By Mallory Schlossberg
Retailers are largely ignoring plus-size women.
According to IBIS World, the market for plus-size women was worth $9 billion in 2014. The average woman in America is a size 14 (plus sizes are typically between sizes 14 and 34). Yet retailers barely cater to this crucial demographic.
Plus-size women have raised their voices, but that doesn’t mean retailers are listening.
“I love Victoria’s Secret so much that I even have their credit card,” she wrote on her petition. “My money and my credit are good enough for them, but the fact that I can only buy items like perfume, lotion, and body spray sends the message that my body is not. 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.”
Many retailers send similar messages to plus-size women.
In 2013, Abercrombie was notoriously under fire for not selling XL and XXL women’s sizes (the retailer still sold those sizes for men). Abercrombie’s former CEO, Mike Jeffries, said he didn’t want people wearing his company’s clothes if he didn’t think they were sexy.
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told Salon. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
In 2013, Abercrombie gave in and started to sell larger sizes.
The popular teen retailer Brandy Melville sells only clothes for smaller women. Most of the clothes claim to be “one size,” but the “one size” is a small one (the clothes claim to fit “size small/medium”).
In a passionate op-ed article in The Daily Trojan, the University of Southern California campus newspaper, student Rini Sampath described the key problem with this strategy.
“One size does not fit most,” she wrote. “According to the Los Angeles Times, the average American woman is a size 14. The crop-tops and miniskirts that litter the shelves of Brandy Melville would barely cover the average American.”
If the average American woman is a size 14, retailers are missing out.
Last year, ModCloth conducted a survey with the help of Paradigm Sample to highlight grievances of plus-size-women shoppers.
Unsurprisingly, 92% agreed with the statement “I get upset when I can’t find cute clothes in my size.”
Sixty-five percent of all women agreed with the statement “the retail industry ignores the needs of plus-size women.” And only 28% of women agreed with the statement “plus-size women are included in the fashion community.”
More than half of the women sampled called plus-size offerings “frumpy” and “shapeless.” Forty-nine percent called the clothing “boring.”
It’s not as if these women make up a sparse demographic. More than 50% of women Paradigm Sample spoke to wore at minimum size 16 in some stores, and more than one-third of the women combined regular and plus-size clothing. To highlight that statistic, Paradigm Sample pointed out that the number of women who wore a size 16 was more than the number of women who wore sizes 0, 2, and 4 combined.
Plus, these women are willing to spend.
Eighty-one percent of women said they would shell out the money if there were more options in their size. Eighty-eight percent said they would buy more clothes if there were trendier options in stores.
And plus-size women actually spend more than “straight size” women as it stands — 21% of plus-size women spend at minimum $150 a month on clothes and accessories, whereas only 15% of women in standard sizes do the same.
ModCloth notably sells clothing for plus-size women. In fact, when ModCloth was purchasing plus-size clothing from vendors, chief creative officer Susan Koger was confounded at how few vendors were willing to sell plus-size clothing at all. Out of 1,500 vendors she reached out to, only 35 responded.
So why are retailers avoiding an extremely profitable market?
It’s likely fear.
“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,” Amanda Czerniawski, sociology professor at Temple University, former plus-size model, and author of “Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling,” told Business Insider. “Now, there’s two dimensions of this fear: It could be fear of [fat, like] Karl Lagerfeld — “I don’t want to be associated with fat people kind of thing … because of the stigma … maybe for some it could be this element, but 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,” she said.
“It’s fascinating why they’re not being taught, why they’re not being pushed, because there is such great potential,” she added.
Kenyatta Jones, CEO of the clothing line Bella Rene (and a plus-size woman) told Huffington Post Live that the fashion industry had a serious misconception about the way plus-size women behave, and therefore shop, citing the false notion that “they don’t need clothes, all they do is eat Twinkies.”
But some retailers are listening to these women. with its line AVA + VIV, even if the clothing is “meh,” as Lindsay Louise of put it.
But some major mid-tier retailers do, in fact, sell plus-size clothing. The lingerie retailer Adore Me sells options for plus-size women. Fast-fashion giants Forever 21 and H&M sell larger sizes, as well. But as the Los Angeles Times noted, plus size women are mostly restricted to online shopping.
To underscore that notion, plenty of popular brands are, in fact, selling larger sizes online — just not in stores, The Huffington Post reported. It seems as if retailers aren’t willing to risk that plus-size women are willing to shop and spend money, even though there is evidence to the contrary.
One solution to solve this problem might be a shift in marketing.
“One thing that would vastly improve visibility of the growing plus-size market is if designers who currently offer plus sizes invested more of their resources into publicizing and marketing their lines,” offers Nicolette Mason, blogger and contributing fashion editor at Marie Claire, told Fashionista in 2013.