The fashion industry’s sojourn toward more inclusive sizing has been nothing short of a slog.
Brands that carry plus sizes have historically been defined by the choice to offer expanded ranges, effectively siloing them away from the mass market. Many household name labels only offer apparel up to a size 10 or 12, and those motivations have rarely been questioned.
But 2020 has brought about a newfound awareness of the industry’s many ills. It’s not sustainable enough. It’s not diverse enough. And it has thrived on peddling aspirational standards to women that are far from attainable for most.
Consumers were likely hitting their limit with this age-old brand of fashion marketing before the pandemic hit this spring. But in a new world where function and practicality are winning out over almost all other considerations, brands are finally learning that they must give consumers what they need, instead of acting as arbiters of what they should want.
Plus sizes also offer an undeniably lucrative—and largely untapped—opportunity for the industry. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American woman wears a size 16-18. A report from Coresight Research released this week shows that plus-size apparel currently makes up more than one-fifth (20.7 percent) of the entire women’s clothing market.
What’s more, the category’s sales were increasing disproportionately faster than other apparel categories before the coronavirus crisis, according to Coresight’s data. In 2019, plus-size apparel accounted for $31.8 billion in U.S. consumer spend. In 2020, that number dropped about 11 percent to $28.3 billion—a reflection of constrained consumer spending across the board.
“Early on, some retailers and brands had planned to expand plus-size offerings,” Sunny Zheng, Coresight analyst and author of a report entitled “Opportunities in the U.S. Women’s Plus Size Apparel Market,” told Sourcing Journal. However, “a confluence of factors made companies arrive late to this offering.”
According to Zheng, “the additional costs on fabrics, the lack of available styles and patterns, and finding appropriate plus-size models all conspired to delay the process.” Those hurdles, along with the fact that retailers were unsure about how to align plus-size offerings with their overall business strategies, have kept the industry from wholeheartedly embracing the chance to deliver fashion to a significant swathe of the population.
Fashion advertising and marketing have also long relied on a “thin aesthetic,” she said, and it has taken decades for the sector to begin to see inclusivity as a virtue, rather than a fault.
Several brands have increased their plus-size apparel investments in recent seasons. In January, Target launched an in-house line of size-inclusive activewear and sport apparel under the brand All in Motion, featuring products up to size 4X for women, 3X for men, and XXL for kids. Big-box retailer Kohl’s has also announced that it is expanding its sizing for activewear from brands like Adidas, Nike and Under Armour.
World-recognized celebrities are also grappling for a piece of the pie. Khloe Kardashian’s Good American launched its line of size-inclusive denim and separates in 2016, and debuted a swimwear line this summer for women of all shapes and sizes. Music and fashion mogul Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line has been a hit with shoppers who wear bras up to size 44DDD, and underwear up to 3X, since it hit the market in 2017.
Newer business models like subscription boxes and rental services are also becoming a part of the plus-size fashion vernacular. Clothing and accessories rental leader Rent the Runway offers many styles in up to a size 24, while plus-size rental service Gwynnie Bee carries clothes up to size 32. Nuuly, powered by Urban Outfitters, carries a robust selection of larger sizes beyond straight and petite, pulling heavily from Anthropologie’s A-Plus collection, which launched last year with sizes up to 26W.
July saw the launch of Stitch Fix Kids’ new active apparel line, with products like play clothes, outerwear and footwear available in sizes 2T–18. This development follows the company’s foray into plus-size women’s subscription boxes in 2017. In August, Walmart-owned digitally native plus-size brand Eloquii launched its own rental platform, known as Eloquii Unlimited, which carries a trend-forward assortment of dresses, tops, bottoms and jackets in sizes 14-28.
Online premium plus-size fashion platform 11 Honoré, which curates luxury offerings from designers like Mara Hoffman, Christopher Kane, Adam Lippes, Ganni and more, launched its own private-label collection of wardrobe staples in June. A second product drop in August, which included jackets, bodysuits, slacks and more performed even better than the first, according to CEO Patrick Herning. “We are seeing consistent sell through across the dresses, tops and blazers,” he told Sourcing Journal on Thursday, noting the collection’s “ease-ability” that’s “resonating in the new Covid lifestyle.”
