Fashion World Fits Plus Size In Its Frame

Plus-size fashion has long carried something of a stigma. It’s been known for unfashionable, utilitarian clothes — products created with a focus on size, not style.

But that perception is changing. 

The plus-size apparel market is becoming more competitive, new companies are launching online, American brands have entered the Canadian market and “mainstream” retailers are expanding the plus-size offerings.

That has plus-size brands increasingly competing on style, and that has plus-size fashion being seen as, well, fashion. 

“Plus-size has arrived,” said Roslyn Griner, the vice-president of marketing at Addition Elle.

The Montreal-based plus-size brand has been one of the companies at the forefront of the shift toward a more fashionable market.

“There’s still a little bit of a stigma about plus-size — that somehow it’s not fashionable, that it doesn’t deserve to be in the forefront of fashion,” Griner said. “I think it’s slowly breaking down.”

In September, for the first time, two plus-size fashion brands were selected to show as part of the official program at New York Fashion Week, one of the fashion industry’s four biggest events.

Addition Elle was one of those brands, doing a runway show at Fashion Week’s main venue.

One of the models walking that runway was Ashley Graham, a popular model who has appeared on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Elle magazines and has worked with both plus-size and “mainstream” fashion brands.

Addition Elle has had a longstanding relationship with Graham, who has modelled and designed clothes for the company. Because Graham is able to cross the divide between “mainstream” and plus-size fashion, she has played a big role in changing the perception of plus, Griner said.

But that shift in perception isn’t just coming from plus-size brands increasing their focus on styling. There’s also a larger trend at play.

“This is the era of body positivity, no airbrushing, really about empowering other women to love their bodies, to love who they are today and not (have) this unrealistic expectation,” Griner said. 

It’s a trend that goes beyond a single brand.

“Before, plus fashion kind of had a negative tone to it, the same way we hear about anti-aging in the beauty world, and we hear that that’s changed. People don’t want to talk about anti-aging — you want to talk about embracing,” said Tamara Szames, a fashion industry analyst at market research firm NPD. “That’s really the perspective that we’re seeing on plus fashion: it’s no longer a negative thing, it’s a positive thing, to look at it as embracing who you are and feeling confident and being the best you possible.”

The move toward more stylish plus-size clothes is part of a larger trend, says Addition Elle’s Roslyn Griner. “This is the era of body positivity, no airbrushing, really about empowering other women to love their bodies.” (Photo: Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette) Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

In Canada, plus-size fashion is a $2.2-billion industry, Szames said. That’s about 15 per cent of the $15-billion women’s clothing market. 

While the overall women’s clothing market grew two per cent during the 12-month period that ended on Aug. 31, the plus-size market was down two per cent during that period, according to NPD.

The decline in plus-size market share comes as “mainstream” brands are extending the range of sizes they carry.

“The interesting part about it is even though the market’s on decline, we see that millennials and xennials — that’s around 21- to 40-year-old females — are the ones driving the growth,” Szames said. “That’s about 27 per cent of the plus market, and that’s up six per cent from last year.”

It’s these millennials and xennials (a mini-generation between millennials and Generation X) who are driving some of the broader trend built around confidence and “embracing you,” Szames said.

Those demographics are particularly interested in trendy, fashion-forward and modern styles.

“That’s where the growth is,” Szames said. 

The growing popularity of plus-size clothing among younger women is also challenging one of the old assumptions about the market — that plus-size women are older.

Addition Elle’s customers are relatively evenly spread out across every age group, Griner said.

Age is also playing less of a role in shaping what women wear. 

“I think it’s antiquated to even think about developing and designing clothes for a person’s age,” she said. “It’s not about age anymore — it’s about your design esthetic.”

Ashley Graham has played a big role in changing the perception of plus-size fashion, says Addition Elle’s Roslyn Griner. (Photo: Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette files)

While mainstream retailers are extending their range of sizes, Griner said she thinks plus-size retailers’ experience in the market will give them an advantage.

