For decades, retailers have treated women who wear plus sizes as an entirely different species of shopper. There was even a special set of rules for selling to them: Avoid bright colors. Never do horizontal stripes.

This blog post series will look closer at the state of Plus Size Fashion and how we see this sector evolving over the next few years.

Disclaimer – we are aware that many women have called for an end to the term Plus-Size.  It has connotations of discrimination and otherness and we agree. We simply use Plus-Size because it is still widely used by most people and brands. WHEN supports the move towards more positive terms.

Part 1 – Talks about the origins of the term Plus Size and give this fashion segment more context by looking at current trends.

Part 2 – Touches on the current state of the Plus size fashion industry in terms of revenue It also Covers how Plus Size Fashion is communicated online and who the key influencers are within this space,

Part 3 – Looks closer at some leading online retailers and brands to find out what drives their revenue growth and strategies for the future.

Part 4 – Provides recommendations to brands on how to create better products and communicate them clearly and it will also provide important take aways to consumers/shoppers on how to find great products at great prices.

Where does the term Plus Size Come From?

Lena Bryant Malsin (1879-1951) was a Jewish American clothing designer and entrepreneur who founded the clothing chain, Lane Bryant. Lena was an innovator, well ahead of her times as a designer and an entrepreneur. According to historian Louise Klaber, at the turn of the century, proper ladies who happened to be pregnant were rarely if ever seen in public. When one of Bryant’s pregnant customers asked her to design something “presentable but comfortable” to wear on the street, Bryant created a dress with an elasticized waistband and an accordion-pleated skirt. She thus produced the first known commercial maternity dress. The garment liberated the increasing number of middle-class women who wanted to break with Victorian tradition. It also helped poorer pregnant women who had no choice but to go to work. The maternity dress soon became the best-selling item in Bryant’s shop.

Having succeeded in maternity wear and catalog sales, Lane Bryant Malsin’s next great innovation was ready-made clothing for the stout-figured woman. Before World War I, no mass manufacturer of women’s clothing addressed this market. After measuring some 4,500 women in her store and analyzing statistics gathered on some 200,000 others, Lane Bryant Malsin determined that there were three general types of stout women and she designed clothes to fit each type. By 1923, company sales had reached five million dollars and sales of full-figured clothing outstripped sales of maternity wear. In 1915, Lane Bryant opened its first branch retail store, in Chicago, and by 1969 the chain had grown to more than 100 stores with combined sales of $200 million. Lane Bryant and her company adopted the term “plus”  in preference to the term Stout. Stout was used as the adjective in the Victorian era to describes women who didn’t fit with the Svelte ideal at that time. Lane Bryant began marketing this size range as “Misses Plus Sizes”

Today Retailers use the term Plus-Size but there are movements to rename this fashion segment as Extended Sizes instead.

 Plus Size Fashion getting more popular? 

The Fashion industry has traditionally not been tolerant of all people. Even in 2017 most of the models are thin, slim and very much lookalikes. Social media is largely responsible for bringing  Plus Size Fashion to the forefront. For example, the Body Positive movement is a reaction against these biased beauty standards. #mermaidthighs movement where women proudly show their thighs and #bellyjelly where women show their ample stomachs are some of the trending hashtags that highlight this revived pride.The full figured fashion week has seen the rise of models such as Ashly Graham and Iskra Lawrence who has been featured by brands such as Aerie in unretouched images. Plus Size women have increasing reclaimed their pride and brands have followed upon the realization that this is a large and potentially lucrative market.

#AerieReal campaign has reached 1,7M people on Instagram while Jean Pual Gautiers collaboration with plus size blogger Beth Ditto serves to highlight this shift as well. The barbie doll look – stick thin legs and petite frame is under fire for promoting unhealthy practices. Even the company that makes barbie dolls has massively updated its collection with barbies of all shapes and sizes.

Some Statistics

13% of the world’s population are plus sized (with obesity being a leading cause for this) Centres for Disease Control and prevention show that the average women today weighs as much as the average 1960s man. So in general women are getting curvier and big bodied as well

This also means what is termed plus size is shifting towards being a new normal. Clothing manufacturers have constantly adjusted sizes so that the customers would not be offended by offering larger sizes. Sizes have grown by 25-26% since 1950. The downward sizing of clothing to maintain the impression that women are still petite is called “Vanity Sizing” the worlds populationIn the past few years, a growing number of women have been calling for an end to the “plus size” distinction, which varies by retailer but often refers to sizes 16 and up. Many feel the category marginalizes them, suggesting they are a small group outside the mainstream whose fashion needs are secondary. In fact, the average American woman is more likely to be a 16 than a size 2.

BMI Rankings

The data below shows the top 10 most obese countries. What is interesting is that most of the countries are in the Middle East and also that South Africa makes an appearance in there as well. The main cause of high obesity rates is due to unhealthy food choices such as processed foods, fatty foods, soda and sugary foods. A very small percentage is due to natural genetics influences.

Kuwait 42.8% obese or plus size, Saudi Arabia 35.2%, Belize 34.9%, Egypt 34.6%, Jordan 34.3%, United Arab Emirates 33.7%, South Africa 33.5%, Qatar 33.1%, Mexico 32.8% and United States 31.8%

Some Sales  Data on Market Size.

The plus size market generated around 18 Billion US$ a year and grew by 2.6% in 2016. Additthe world’s populationis plus size  so there is a significant market there. Plus Size people have increased their buying rate at faster rates than smaller size people. Plus Size is not a niche any the UK 12.4% of all sales are plus size, this account for 5 Billion pounds a year in sales.

Teenage girls are an important driver of the growth of plus-size clothing. The amount they buy has more than doubled since 2010 and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future on this upward trajectory.

See you in the next article where we will go deeper into the fashion industry, influencers and other important marketing topics.

Check out some of our playlists (curated products) for some of the best Plus-Size deals online.