By Laura Donovan
The market for plus-size women’s clothing was worth $9 billion in 2014, according to a report from IBIS World, and many retailers are failing to serve this demographic. Sizes 12-24 are typically considered plus-size, and the average woman is a size 14, yet many plus-sized women feel brands aren’t manufacturing enough clothing for them.
At the beginning of the year, Change.org member Dana Drew created a petition urging Victoria’s Secret to cater to the plus-sized community. Because Victoria’s Secret is known for putting on elaborate, sparkly fashion shows and its commercials featuring slender women, Drew thought the company could do more for plus-sized women:
“My money and my credit are good enough for [Victoria’s Secret], but the fact that I can only buy items like perfume, lotion, and body spray sends the message that my body is not,” Drew wrote. “Every year I watch the Angel fashion show and would love to purchase the items I see on my screen but can’t because Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell plus sizes. There are over 100 million plus size women in the United States … Victoria’s [S]ecret already offers larger bra sizes for women with enhanced and naturally bigger breasts; it makes perfect sense to expand their lines so women with larger bodies can also join the club … My point overall, let anyone, any size, walk in and pick something from the drawers.”
Last year, Victoria’s Secret came under fire for launching a “Perfect Body” campaign:
Following backlash, the company changed its campaign name to “A Body For Every Body”:
Earlier findings from market research firm The NPD Group revealed even higher figures than the IBIS World report, finding the plus-size market garnered $17.5 billion in sales from May 2013 and April 2014. That was a 5 percent jump from the previous year. Mariah Chase, CEO of plus-size seller Eloquii, told CNBC that she suspects roughly 65 percent of American females are plus sized, but plus-sized apparel makes up less than 20 percent of all clothes sales.
“The opportunity is right here in front of us. We want more players in the market because it will help adjust her mindset and encourage her to play in fashion,” Chase said. “If we have the potential to democratize size, it’s a fantastic opportunity for retail.”
Chase said part of the problem is historical treatment of plus-sized clothing. In the past, it hasn’t always been cool, high quality, or well placed in stores. She told CNBC that retailers often chalked up low plus-size sales to demand rather than their own approach to selling these items.
Amanda Czerniawski, a sociology professor at Temple University and former plus-size model, told Business Insider that she suspects many manufacturers don’t make plus-size clothing because they’re scared and perhaps inexperienced to an extent.
“This is only speculation, but the reason I would argue that why many non-plus size designers don’t go into plus size is … fear,” she said. “I think overwhelmingly it’s a fear of failure. That failure to create flattering designs for these kinds of different bodies — and part of it is the fact many of these designers, when they go to design school, they’re not taught to make clothes for plus size bodies.”
Better serving all types of women, however, has been a success for American Eagle’s lingerie line Aerie. Earlier this month, ATTN: reported on the popularity of the brand’s #AerieREAL campaign, which features non-airbrushed images and eschews the supermodel look. Since Aerie’s made the change a year and a half ago, fans have flocked to the stores. A conference call last year revealed that sales climbed almost 10 percent following Aerie’s decision to stop using retouched images in ads:
“The purpose of ‘aerie Real’ is to communicate there is no need to retouch beauty, and to give young women of all shapes and sizes the chance to discover amazing styles that work best for them,” Aerie’s Chief Merchandising Officer Jennifer Foyle said in a statement last year. “We want to help empower young women to be confident in themselves and their bodies.”
Aerie’s Instagram page uploads photos of women of all body types:
Jenny Altman, who works as the brand’s Style and Fit Expert, revealed in a Good Morning America interview that the company also doesn’t airbrush tattoos and beauty marks.
“What you really see is what you get with our campaign,” she said.
Plus-size model Tess Holliday recently spoke out against critics who feel she’s too heavy to be in the modeling business.
“Making fun of my body will never make you a better person,” she wrote on Instagram two weeks ago. “It will never fix the void you feel within yourself, & the issues you have when you look in the mirror. The real issue isn’t that I’m fat, or my size, it’s that you are scared of seeing someone that is happy AND fat. I don’t need to be ‘fixed’ because I’m not the broken one. History has proven that hate is never the answer. Close your mouth & open your heart.”