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Inclusive Sizing: A New Way of Understanding Plus-Size Fashion

Ashley Graham, Chloe Marshall, Jennie Runk, and Tara Lynn are just some of the plus-size models showing up on the covers of magazines. They are testimonials of the ongoing evolution in the fashion industry that is moving toward an inclusive sizing concept.

The plus-size market has never been exactly what people think of when they think of fashion, glamour, and trendy clothing. In addition to being difficult to find, plus-sizes have hardly allowed women the opportunity to look sexy, fun, or glamorous. With bright colors, stripes, flowers, and fancy fabrics mostly banned and with the garments being loosely cut to disguise the form, plus-sized women have always found it difficult to accentuate their beauty.

On the other hand, what is termed “real” fashion has promoted a stereotypical image of women that didn’t resonate with the vast majority of them. Size 10 models look great on a fashion catwalk and billboards, but they portray the image of a woman that doesn’t exist. In fact, statistics show that the size sold most frequently is not size 10, but rather size 14 through 18.

Similar issues have been faced by all special size customers, which includes plus, petite, junior, and tall sizes. The inclusive sizing concept is now breaking these barriers and introducing a new approach to the special-size segment. One that gives everybody the same opportunity to be themselves. Besides the important cultural and social changes that this evolution is bringing about, the inclusive size market is a new horizon for high fashion. New inclusive sizing labels are emerging, and established brands are slowly adapting to this new trend. In turn, this opens new market opportunities across geographies and countries, target audiences (men, women, children), and product segments.

Inclusive Sizing as a Business Paradigm

Inclusive sizing is more than simply producing extended ranges in size. This is already being done by many fashion brands, although not to the customer’s complete satisfaction. Inclusive sizing is a company philosophy that must be embraced.

Noteworthy, is what happened to the online retailer Nasty Gal when it announced the launch of its first extended size collection, ranging from size 0 through 18. Even though this was a definite improvement from its previous sizing options, the plus-size community has not reacted kindly toward Nasty Gal, with some customers accusing the brand “of jumping on a bandwagon they don’t actually care about.” Similar reactions have been experienced by brands like TopShop and Express when they extended their sizing options to size 18. This shows that a clothing selection of up to size 18 is not considered truly inclusive by the plus-size community. It is a good step in the right direction, but definitely not enough.

These examples show that when a brand embraces the inclusive-sizing evolution, they must avoid being labeled as “fake inclusion.” To avoid this labeling, it is important to understand some of the factors that make a brand inclusive and make inclusivity a company philosophy.

First of all, inclusivity goes beyond size 18. Currently, the average American woman wears a size 16 or 18. Therefore, referring to these sizes as “plus” is no longer current. For a brand to be inclusive it means they would cater to the needs of customers that are a size 24 or greater. While at the same time, not forgetting customers who fall into the categories of petite, junior, and small.

Another factor that is attached to the plus-size issue is the discrimination that comes with the term “plus” itself. This discrimination has been reinforced by the shopping experience, the commercials and the marketing materials provided by many brands. 

It is not a secret that in brick and mortar stores, plus-size sections are often relegated to hidden corners or less accessible areas. As if to say that these customers are different and need to be separated from everybody else. This is not the type of shopping experience that customers want to have. An inclusive sizing philosophy guarantees a fun and pleasant shopping experience for all individuals, even when friends of different sizes shop together. Therefore, inclusive shops, both brick and mortar as well as online, focus on offering the same shopping experience to every customer, regardless of their size. This concept is clearly explained by the words of Target’s CEO Jane Hali who said: “Plus size customer does not want to be separated at brick and mortar. Target is very definite about plus size being inclusive, with plus size mannequins next to regular size mannequins. Target has one plus-size line separated, Ava & Viv, otherwise plus is part of the merchandising statements.” 

Even the marketing approach needs to reflect the inclusive sizing philosophy. Currently, too many fashion brands approach the plus-size market featuring size 10 models in their campaigns. Katie Willcox, CEO of Natural Model Management and an activist behind Healthy is the New Skinny movement, pointed to a further problem when she stated: “I have seen influencers work for brands who don’t airbrush and tell girls to love themselves, yet on the influencer’s page, it is clear there is photo editing being done on images. That, to me, says the brand cares more about the number of followers over the authenticity of the influencer or the brand message they are marketing.”

It is therefore important to feature people of every size and shape on websites and marketing material. In this way, each customer will feel represented. A good example of this is the company Good American. They display all of their clothing pieces on three types of models. In sizes 0, 8 and 16. This is a smarter way to connect with their customers as they can have a realistic idea of how the product will look on them.

