There once was a time when the fashion industry completely ignored the plus-size market. The “thin is in” mentality has been replaced by a full embrace of the plus-size market. Mercedes Gonzalez, director of Global Purchasing Group, likens the trend to when the fashion industry started to move beyond younger demographics. Millions of women fall into the size 12 or larger category, a size once ignored by most major designers. Today, the plus-size market generates nearly $20 billion on annual sales. Now, the fashion industry wants a share of this market.
No Longer Confined to Specialty Stores
Just a decade or so ago, the only real option for plus-size women was specialty stores and shops like Marina Rinaldi and Lane Bryant. In the early 2000s, Lane Bryant made headlines with a major marketing effort to bring plus-size fashion into the mainstream. The choices for plus-size fashions have changed since then. Tent-like clothes designed to conceal the figure as much as possible have been replaced by styles that embrace the fuller figured woman. Retailers now offering plus-size fashions are experiencing dramatic increases in sales. Plus-size retailer Torrid, for example, plans to open 15 new stores in 2012 due to record sales figures for 2011. Lane Bryant also reported a sales boost, up 7% in 2011.
Major Designers Take Notice
It’s only been within the last decade that major designers have finally realized the potential for the plus-size market. Today, top designers such as Donna Karan, Anne Kelin, Dana Buchman, Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta are all offering plus-size fashion lines. Specialty shops are no longer the only place plus-size shoppers have to choose from when looking for stylish fashion choices. Macys, Kmart and JC Penney are just some of the retailers embracing the plus-size market. Betsy McLaughlin of Hot Topic says that she has seen “girls actually cry” when they find stylish and comfortable outfits in their size.”
The average woman, according to recent statistics, is 5’4” tall and weighs between 140 to 160 pounds and wears a size 14. Using fashion industry standards, the majority of the female population is overweight. Sizes 0 through 4 aren’t the norm in the real world. According to one estimate, the average dress size has jumped from a size 6 in the 1950s to a size 14. Retailers are starting to come to the realization that there is an entire market out there waiting to be served.
Campaigns launched by Fruit of the Loom and Dove are part of efforts to promote a healthy self-image in women by embracing all shapes and sizes. Campaigns like these hope to change the conventional wisdom – that still exists to some extent in the fashion industry – that women size 12 and over simply do not care about fashion. Currently, the major incentive for designers and retailers to target a “new” market and take advantage of potential revenue. Another important part of the effort to embrace the plus size market is to promote a better sense of self-image.
High Profile Plus-size Fashion Shows
In 2010, the first plus-size fashion show took place during New York City’s Fashion Week bringing out curvy stars like Nikki Blonsky, model Emme, Gabourey Sidibe, and KayCee Stroh. This was landmark move in the fashion world, since Fashion Week attracts the attention of designers from around the world. This is just one of several plus-size events designed to put a fun spin on a market once mostly ignored by the major designers.
While the fashion industry is actively going after the plus-size market, the focus is still on thinner models. Although some fashion observers note that “scary thin” models are no longer en vogue like they were in the 80s and 90s. In today’s economy, it simply doesn’t pay to ignore a major market segment. Those in the plus-size market say that i might be time to embrace another untapped market – plus-size fashions for teens. Like most industries today, the fashion industry has realized that it cannot afford to be as selective. As Confucius once said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Stacy Dewald is avid blogger and writes about business news among other topics.