Imagine the runway at a fashion show. What comes to mind? A slender, tall, waifish woman is probably close to what you see. How about a larger woman, with curves and a belly? She looks like someone you might see on the street or at the grocery store. Does this image seem realistic?
If it doesn’t, that’s probably because the fashion industry is geared towards women sized 4 or smaller. This is despite the fact that in the U.S., 35-60% of women are a size 14 or above.
But thanks to consumer pressure and a few forward-thinking clothing brands, that perception is gradually changing.
What’s in a size?
Many clothing lines cut off their sizing at a 14, leaving the average woman unable to shop in their stores. And to add insult to injury, clothing you can find on the rack at common stores are just sized-up versions of the smaller designs made to fit fashion models. They don’t take into account the different body types of the more common woman.
Plus-sized women are tired of being treated as if they don’t care about fashion at all, simply because their bodies don’t conform traditional fashion model standards. In the past, clothing choices for larger women lacked shape, style, and the small details that make clothing a true expression of one’s personality.
It’s as if fashion designers didn’t know how to make clothing for women with curves, and the truth is they didn’t.
Thankfully, things are changing. Millennial and Generation Z consumers come with a different mindset, one that is more open-minded than their predecessors. They see no reason why they should hide their bodies behind the shapeless garments that have previously been offered to them as options. They’ve been vocal enough in advocating for themselves and their plus-sized sisters that the industry itself is changing to keep up.
Top brands embrace new, more inclusive beauty standards
Fashion industry sales have been on a decline for years, with annual profits dropping 5.6% between 2012 and 2017. The plus-size fashion industry, by contrast, is growing quickly. This segment of the industry is now worth $21 billion and accounts for 10% of all retail sales.
Now that the facts are in about the growth of the plus-size market, many retailers are stepping up. The days of a special plus-size section are on their way out.
Nordstrom, for instance, has heard the message and is changing the way they market different sizes within their stores. While the retailer will still offer a separate plus-size department for the convenience of their customers, they also plan to offer plus-size options in over 100 brands that will be integrated into their standard size-range.
Instead of having to shop in a separate department, plus-size women will be able to shop just like everyone else.
Express is taking similar steps to integrate larger clothing within their standard size range. Although plus-size clothing has been offered online for some time, they will now be on the racks at brick and mortar stores. H&M, Target and Walmart are following with actions of their own.
The large companies aren’t the only ones making changes. Eloquii was initially the plus-size line, of The Limited. The company discontinued the brand in 2013, but employees bought it out and continues to thrive, even as The Limited itself went out of business.
Eight & Sand opened up shop in 2015, with a focus on wardrobe staples. With their focus on clothing designed for the average sized woman, they report a return rate of only 2%, down from the industry standard 35%. SmartGlamour launched the same year and concentrates on girly cuts and colorful prints. Panty Drop, an underwear subscription service, began offering plus-size options in 2016. Their revenue in this market are growing 20% a month. Addition Elle, a Canadian clothing retailer, has expanded their lingerie line to include pieces from plus size model Ashley Graham’s exclusive brand.
It’s clear that what were previously known as plus-size women are really just the majority, and they have made their desires clear. The industry is stepping up to meet their needs.