outside of this range as 'specialist.' While the Torrid IPO cements the brand's status as the market leader, instead of feeling threatened, other players should see this move as hard evidence of the demand for plus-size fashion and be motivated to compete in this lucrative space.
There's still a long way to go
Despite kicking the year off with diverse campaigns and covers, the luxury market still stands out as the most resistant to serving larger sizes. Size-inclusivity on the Fall 2021 runway plummeted with only 19 plus models cast compared to 34 appearances last season, according to a report by The Fashion Spot. The market's unwillingness to evolve when younger generations are so impressionable to inclusivity could see it alienate future profit and consumers to uphold a distorted and outdated image standard.
Images via Versace Fall 2021 and Jason Wu Fall 2021
2. Plus-size is still more expensive
While investment is growing, products designated for larger bodies only make up 15% of apparel available despite 67% of US women wearing a size 16 and above and the average British woman a size 16. In addition to fewer choices, this customer has to pay more for their products.
In almost all cases, plus products have a higher price tag, proving the existence of what is colloquially known as the "fat tax." This discrepancy in prices and product counts reflects the hesitancy of brands to supply larger sizes due to additional material costs.
Analyzing the current average prices of core items in the mass market combined reveals plus-size items total at 10% higher than straight size lines in the US, with outerwear seeing the highest variance. Prices are more closely aligned in the UK, with the average total of plus products 7% higher and straight sizes currently no more than £2.00 cheaper.
3. Trends are nuanced across sizes
Breaking down new products across shop-by-fit ranges vs. straight lines can help retailers understand market nuances and untapped trends and categories. In the mass market, tops are the most invested category in straight and plus-size ranges. With leg lengths a defining factor, bottoms are prevalent in petite and tall collections, spotlighting an opportunity to cater to longer and shorter torsos through tops, all-in-ones and swimwear, all of which are under-indexed compared to straight sizes.
Plus-size swimwear is more common than specific petite and tall styles. However, there is still space to grow this category, especially as new players enter the market. Bikinis are the top invested style across both markets. However, one-pieces are geared towards the plus ranges, making up 20% of new arrivals vs. 9% of straight sizes. The revival of dresses has been consistent across all categories, equalling its highest proportion in plus and tall arrivals.
Following historic post-pandemic trend patterns, micro silhouettes have seen a comeback, usurping the midi dress's season-spanning reign. While this trend has been mirrored in petite arrivals, retailers are still allocating midis over minis in their plus and tall dress buys. Ruching stood out as a key design detail, yet this didn't translate into shop-by-fit categories' top ten descriptors. A standout of the sexy dressing trend, bodycon fits only emerged in the descriptions of straight size and plus ranges. Floral prints, sleeve interest and tie details were consistent across all sizes.
4. The categories on brands' radars
A long-awaited rebrand will see Victoria's Secret swap its Angels for the more-diverse "Victoria's Secret Collective." This signifies a new dawn for the brand's advertising, which should follow with more inclusive-sized products. However, its lag has already opened the marketplace up to hyper-successful lingerie brands with inclusivity embedded in their aesthetic such as Parade and Savage x Fenty.
Additionally, period pants are entering the mainstream, with EDITED data recording 49% more options retailing YoY. As a more eco-friendly solution to single-use sanitary products, ensure these have an extended size range. Thinx recently relaunched its plus offering up to a 4XL, putting extra focus on the fit across the hip, waist, and leg holes.
Image via Parade
Similar to underwear, swimwear is also receiving an inclusive overhaul. J.Crew and Andie recognized the opportunity, stocking long torso swimsuits. Megan Thee Stallion is jumping in the pool in partnership with Fashion Nova. Having previously collaborated on a line of tall denim, the range is described as "Thee sexiest swim styles for ALL shapes and sizes." UK hosiery brand Snag also launched a range of sustainable swimwear between sizes 4-38.
Image via Instagram - Snag Tights
Eco denim needs to be considered across sizes so all customers have an opportunity to make more responsible purchases. Good American has previously partnered with Calik Denim on sustainable jeans in sizes 00-32 stretching up to four sizes. Torrid offers jeans with laser finishing techniques and eco washes that reduce water waste and chemical usage. This year, J.Crew has landed tall and petite jeans made with responsibly grown cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative blended with TENCEL™.
Image via Good American Email US - Jan 30, 2021
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