Over the years, many straight size retailers have endeavored to cater to plus consumers.
Though few have seen breakaway success, it doesn’t mean demand isn’t there – rather it highlights how under served the market is and the importance of getting offerings right.
This report uncovers key learnings from the retailers succeeding and struggling in this space, and the size inclusive trends to invest in for 2023.
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Retailers can learn from Old Navy’s challenges with its BODEQUALITY line. Lean on customer research and feedback to ensure the right quantity of products across sizes are allocated to the appropriate stores, and invest in online fitting technology to optimize ecommerce.
While it may be expensive for businesses to fit new patterns for plus size products, excluding larger sizes from trends offered to straight size consumers will only hurt brand image. If retailers offer extended sizes, products must transcend the basic collection of T-shirts, wrap dresses and skinny jeans.
Trends spotted on plus size models across the Spring 2023 runways can provide insight into the types of products you should be ranging. For SS23, look to 80s and Y2K nostalgia with highlighter hues, double denim and butterfly prints. For FW23, promote relaxed tailoring, leather and voluminous silhouettes.
Pricing the same garment higher in larger sizes than straight sizes is an outdated practice and should be avoided. Retailers may think it justifies material costs, but they will alienate shoppers, damaging their brand reputation and bottom line. Look to Universal Standard, which maintains price parity across sizes 00-40 and continues to increase profitability and consumer loyalty.
While retailers are converting their ranges to be eco-friendly, the plus size customer is excluded, with less than 3% of size inclusive ranges described as sustainable. This carves out an opportunity to provide this demographic with products that positively impact people and the planet, and help to reduce their reliance on fast fashion.
In 2021, the retailer launched what seemed to be the new blueprint for commercial body inclusive fashion. BODEQUALITY responded to the long built-up demand for price and trend parity across garments for all shapes by reexamining size charts and diverse representation within advertising as well as for store mannequins. However, in May, the company announced the initiative fell short of expectations and removed extended sizes from 75 stores. What can retailers take away from this?
Appropriate size allocation
Old Navy chalked up the challenges with its 0-30 size range to under-indexing on the middle sizes, which sold out to only leave fringe sizes. Retailers must take a customer-centric approach when introducing new sizes to ensure they’ve backed the right quantities. This may take some time to perfectly execute, highlighting the importance of customer research, collecting feedback and adjusting store orders to tailor to area-specific demographics.
Balancing online with brick-and-mortar
From years of exclusion and lack of representation in stores, plus customers have been trained to shop online. This appeared to hinder the success of BODEQUALITY, as Old Navy cut plus sizes from stores, yet kept the entire range online. Therefore, online fitting technology and customer service are paramount, as well as the flexibility to collect and return in store.
Rebuild consumer trust
There’s an expectation for plus ranges to perform rapidly to avoid being seen as a failure. Traditionally, retailers carry out a big marketing push with lots of press attention. This can make customers think it’s a one-time deal to tick off an inclusivity box instead of a dedicated business model with plans for future expansion. It is beneficial for brands to start small and get it right, taking time to establish themselves authentically in this space before expanding. After years of not catering to larger sizes, legacy retailers need to put in work to gain the trust of plus size customers, especially when new players are constantly emerging and embracing size inclusivity from day one.
Strategies of Note
After testing the water with extended sizing in 2021 as part of Target’s Designer Dress collection, the cult label will offer UK sizes 6 to 24 across 32 pieces from its AW22 collection. Rixo is measuring demand by converting its best-selling silhouettes, including the Maddison dress, into larger sizes before the future brand-wide rollout.
The retailer tapped influencer Remi Bader on a capsule range spanning sizes XXS to 4X, with a second drop coinciding with a New York Fashion Week activation. This was a savvy business decision by Revolve as Bader boasts an audience of over two million followers and has established herself as a genuine voice within size inclusive fashion, making her a relatable figure that consumers can trust.
Since the inception of Kim Kardashian’s brand, products have been offered up to 5X. Additionally, the viral Fits Everybody collection stretches up to four sizes, allowing consumers to wear it through body changes. The brand also operates on a drop model style similar to streetwear, which means order quantities are controlled, eliminating the deadstock issues Old Navy ran into.