“You’re not catering to one body type when you’re catering to plus,” she said. “So we have different fits, especially pant fits, that cater to the different body types. It’s about your fabric, the way it stretches and the retention of the fabric — these are all things that are really the expertise that a plus retailer brings to the marketplace.”

Designing clothes for smaller women and then just making those clothes bigger doesn’t really work, she said. 

“If your fit model is starting at a Size 0, you can’t really grade up to a Size 18. You really need to start at an 18 to grade plus, and grade down to 14 and grade up to 26 or 28,” she said. “I think that’s the reason why women are so dissatisfied with the fit of extended sizing.”

The growing popularity of online shopping is also changing the plus-size fashion business.

“I think plus-size consumers are more adept at buying online,” Griner said. “Because she was kind of neglected at store level.” 

Addition Elle has reduced its number of stores in response to these new realities, but Griner said that’s not a bad thing.

“Our overall sales have actually grown,” she said. “Our online penetration is now at close to 20 per cent of our total retail sales, so online has grown exponentially, whereas store traffic and sales are more flat.”

Physical stores aren’t going away any time soon, though. Customers still like to be able to try things on. 

“The biggest barrier for shopping online for women is they want to be sure the product fits them,” Griner said.

But this means stores like Addition Elle have to start thinking about the “customer journey” in a new way, she said. 

Customers may try something on in a store and then buy it online, or see something in an ad on their mobile device that brings them into a store.

“There is a customer journey that is starting in different places. It can start on an Instagram feed, it can start on your website, it can start in a physical store,” Griner said. “The customer journey is not linear.”

This approach has come to be known as omni-channel selling. 

“I think the omni-channel experience is ideal, because a woman can come into our stores, experience our fit, know what fits her and then she feels confident, based on trying different things in our stores, to shop online.”

The brand is also experimenting with things like pop-up shops as it expands into the U.S. market.

“We’re in for a continued shakeup of the retail industry. We’re going to see new business models rise. You can’t take anything for granted — you just have to keep looking forward and look to see where the opportunities are,” Griner said.

For Addition Elle, the opportunity is to position itself as a mid-priced fashion-forward retailer, she said.

She calls it “that fashion destination for that woman who’s looking for the latest trends on the marketplace, that she sees at H&M, that she sees at Zara, that she can’t fit into.”

Fall outfits by Addition Elle. (Photo: Addition Elle)

Fall and winter looks

Tamara Nakonechny, Addition Elle’s lead designer, said her favourite fashion trends this fall are “blazers, feminine sweaters and the colour red.” 

“I love the resurgence of suiting,” she said. “I think the blazer is the key item to dress up any outfit. It is so much fun that we are seeing it in different textures and silhouettes. It is great worn with a dress pant and blouse for a more serious look or with a screen tee and jeans for a more casual feeling.”

For a fashion-forward mid-fall look, “wearing a fleece tunic dress with a pair of fishnet stockings and thigh-high boots is a really great way to pull off the luxury ‘athleisure’ trend that we are seeing,” she said. “And for our fashion-conscious career woman, a ruffle-edged wrap skirt with a lace ruffle blouse is an easy look to wear to the office and still looks good going out for drinks after work.”

There are also some new trends on the horizon for the winter season. 

“Texture is key for winter. For people who do not love prints, this is a great option for refreshing your look,” Nakonechny said. “Texture comes in many forms this winter season, including cosy knits with interesting stitches, laces for a more romantic look, metallic jerseys for a rock ’n’ roll night out look and brocades for a more formal Christmas party.”

And some tips work all year.

Highlight your best features. We all have something that we love (about) our bodies. Don’t hide your body under a boxy tent. When you know what your best feature is, show it off,” Nakonechny said. “If you have great legs, wear a short skirt. If you love your bust, wear a low-cut top. If you have a waistline with great curves, cinch it. 

“Most importantly, wear your outfit with confidence. This is the key to looking good.”

>jserebrin@postmedia.com

Source : http://montrealgazette.com/life/as-competition-rises-plus-size-fashion-gets-more-stylish

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