We first discussed the promise in the plus size market last May and we're back to check in on how this continues to unfold. We've looked at how retailers have grown their offering in the past 12 months, as a measure of the growth in the greater plus size market.
Without a doubt, the boom in this segment is not a passing trend. The prevalence of inspirational blogs, Instagram feeds and an increase in celebrity role models for younger plus size consumers has moved the plus size market away from its traditional roots. Does that mean the demand for styles and trends within plus size does not differ from the trends in core sizes at key retailers? And will a change in attitudes towards the normal figures in the industry secure plus sizes’ future? Here we explain all.
Biggest plus size growth seen in trend-led mass market
Specialists, Lane Bryant, are still the largest online retailer of plus size apparel, with close to 6,000 products currently available across their brands. UK plus size retailer Evans, comes in second with their offering of close to 2,000 products. Of the two specialized retailers, Evans have seen the most growth in the last two years, increasing the number of new products in their offering for SS14 by 13% compared to SS13. Lane Bryant have only increased their new season drops by a modest 0.6%.
Most interesting is the plus size market growth at non-specialist retailers. Forever 21 have increased the number of new Forever 21+ products arriving into store between 1st March and 1st June 2014 by an impressive 129% compared to one year ago. The majority of that growth has gone into their tops and dress categories. ASOS Curve have seen even greater growth, with a 132% increase in new product arrivals for SS14 compared to SS13 - they are also the non-specialist retailer with the highest number of SKUs currently online, a total of 1,130; nearly at Evans's level. It's worth noting that the Curve offering at ASOS Australia is 9.8% broader than their UK or US offering. ASOS have cleverly spotted a market where plus size is under-represented by trend/youth retailers.
But the biggest growth can be attributed to New Look's Inspire range, which has increased by a staggering 378% in the space of 12 months. Their Inspire range is now bigger than their maternity offering. Tops and dresses have been added to dramatically and New Look have grown their offering without unsettling their price point: average price has gone from $35.17 down to $28.78.
How do plus size clothing sell?
New Look's plus size offering has not only been strengthened, it is successful too, with a 77% sell out rate and a lower rate of discounting than the main collection (16.5% currently, compared to 18.2%). H&M's plus sized offering does not sell as well as the mainline - 2.9% of products sell out in plus size, compared to 5.1% in mainline, and discounting is fractionally higher too. Lane Bryant have the current highest rate of discounting, with 37.6% of their product currently discounted. Meanwhile, ASOS Curve has a higher replenishment rate than their mainline - indicating stable buying territory.
At Lane Bryant the categories with the highest replenishments are plus size dresses, underwear and bottoms. Evans differs, with tops, bottoms and dresses being their most replenished category, which perfectly reflects the weighting they give to their offering. Evans dedicate a vast amount of their weighting to tops (43% compared to the general market's 29%). Other than that the weighting at the two retailers is relatively in sync with the rest of the market, with two exceptions: less emphasis on outerwear and more emphasis on underwear. Underwear in larger sizes does require technical expertise, and this is where niche retailers can really excel.
Bestselling plus size trends have gone extreme
So which products are selling fastest? At Evans, the recent full-priced replenishments have included basic tees, monochrome print tops and blouses, swim-dresses, 'pear fit' blazers, bootcut denim, floral print midi dresses and a lace shift in bright color-ways. Generally, dark bottoms with on-trend printed tops work well at the retailers. Popular styles with tapered fits and longer lengths show subtle understanding of curvier figures. At Lane Bryant bold prints do very well: polka dots, florals, stripes on a variety of dresses, tops and skirts. Popular is occasionwear, racy lingerie and swimwear.
It's quite a different story at some of the mass market retailers. ASOS Curve's bestsellers are much trendier - a shirt dress with lace trim, off the shoulder 'Bardot' top (which at £16 has had its second restock since March arrival), skinny ripped jeans, appliqué detail skater dresses and maxis. The same is true of New Look Inspire: printed tops, trendy florals, blazers and denim shorts. The bestselling products are even more extreme in their trend direction at Forever 21+. Space print dresses, metallic jeans, distressed denim and mesh paneled bodycons are all seeing recent success.
The data proves to the industry what should be glaringly obvious: the plus sized customer differs very minimally to the normal customer. Retailers don't need to switch the trends to sell to this market: plus sized customers no longer have to shy away from fast fashion and high styling. Retailers should understand the plus size market demand and build it into their ranges.
Of course there are some notable omissions from the plus size market. Why Zara and Topshop don't extend their size ranges is an unanswerable question, given their sophisticated supply chains and global access to consumers. The premium market is also dramatically underserved by plus size despite the existing potential. Whistles for example, stock up to size 14 (US) only. Consistently their size 14s sell out fastest, and while they won't be buying so deeply on their peripheral sizes, they're also restocking into size 14. This illustrates Whistles could not only be bolder on size of their first order, but could also think about expanding their sizing out.
Luxury market and plus size
And then of course we have to mention the issue plus sizes cause in the luxury market. For example the Bridesmaids actress Melissa McCarthy was recently speaking out to press about her struggle to find a designer willing to dress her for the red carpet. Net-a-porter currently carry 135 options for US size 14 (from designers including Chloé, By Malene Birger and Diane Von Furstenberg) but that drops off to 9 options at US size 16. MICHAEL by Michael Kors offers size US 16, as does Marc Jacobs but beyond these savvy, globally-minded designers, it's a shame to see plus size ignored. It's time the luxury and premium market shock off plus size misconceptions. It'll be a win-win situation when they do.
EDITD customers can log in here to view the latest Plus Size Street Style report.