We’re talking here about plus-size clothing for women, which represents 10% of retail sales, and has been a shining star in an otherwise sagging fashion retail market, outpacing total clothing sales for women for the past three years. Yet fashion observers and regular shoppers say that large brands haven’t been meeting the needs of plus-size customers, outside of a few specialty retailers.
Enter small companies. A wave of entrepreneurs are betting that they can grab customers by offering garments that they say are better designed for plus-size figures and more fashionable than current offerings. Some companies are even selling bespoke outfits that are tailored to customers’ specific measurements.
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These new entrants don’t have the market heft of established specialty retailers like Lane Bryant. But observers say that they’re making inroads and have a lot of room to grow.
“We’re seeing small, independent brands be much more successful in this market than larger brands and retailers,” says Marshal Cohen, a retail-industry analyst with NPD Group. “The small, new, innovative players are generally beating out the big behemoths that are sort of stuck in the old way of doing fashion retail.”
A new take
Sizing is a contentious issue in fashion. A large number of women are size 14, 16 and above—35% to 60%, depending on which report you read—yet there aren’t a lot of options out there for them. While most mainstream retailers do carry sizes above 14, the choices are often limited. Usually, customers have to choose among garments that were created for an hourglass, size-4 body and then have been simply sized up.
“I don’t see enough brands that are really breaking boundaries for plus-size fashion, that are actually designing for plus-size bodies, or for a diversity of shapes,” says Kat Eves, a Los Angeles-based stylist who works exclusively with plus-size men and women. “It’s always mirroring straight size trends. Who’s the Chanel of plus?”
The industry logic, say analysts and some in the industry, has been that plus-size women don’t buy as many clothes on average as other women. Brian Beitler, chief marketing officer of Lane Bryant, a subsidiary of Ascena Retail Group, says it is true that the typical plus-size customer spends less on clothes than a thinner person. But, he says, that’s due largely to a lack of choice and the social stigma of being plus size.
All of which means that large brands are “leaving a lot of room for smaller, innovative brands to come in and make their mark,” Mr. Cohen says.
Probably the biggest new entrant is Eloquii, which started out as the plus-size label of The Limited. After the brand was cut in 2013, a few key employees sought out an investor to buy it from Limited, which has since gone out of business. The line relaunched as a stand-alone in 2014 and has been doubling its sales every year since, reaching around $80 million for fiscal 2017.
Their approach: draping and unusual cuts or sleeves to create flattering silhouettes, as well as styles that hug the body in places (rather than the traditional approach, which has tended toward very baggy, and lots of high-waisted empire cuts).
Mariah Chase, CEO of Eloquii, says that the employees who stuck with the company after it was cut loose “really saw an opportunity for plus-size fashion rather than just taking The Limited stuff and sizing it up.”
Other companies are taking the same approach and designing plus-size clothes from the ground up. Noushie Mirabedi and Ronda Raymond, founders of Eight & Sand, an Oakland, Calif., women’s clothing line launched in 2015, focus on wardrobe staples such as a tailored henley in a variety of colors.
Eight & Sand brought in models for numerous styles and sizes for its first run of clothing, to ensure that its designs work for a variety of shapes, including hourglass, pear, apple and boxy.
They currently have 750 customers, and Ms. Mirabedi says revenue is increasing every month.
She says the average customer came back six or seven times in 2016, and the return rate is under 2%, “versus the 35% average return rate for online fashion retailers.”
Mallorie Dunn, the designer behind another clothing retailer, SmartGlamour, which launched in 2015, customizes each garment it designs and sells depending on a woman’s measurements, emphasizing colorful prints and girlish, flirty cuts.
“Every brand designs differently, and then every body is different, especially women’s bodies,” she says. “You have to be able to tailor a bit to each individual if you want a truly great fit. You can’t really expect something that’s made for the mass market to fit everyone well.”
Two-thirds of Ms. Dunn’s customers every month are return visitors. With several thousand customers, she says she’s working on about 60 orders at any given time. Sales, she says, have doubled each year.
Not all of the plus-size startups are designing clothes. In some cases, they’re acting as middlemen for other companies that make plus-size clothing.
Panty Drop, an underwear subscription service, began carrying plus-size lingerie lines in fall 2016 to complement its standard sizes. Julie Arsenault, founder and chief executive officer of Panty Drop, says she extended the company’s plus-size offerings from 3x up to 6x after interacting with various body-positive communities on social media.
“They told us loud and clear that if we really want to serve this market, we need to go higher than 3x,” Ms. Arsenault says. She says monthly revenue is in the thousands, and sales are growing 20% month over month.
Down the road
For all these startups’ success so far, there are obstacles on the way that may hurt their growth.
Perhaps the most daunting: Big brands have recently started to devote more resources to the plus-size market. Michael Kors and Comme des Garcons have expanded their high-fashion lines into plus size, and H&M and Target have begun designing specific collections for plus-size women. In March, Wal-Mart announced plans to acquire ModCloth, a pioneer in size-inclusive fashion.
“The big brands are definitely waking up to this,” Mr. Cohen says. “But they tend to change slowly.”
Another issue that small fashion retailers must face: Plus-size clothing can cost more to make, because overseas factories are often not set up to make it. Clothing factories are typically making clothes for five to 10 brands at a time, and manufacturing larger sizes would require changes to their cutting tables and machines that are costly. That makes it harder for small businesses to compete with large-volume businesses.
Still, some observers say there are plenty of niches for the startups. Ms. Eves, the stylist, says, for instance, there’s a need for wider footwear, as well as “intimates, high-end designer wear, sportswear….There’s this perception that plus-size women aren’t active, and that’s completely untrue.”
Then there’s the whole other side of the plus-size business—clothing for men. Few startups have started to address that potentially rewarding market.
“There are way fewer options than there are for plus-size women,” Ms. Eves says.
Ms. Westervelt is a writer in Oakland, Calif. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source : https://www.wsj.com/articles/startups-see-lucractive-niche-in-plus-size-clothing-1511752321