The Scandi brand made its foray into size inclusivity in 2021 through a collaboration with dedicated plus retailer 11 Honoré. Leaning on the expertise of a business that deals directly with this consumer was beneficial to GANNI in entering this space. It now offers 25% of its collections in sizes EU 32-52 and spotlights curve models within its runway presentations.
Aware of the opportunities within the market, SHEIN’s proportion of plus size garments surpasses its competitors. Products in the dedicated Curve + Plus range equal 22% of its vast assortment, above the market average of 19%. It’s also lauded on TikTok for translating viral trends across body shapes – videos with #sheincurve have exceeded 16.3 billion views.
The $1.6bn brand’s success is attributed to its uncompromised fit innovation. Its jeans, which range from sizes 00–32, include a four-piece waistband to eliminate gaps and reinforced belt loops. They are also available in high-stretch, medium-stretch and no-stretch options.
Trends Need to be Inclusive
What’s Missing From Assortments?
Perfecting fits are the greatest challenge and cost to businesses offering plus collections, which is reflected in the types of products available compared to straight size garments. Retailers are either struggling or unwilling to invest beyond easy-fitting styles, resulting in disparities between ranges, often leaving larger-sized products lagging in trends. As per straight size collections, tops and dresses are the main categories available, yet curve products are more weighted towards T-shirts, wrap and smock-style dresses.
Categories that require a more lasered focus on fit, such as bottoms and product sets, make up a smaller proportion of the plus assortment. Breaking this category down further reveals leggings equal a more significant percentage of plus ranges vs. straight sizes. Skinny silhouettes make up 44% of plus jeans vs. 26% of straight size ranges, which are geared towards the more current straight-leg. Meanwhile, only 7% of skirts are described as “mini” for plus vs. 19% in straight sizes. While comfort is essential regardless of body shape, the data indicates that the plus consumer is missing out on key trends that their straight size peers can easily access.
There is less emphasis on bright and bold shades in curve assortments, with black 5pp more of the dedicated mix than for straight sizes. Coloring up best performing styles is an easy and risk-free approach to introducing trend-led products in size inclusive ranges.
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Earlier this year, we highlighted the importance of ensuring that the hottest trends are size inclusive. As TikTok continues to act as a revolving door of micro aesthetics, several of which aren’t inherently plus size friendly, retailers need to make the styles they are adapting from the platform obtainable across body shapes.
What subcultures does this consumer care about? Across TikTok, views for clips with #plusbaddiefashion outstrips other aesthetics. The Baddie aesthetic is underpinned by sexy dressing and, given the uptake on social media, retailers should be incorporating mini skirts, cargo pants and crop tops within plus ranges. Fairycore follows as the plus subculture with the second-highest views, showing demand for earthy green hues, pastels, crochet and corsets in larger sizes.
Though the term ‘Baddie’ has predated newer subcultures like Fairycore and Whimsigoth, it still holds relevance with the plus consumer. Searches for this aesthetic translated to plus fashion on Pinterest trumped other subcultures throughout 2022. As new subcultures continue to bubble up, retailers must create options for plus size consumers.
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2023 Buyers’ Checklist
Retailers must diversify their denim buys for the plus consumer and back skirts, trucker jackets and cargo styles for Spring 2023. Rebecca Minkoff showcased low-rise jeans on a curve model, highlighting that the popular Y2K aesthetic needs to transcend sizes.
In addition to denim, butterfly prints and white tank tops will be key buys to boost 00s stories.
Carry the burgeoning 80s trend to extended sizes through metallic and neon colorways. Take cues from Sports Illustrated’s presentation at Miami Swim Week with cut-out and three-piece swimwear in these hues, or apply it to dresses and corsets to brighten party assortments.
Revealing garments won’t show any signs of slowing down in SS23, with peekaboo detailing and exposed hips spotted on plus size models at Altuzarra and No Sesso. Take this as a sign to double down on cut-outs, which are underinvested in when it comes to plus size ranges. The detail features on 10% of straight size dresses and tops vs. 6% in plus.
