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Slowly but Surely, Inclusive Sizing Inches Forward with Nordstrom and Bonobos

From Bonobos to Nordstrom, brands and retailers are showing they’re serious about inclusive fashion by bringing expanded size ranges into brick-and-mortar and addressing the topic directly through advertising.

Nordstrom first announced its inclusive sizing initiative in October, and now they’re expanding that initial effort to 30 stores that now carry extended sizes across 100 brands. The retailer has pushed the idea of “filling in” size gaps, encouraging brands to manufacture a greater number of size 0, 2, 14, 16 and 18 apparel in categories ranging from lingerie, swimwear and athletic apparel, to denim and dresses.

Tricia Smith, Nordstrom executive vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s apparel, said the fashion industry needed a first mover to be “the voice of customers” in pushing brands to produce a more diverse size range. “It’s been hard work and we’re making progress,” Smith added. “We’re thrilled more and more brands are extending their offerings to this population of stylish women who were previously missed. We remain focused, inspired and committed to inclusivity and having more sizes available to serve customers.”

As a result, shoppers can now find a size XXL in Adidas, Beyond Yoga and Nike athletic wear, and sizes 14 and 16 in contemporary stalwarts such as Theory and Rebecca Taylor.

Earlier this year, Nordstrom added progressive “bodywear” brand Chromat to inventory in sizes up to 3X—another step toward size inclusion and a move that Chromat designer Becca McCharen-Tran described as “game-changing.” Even brands that long have been size-inclusive often lacked support from retail partners that only committed to stocking straight sizes.

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The retailer has a number of even bigger things planned on the sizing front. For its famous Anniversary Sale on July 20, Nordstrom said it will include additional expanded sizes, especially in private-label brands that will be offered in up to a size 24. By autumn, the retailer plans to enhance the shopping experience by installing mannequins of diverse body shapes—created exclusively for Nordstrom—to 30 locations. And the work won’t stop there: the upscale department store said it will work with European brands to produce extended sizes as well.

“Style and fashion apply to everyone. We don’t view being size inclusive any differently that the need to be more inclusive across the board—whether it’s ethnicity, size or body type,” Smith said. “In our opinion, petite and plus sizes shouldn’t be considered special categories. They’re just sizes.”

Even as Nordstrom moves toward size inclusion, British fast-fashion retailer New Look is under scrutiny for charging more for plus-size styles than for their straight-size counterparts—a recurring bone of contention in the apparel industry. On the one hand, it’s reasonably logical to conclude that garments that use more fabric would cost more.

And yet, that argument doesn’t hold up, as Drapers writer Emily Sutherland told the BBC, “Retailers may argue a larger size requires more fabric and is therefore more expensive to produce… or that there are subtle differences between straight and plus-size products that impact on price, but customers point out tall and maternity ranges, which also use more fabric, are rarely priced higher—and that smaller petite products are unlikely to be cheaper.”

Inclusive pricing could just be the next battleground as inclusive sizing becomes the norm across the apparel industry.

Bonobos’ magic number? 172

In its biggest TV advertising campaign to date, men’s wear brand Bonobos put 172 men of diverse shapes, colors, ages and sizes in the spotlight to show off its 172 sizes and fits. Though much of the inclusivity conversation has been happening on the women’s side of the industry, Bonobos is promoting the body diversity message with its commercial tagline, “However you fit, Bonobos fits you.”

Acquired by Walmart last year for $310 million, Bonobos is one of the big-box retailer’s many attempts to better align with millennial shoppers—and their values. The Bonobos messaging and brand positioning could be Walmart’s effort to speak more authentically to a demographic tired of the rigid walls that fashion retail has erected around sizes and that embraces diversity in just about every facet of life.