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What Does it Take to Target the Full Figured Consumer?

With Sunday marking the start of Full Figured Fashion Week, brands are taking the opportunity to reach a consumer many had handled as afterthoughts.

But now that both full-figured consumers and the brands that outfit them are embracing their bigger shapes and sizes, retailers may be loathe not to tap the lucrative market.

At a Full Figured Fashion Week event Wednesday, hosted by Fit for Me by Fruit of the Loom, a line of women’s underwear designed specifically for the curvy consumer, leaders in the plus-size sector discussed “The Evolution of Full Figured Fashion,” noting simply: the fashionable body size has changed.

Denise Caldwell, a celebrity stylist, fashion expert and self-proclaimed “curvy” girl, said there were two things that let her know the industry was really taking notice of plus size fashion: Celebrities, or “real women,” sometimes of fuller frames, were replacing models on magazines, and consumers started seeing bodies that weren’t rail thin as “in” and forcing retailers to realize they needed to provide product for that shopper.

“I think the plus consumer has found her voice, she knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to ask for it,” Karen Kendrick, VP of brand communications and creative services for Fruit of the Loom’s Fit for Me team, said. “She wants all the things that the more traditional or smaller sizes have.”

Women have often expressed dissatisfaction with options in plus size offerings and fit, and teens have had especially unpleasant experiences with shopping for clothing as many have to buy in the Women’s department rather than Juniors to get goods that fit, and the styles there aren’t what their peers are wearing.

A recently released study by Emerald Group Publishing found that 37 percent of girls age 12-17 had negative emotions toward apparel shopping and fit—which was the number one complaint—was cited 96 percent of the time as the reason shoppers couldn’t be the item they wanted.

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The two major problems with the plus size offering for teens are, according to the study, that much of the apparel intended for plus sizes doesn’t meet the body shape and size of a growing female teen, and that retailers aren’t acknowledging that plus-size female tends want to dress fashionably and have the apparel readily available in the store.

One 17-year-old participant in the study said, “They are getting more styles for plus-size; it’s not meant for us, they’re just made in a bigger size. They didn’t make sure that it fits where it should or is comfortable where it should be […] for curvier girls, give it the space for those curves to fit.”

Fifty-three percent of participants surveyed said manufacturers could stand to update their sizing charts to reflect the true size and shape of today’s teens, and 60 percent said they want designers to develop plus sizes in styles akin to those their traditional size peers are wearing.

“The plus-size female teen apparel market offers great potential for brand expansion and new brands to enter the market,” the report noted. A mother of one participant said if there were clothing that cost more but fit her teen better, she’d be willing to pay for it.

More brands have started adding secondary or abridged lines to their collections to accommodate the plus size shopper, whether woman or teen—and keeping those offerings as chic as their traditionally sized counterparts has been key.

Michael Kors launched a plus size line, HSN started welcoming different designers with expanded size ranges, and designer lines like Eloquii, which offers fashion apparel in sizes 14-24, brought style to bigger sizes, Caldwell explained.

“And then there’s the oldies but goodies [like Lane Bryant] that have always been doing it and are still championing the way,” she said.

To up the chic quotient on its plus size offering, Lane Bryant partnered with Lela Rose for a collection that started at size 14, and plus size brand Torrid teamed up with Australian actress Rebel Wilson to launch a line last month that will hit stores in November.

In February, Target started offering a new plus size brand called Ava + Viv designed by its in-house team, and the discount retailer’s highly sought Lily Pulitzer line also included items for plus size women.

“It’s really evolving in terms of what’s already in stores and then the brands that have been doing it forever are offering a little bit more,” Caldwell said. “Curvy was always in and it kind of dwindled down for a minute, but we’re back and retailers are knowing they don’t have to give away their standard size customer, they are just embracing the curvy woman too.”