Marni, Fe Noel & Coach Spring 2023 – Images via Spotlight
Fendi, GANNI & Altuzarra Spring 2023 – Images via Spotlight
Keep the 80s nostalgia ticking in partywear with sequins and tulle, two materials amplified at Christian Siriano and Prabal Gurung. Voluminous silhouettes are evolving into a social movement for the plus size community, as spearheaded by Lizzo’s statement-making outfits at the VMAs and the Emmys, encouraging bigger women to take up space.
Matching sets have been prominent on plus models across runways. With fit essential, look to sell these items as separates as your plus customer may wear different sized tops to bottoms. Opt for stretchy materials, as seen with PUMA’s sporty midi skirt and crop top combo, or popcorn textures at Eckhaus Latta.
All-over leather will replace double denim in the fall. Currently, leather jackets are underinvested in when it comes to the plus market, at only 5% of outerwear vs. 10% straight size. Keep stretch fabrics in mind here too.
Don’t just offer oversized fits to straight size shoppers. Mix relaxed trousers and boyfriend-style blazers with fitted waistcoats to modernize your plus customers’ working wardrobes.
OpéraSPORT, Tibi & Christian Siriano Spring 2023 – Images via Spotlight
Eckhaus Latta, LaQuan Smith & Collina Strada Spring 2023 – Images via Spotlight
A Tailored Approach to Pricing
For a plus size collection to succeed, retailers have to nail their pricing architecture, appealing to the customer they are serving and aligning with their competitors. Torrid is concentrating on reaching lower-income consumers who are struggling to spend on non-essential items due to rising inflation and the ongoing cost of living crisis. Apparel within this retailer’s current assortment averages $25. On the other end of the scale, plus size platform Dia&Co recently acquired 11 Honoré to elevate its brand and connect with a more premium consumer. The brand’s prices online at Dia&Co range from $45-$298.
If retailers offer garments that span plus and straight sizes, price parity is a must. Brands can no longer make the excuse that larger sizes must be more expensive due to extra material. Inclusivity across prices can still be profitable. Universal Standard has no price variances between sizes 00 to 40 and has reported 60% sales growth over the past year. Price equality has translated to consumer loyalty, with the brand reporting a repeat purchase rate upwards of 70%.
Enhance Sustainability Efforts
The Current State
Larger customers have restricted access to conscious fashion, with less than 3% of plus size ranges described as having eco credentials. Even sustainably-minded brands have limited products in larger fits – only 3% of Reformation products are in extended sizes. This is an area of consideration as brands can’t accurately call themselves sustainable if they ignore marginalized groups, including size. The narrow options could see the slow fashion movement derailed, as fast fashion brands are more embracing towards this consumer, which could encourage them to purchase disposable, lower-quality goods that are more likely to end up in landfills.
Sustainable Plus Size Brands To Know
Created by size inclusive model Lauren Chan, Henning offers luxury staples in sizes 12 to 28. Quality and conscious fabrics and processes are spotlighted, using leather sourced from ethical tanneries, Lenzing Ecovera yarns and made-on-demand products.
The Latinx-owned, NYC-based brand offers products in sizes up to 6X as well as custom sizes – all of which are ethically made using fair-trade operations. For summer, the brand collaborated with size inclusive influencer and content creator Kellie Brown (@itsmekellieb) on a Vitamin C-hued capsule range.
B A A C A L
Available in sizes 0-22+, the brand’s signature floaty kaftans and silk dresses are sustainably made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood pulps from Japan.
The ethical, sustainable and inclusive slow fashion line runs up to a 10XL with free custom orders. Fibers and printing are OEKO-Tex 100 certified and the brand favors organic cotton and tencel. All fabric waste is upcycled into pillows that are then donated to puppy shelters.
As body shapes fluctuate over time, offer free repairs and alterations to help keep garments in consumers’ wardrobes longer.
Similar to opportunities in the childrenswear market of growth-friendly apparel, look to introduce details that cater to body changes such as drawstrings, elasticated waists, cuffs and armholes, as well as adjustable straps.
The lack of plus garments in the first place has led to fewer options in the rental and resale market. Brands like Mara Hoffman are working to change that, catering to size inclusive customers and providing the opportunity to resell and buy secondhand. The platform Detoure also lets customers shop the closets of plus size influencers.