Inclusivity. Sustainability. Body Positivity. Innovation. The question around the viability and the sustainability of the plus size market has reared its ugly head again. We’ve featured so many articles over the years pushing back on the fashion industry’s declaration that the plus size fashion niche is a “fad.” Yet, somehow, they still don’t believe us when we say, ”We’re here to stay.”; because God forbid any plus size person actually loves the skin and body they are in.
It begs the question– is this why we, the plus size fashion community, remain severely underserved, with only 12% of all clothing made being for plus size people even though we make up 67% of the US population? Or why we only have access to 8% of all retail stores in the US? It doesn’t make sense.
GitNix shared, “The global plus size clothing market is expected to be worth $696.71 billion by 2027, while the U.S.’s current value stands at an impressive $31.4 billion as of 2021.” That’s not an insignificant number by any means.
As Sarah from Curvily so eloquently stated, “The plus size market has yet to reach its full potential and is still growing at an impressive rate.” So, why does the industry continue to gaslight the plus size community about the impact serving us could have on the fashion economy?
Recent questions around the trends (being truly “inclusive,” the Ozempic craze, closure of physical stores, and more) that take hold have some folks doubting and questioning the validity of this market, but those doubts are unfounded. They’re distractions. Opportunity abounds with the plus size community– a whopping $31.4 billion dollars in opportunity.
As we move further into 2024 and fashion week approaches, I wonder which retailer will enter this market in a well-researched, thoughtful, and innovative way because we deserve so much better.
It’s Time to Do Better By The Plus Size Fashion Community
There are so many ways to do better by plus size folks, from true diversity in decision-making roles (especially at plus size brands) to the retailers who carry plus options. Even marketers and PR agencies who have plus size clients and regular plus size people like you and me have an opportunity to do and be more for the plus size fashion industry and community.
While we’ve seen various mergers and acquisitions result in store closures and a reduction of physical locations, the market is still ripe for new leaders to emerge and for legacy plus-size retailers to redefine their brands.
The social climate is forcing brands to pay attention and rethink strategies. Back in 2017, when millennials were the market focus, Tom McGee forecasted, “Millennials want a customer-centric experience in which they feel wanted and valued. Whether it is in-store or through social media channels, showing interest in these shoppers creates loyalty.” McGee couldn’t be more right, and the sentiment continues forward with Gen Z and now Gen Alpha. Collectively, we expect more.
Brands like Ashley Stewart, Lane Bryant, and Torrid have made quite a few strong changes to positively impact brand positioning and drive higher foot traffic into their stores. But they can do more. Especially since new players are watching, listening, engaging, entering the market, or doubling down, like Dia & Co, H&M, and Good American.
Still, retailers seem to be resistant to truly recognizing and including the 67% of the women’s population who are plus and intersect all races, ages, abilities, and identities.
The Plus Size Fashion Opportunity: Recognition and Inclusion
As we’ve shared with new entrants in the space before, you cannot take a “build it and they will come” approach in this space. You also can’t approach the space as if you are the savior for plus size fashion. We have seen brands come and go. Launches start lackluster and fizzle out, or brands refuse to acknowledge the community and go belly up.
“Customers in our sizes are extraordinarily ad blind to brands that are speaking to them for the first time,” Nadia Boujarwah, Founder and CEO of Dia & Co., tells the Sourcing Journal. “It’s not that they haven’t seen those ads before. They just intuitively believe that it’s not for them.”
It is imperative for brands to recognize, build, and establish a relationship with the plus community. Understand that our champions, leaders, and things we care about will look and feel different than the traditional fashion industry drivers.
Because right now? The loyalty that plus size consumers over-index on? Is yours for the taking or losing…
Recognize the Layers in the Plus Size Space
Recognition means knowing what drives plus size people, showing up (respectfully) in our spaces, allocating the same kind of marketing dollars you would for mainstream media, and sponsoring our events. Recognize the plus size media, stylists, photographers, marketing experts, and emerging talent.