Even bridal, which has long been a sore spot for to-be-weds seeking inclusively sized options, is getting an upgrade. Anthropologie-run DTC bridal boutique BHLDN announced in August that it would be bringing an extended size range of gowns and bridesmaid dresses to its showrooms and web store, with silhouettes up to 26W.
Founder of contemporary brands Vince and Twelfth Street, Cynthia Vincent, embarked on a new journey in 2019 with Baacal, a luxury line designed specifically for plus-size consumers. After nearly two decades in the industry, she wanted to create clothing for a group she calls the “true majority”: the largely underserved—but highly capitalized—plus-size shopper. “This is a complete white space in the market,” she told Sourcing Journal in August.
While Vincent’s words have long rung true, it seems that the move toward size inclusivity is snowballing rapidly, picking up pace with each passing week. On Thursday, plus-size lifestyle apparel brand Dia&Co. announced a new capsule collection with iconic sportswear label Fila, which will mark its first foray into extended sizing.
Dubbed the Curve Collection, the new line includes a fleece jacket, a color-blocked hoodie, two pairs of logo-emblazoned leggings and a V-neck logo tee, available in sizes 1X-5X. The line is exclusively available for purchase on Dia.com.
“Dia&Co. is a pioneer in the size inclusive retail space, and we are excited to work together to offer Fila silhouettes in extended sizing,” Jennifer Estabrook, Fila’s North America president, said in a statement. Co-founding CEO Nadia Boujarwah described the new line as helping Dia’s customers feel “powerful and emboldened” whether “on the court, on the street or at home.”
And on Wednesday, home shopping platform QVC announced plans to host its first body-positivity and size-inclusivity summit on Sept. 29. The free digital event will feature “fireside chats,” a beauty panel, fitness sessions, guidance on finding the best fitting clothing, tips on dressing for remote work and other programming for a multi-sized audience.
Co-hosted by media platform Create & Cultivate, the event will bring together influential fashion and lifestyle personalities like blogger Nicolette Mason, Brown Girl founder Jane Tai Beauchamp, model Hunter McGrady and makeup artist Carmindy.
“Shopping for fashion should be fun, empowering, and accessible for all women everywhere, so this event will be a celebration of body positivity,” Rachel Ungaro, general merchandise manager and vice president of multiplatform buying for QVC and HSN‘s apparel division, said in a statement.
Both shopping networks offer clothing ranging from size 00-36, or XXS-5X, which is modeled every day on air by a range of body types. “We celebrate diversity in all its forms, colors, shapes and sizes,” Ungaro said, adding that the networks believe “everybody deserves a great shopping experience that makes them feel included and helps them look and feel fabulous.”
Though brands and businesses across the sector appear are taking steps to engage plus-size shoppers, sustainable plus-size offerings have a ways to go in catching up to market demand, according to market intelligence company Edited.
Less than 20 percent of Earth-conscious products currently cater to above-average sizes, the group’s research showed. Considering that the global plus-size women’s apparel market was worth an estimated $165.2 billion in 2017, and has displayed a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.4 percent per year since 2018, that’s a huge miss.
What’s more, Google search trends have shown a consistent demand for the term “sustainable plus size,” Edited market analyst Kayla Marci wrote in her report, “How Size Inclusive is Sustainable Fashion?”
“With environmental issues discussed daily, new hyped brands entering the market and retailers spinning off eco lines are becoming common practice,” she added. “This high frequency could mirror the frustration of consumers looking for sustainable alternatives in their size.”
Even prominent brands that promote inclusive sizing are falling short on the sustainability side, Marci said. Just 2.5 percent of H&M’s eco-conscious products are stocked in up to size 4XL. In the U.K., about 3 percent of Zara’s sustainable Join Life range comes in size XXL. Analysis of online retailer Asos’ Curve line, which pulls together brand offerings for plus-size shoppers, shows that just 10 percent of apparel was designed with ecological consideration.
Despite fashion’s seeming willingness to finally embrace the plus-size customer, Marci isn’t willing to give brands and retailers trophies for participation. “The future of sustainability needs to be inclusive, with retailers prioritizing people as well as the planet,” she wrote. “Brands can’t rightly call themselves sustainable if they are ignoring marginalized groups, which includes size.”