A New Horizon in High Fashion

However, there is another important consideration when it comes to inclusive sizing. Keisha Holmes, founder of Curvy Sense affirmed: “I want the same thing that this tiny little model has, this young, vibrant, trendy girl, but then when you got to plus, it’s a complete disconnect with who she was.” In previous years, not many curvy customers had the opportunity to buy what they wanted. The majority of formal clothing in the plus-size category was limited to black, dull, and loose-fitting garments. Not at all like the image that a glamorous and trendy woman has in mind. Therefore, besides producing clothes in larger sizes, inclusion must focus on creating quality clothes in the same array of styles, comfort and functionality that are available to other customers.

Therefore, this evolution in the fashion world might be the beginning of the end for separate designers, separate stores and separate services for the plus-size shopper. It will be a challenging task for most brands to make this transition, but it will create a wide range of opportunities for them at the same time. Producers will not invest any more in creating separate collections for the special sizes, but rather, in making sure that their products look good on any size person.

“Today’s consumer wants brands that define beauty by individualism and confidence not by size or weight,” said Michael Felice. principal at A.T. Kearney. “Millennial and Generation Z shoppers want to feel a connection to a brand, and this is hard to do when the models wearing the clothing only represent a small segment of the buying group.” 

The only way to meet this demand is to expand the sizes for every product available and change the way special size items are manufactured. The cutting must ensure a perfect fit for both small and plus-size individuals alike, and patterns must be graded well for every size. This is a new horizon for high fashion to pursue. They can produce a wider range of options for the consumer. They can produce their selections in all types of sizes and colors, instead of producing separate lines for specific segments. When a brand realizes that all customers, regardless of their size, are interested in high-quality fashion and they make it available for them, the brand will build a large base of loyal customers.

Fundamentals of Plus Sizes Online Course

Inclusive Fashion For All

Brands Embracing Inclusive Sizing

In the past few years, several brands have already joined this trend. For instance, Universal Standard has catered to this market since its inception in 2015 as well as Curvy Sense and Good American.

Walmart has offered plus labels for many years and recently expanded its selection, by launching a new Walmart brand for sportswear (Time and True, Athletic Works) and junior (No Boundaries). These products extend to the XXXL size.

Their example has been followed by other major corporate retailers who don’t want to miss out on the opportunities of this market. Therefore, we now see companies like H&M, Target, Zalando, Nordstrom, Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Rachel Pally, and Torrid with sections dedicated to plus and petite sizes.

This new trend has affected, not only major brands but also smaller ones and designers too. For instance, Savage & Fanty, the brand created by Rihanna, give priority to a plus-size category that has been overlooked in the past, namely, lingerie. The brand is offering trendy and glamourous lingerie for both plus and petite sizes.

To testify to how this new trend is spreading all around the globe, brands like Elena Mirò from Italy and Carma Koma from Denmark are offering items extending to the XXXL size. Presently, though, the models on their websites still do not reflect the new philosophy. Even brands like J.Crew and Showpo, which formerly catered solely to skinny customers are now trying to expand their market to reach many more customers by including plus-size items in their collections. 

The example of these brands is an indicator of how the market is now changing and how the fashion industry needs to listen to its customers and create selections that meet their real needs.

Many brands are still hesitating to align themselves with this new trend, but there is no doubt that awareness of this needed change in the market continues to increase globally.

The Future of Inclusive Sizing

Looking at the statistics worldwide, it is clear that inclusive sizing is now a necessity on the part of fashion brands. Talking about the American market, Kayla Marci, market analyst at Edited, affirmed, “67% of American women are a size 14 and are voicing their need for fashionable products regardless of size. This is a need that brands can no longer afford to ignore. Inclusive sizing is becoming less of a trend and more of a necessity across all product types.” Similar statistics are common in most countries around the globe.

Adapting to the new inclusive sizing philosophy will be challenging for many brands. Introducing inclusive collections require investments in designing, manufacturing instruments, logistics, and more. The costs for inventory adjustments, stock-outs, the reorganization of brick and mortar shops, marketing and much more will all be impacted. However, this effort will be compensated by customers that are not only ready for these new products, but are hungering for them, feeling that they have been ignored by the fashion industry for too many years.

According to Euromonitor, in the United States alone, 42% of teenagers have difficulties in finding a clothing store where they can buy the clothing they prefer. Other research by Coresight Research revealed that women are spending $ 46.4 billion on apparel each year. These figures could be considerably larger if these customers were given the opportunity to find more stores offering high fashion items designed for them. Therefore, it is not surprising that the inclusive sizing market is expected to triple in the next few years.

The inclusive sizing market is an interesting business opportunity for fashion brands. It is a trend that encompasses countries all around the globe and has a broad target audience including women, men, and children. As Keisha Holmes, founder of Curvy Sense said, “If you are not in the plus business, you’re not in business.”

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