Recognition also means acknowledging the diversity that has built, led, and championed plus size fashion thus far. Hire Black and Brown plus size people so you can accurately and impactfully cater to the space under the guidance of those who continue to influence the industry.
A brand in straight size fashion wouldn’t dare go to market without knowing, learning, and featuring its target market, so why is the plus size consumer’s target market not given attention, visibility, or understanding?
Another thing these brands wouldn’t dare do is launch without the adequate marketing budget and time necessary to prove the concept. Yet, plus size collections and spin-offs are often given little to no budget, hardly more than two seasons, and a lack of advertising to reach the consumer- yet we are then quickly blamed for their lack of success.
At the end of the day, it is important that you give us the plus size fashion and drama we desire and crave! Can’t create it? Then hire an indie plus size designer or stylist as your creative director! And don’t forget (because yes, this has to be said) to feature visibly plus size models and work with plus size photographers, industry, and marketing experts.
The key for brands and retailers is to resist relying on the passive, lazy, stale marketing tropes. NO, not all of us are “in transition” or “waiting until we drop X pounds” to live life out loud, nor do we want to “wear black because it is slimming.” Get to really know and understand us AND the multitudes of who we are.
Which leads me to this:
We don’t want inclusive marketing. We want inclusive brands.
The buck doesn’t stop with recognition. We need (and want) truly inclusive plus size fashion brands– in every sense of the word. That means we need to see inclusion in sizing, visibility, advertising, campaigns, leadership, and community. To be quite frank, if you are not giving us at least a size 4X, you are off-trend and out of step with the community and industry you “serve.”
Words (inclusive marketing) may catch our attention, but if they don’t match your offerings and imagery (inclusive brands), you’ve only fanned the flames and made it that much more difficult to win our trust and loyalty.
You know what we are talking about. Brands have taglines that read “… for everybody,” “everybody is beautiful” or “for all,” yet the same brands barely go up through a size 20 and sometimes not even higher than an XL. Or worse, they use the term “inclusive” with no plus size models. Or, even worse than that– they use skinny models with padding to get a “BBL body” look.
If you are a straight size brand stepping into this space, we expect to see visibly plus size models in your brand’s campaign images. If you are sending out press releases, include the imagery with plus size people and share the full size range.
An inclusive plus size fashion brand does not only provide a wide size range (although imperative), but also includes diversity in marketing, advertising, and consistency throughout your brand. Don’t sell plus size clothes without including accessories and wide foot/calf options that can accommodate those same people. It’s the details that matter, after all.
We search high and low for those brands who understand, recognize, acknowledge, and welcome us into their space wholeheartedly. Not the brands that relegate plus sizes to a small four-way rack in the corner of the store– dimly lit, overstuffed with ill-fitting or uninspired pieces.
So, what is it going to be? You have the option to recognize the current climate in plus size fashion and acknowledge the community driving the call to action. Will you?
The number one lesson I learned while working towards my MBA in Marketing is this: At the end of the day, it’s all about the dollar. If you as a brand or retailer want to positively impact your bottom line, then you best heed the calls on social media, in articles, and in your stores to listen, understand, and make impactful changes.
The old marketing ROI metrics won’t matter if only a sliver of the intended audience cares or pays attention. You’ll wonder why your growth is stagnant, why campaigns are not fully and truly succeeding, or why no one includes you in their favorite brand roundups on TikTok or Pinterest.
In their essay, “Embracing Inclusivity and Diversity in Fashion: A Catalyst for Positive Change,” Eseoghene Abushe addresses this saying, “Inclusivity and diversity are not only morally imperative, but they also make good business sense. The fashion industry operates in a consumer-driven market, and consumers today increasingly demand representation and inclusivity from the brands they support. By catering to diverse consumer needs and preferences, fashion brands can build stronger connections with their target audience and foster brand loyalty.”
So, when it comes to positively impacting your bottom line, you’ll have to put your ego aside and understand the community and today’s climate of customers you are trying to reach.