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Retailers Are Finally Paying Attention to Plus Size Shoppers

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the issue of “plus size” in recent years. There’s been outrage over the labeling of Calvin Klein and Sports Illustrated models as plus size, and talk of the generally unenthusiastic attitude retailers often have when approaching their plus size offerings.

The issue has been brought to light again with Target’s announcement that it is releasing Ava & Viv, a line developed specifically for plus size consumers. This line is new in a couple of ways. First, this is the first time Target has put out an exclusively plus size line, which means that instead of making plus size versions of straight size clothing, these pieces are designed specifically to come in larger sizes. Second, this collection is available in stores, rather than exclusively online. Other plus size options that have been web-only (like the Target-Lilly Pulitzer collab) have drawn criticism for being unavailable on the store floor.

Many retailers, big and small, are exploring the plus size market, and there’s a lot to be said for doing so. From May 2013 to April 2014, women’s plus size clothing brought in $17.5 billion (compared with $116 billion for straight sizes). It’s important to note that these numbers exist in a market where 88 percent of women (in a survey conducted by ModCloth) reported that they “would buy more clothing if more trendy options were available in their size.” ModCloth, which recently expanded its plus size collection to include 160 vendors, has found that it is the fastest growing area of sales for the company, according to Business Insider. However, of the brands that have explored the plus size market, the majority are “fast fashion,” like H&M and Charlotte Russe. Luxury brands, for the most part, do not work with plus sizes, and those that do don’t consider them a vital part of their collections. Michael Kors’s plus size clothing, for example, has had minimal publicity and only a few sizes are available online (and they’re not modeled on plus size women).

With more size 16 women in America than size 0s and 2s combined, it’s surprising that more retailers aren’t capitalizing on a group that is underserved and are more or less looking for a place to spend their money. Many brands are reluctant to move into plus sizes because they require different manufacturing, fitting, and design techniques than those already in place for straight sizes, but there may be other issues at play. Though there has been a lot of progress and positive discussion about the need for a more comprehensive representation of body types in the fashion industry, we still have a long way to go. A hesitancy to align themselves with plus sizes raises troubling questions about the extent to which brands wish to be associated with a larger look. Hopefully, brands across the board will realize that expanding their sizing options will benefit everyone. More sales and more women who feel confident in what they wear? That’s a win-win.

Zoë Randolph

UC Berkeley '15

Since graduating, Zoë's served as a content marketer for non-profits and tech startups. She worked remotely and traveled the world full-time with her fiancé before becoming a freelance writer and settling (at least for now) in Montréal, Quebec. She likes reading good books, learning new things, and watching Real Housewives argue on TV. You can keep up with her writing over at zoerandolph.com.
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