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Size Inclusivity is a ‘Financial Imperative’ for the Future of Retail

The case for size inclusivity is more than a moral or a philosophical one, according to Greneker, a Los Angeles-based maker of mannequins and forms for brands and retailers. It’s a financial imperative, and the future of retail hinges upon its success. 

For too long, the apparel industry has promoted the myth of a “correct” body type that conforms to sizes 0 to 12, said Steven Beckman, the company’s president and COO. Although 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or above, clothing manufacturers have focused on this narrow band of the population to the exclusion of almost everything—and everyone—else.

A 2016 study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education found that the average American woman wears a size 16 or 18, yet spending on larger-size clothing makes up only 16 percent of the $112 billion U.S. market because of the dearth of inventory.

Maintaining this self-enforced scarcity would be a foolhardy move, Beckman said.

“We’ve known for a long time that there is larger market, and therefore the opportunity for greater sales, in fashion beyond sizes 0 to 12,” he explained. “So-called ‘plus’ sizes are already a $21 billion segment. Fully embracing this segment is financially imperative to the growth of retail.”

There have been heralds of change, however. Brands like Eloquii, which was recently acquired by Walmart, and Universal Standard, which helped J.Crew break into extended sizing, are advancing a “new sizing reality” where straight and plus styles aren’t quarantined from one another, either in their own stores or on separate racks within the same store.

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“Soon it will be standard practice that all sizes live together in the same space. No longer straight sizes and plus sizes, just sizes,” Beckman said. “That’s what size inclusivity is: embracing all body shapes and sizes. It is the message by retailers that all sizes are beautiful and, by inference, that all customers are equal.”

Brands and retailers also can communicate a message of empowerment and inclusivity by creating in-store displays that celebrate body-type diversity.

“Creating displays with lots of body-type diversity sends a message that they support and, more importantly, understand what size inclusivity is really about: Size is irrelevant and that beautiful, fun fashion can be had by all,” Beckman said.

And proper proportions are key, said David Naranjo, vice president and creative director at Greneker. Larger mannequins aren’t simply scaled-up versions of their slimmer counterparts.

“You can’t design a great mannequin of any size, but specifically larger sizes, by targeting only the waist, hips and bust measurements,” he said. “There is a lot of body in-between. You have to get all of it right to create a realistic body.”

Other considerations exist as well, such as nuances in expression or poise that give the model “attitude, emotion and style,” Naranjo added. “That’s what the viewer connects with. These are subtle details but without them the mannequin and the viewer won’t relate.”

These are exciting times for Greneker, Beckman said.   

“It’s great that social awareness and retail consciousness are intersecting to create this new normal,” he said. “We’ve been supporting retail with visual displays for over 80 years and are excited that we are in a position to apply our experience to help retail move forward in society. We see a better world for everyone as the outcome.”