In recent years, the #bodypositivity movement has only grown stronger and calls for inclusivity have become louder. Among other things, the movement ensured that, mainly women, with larger sizes are slowly but surely becoming more prominent in the fashion industry. But a magazine cover featuring someone who is not size zero does not mean that fashion brands are suddenly expanding their size offerings. With that comes the change in terms. Do you call it 'plus size' and place it in a separate category - or do you go for size inclusive and incorporate the larger sizes into the regular collection? FashionUnited zoomed in on the market and looks at several examples.
When is a size plus size? Opinions differ. Stefanie Stroop, head of brand & PR for plus size fashion platform House of Bilocca, said when asked that European sizes 42, 44 and 46 (US sizes 10, 12 and 14) are often called curvy, which Stroop called 'the beginning of the size curve'. These 'curvy' sizes are also used as examples for the rest of the collection. Plus size collections typically run from size 44 to 54 (US 12-22).
Getting an accurate picture of the plus size market based on numbers quickly proves more difficult than expected. Several research firms predicted different values of the market. For instance, Research and Markets wrote that the global plus size market for women will rise around 4.3 percent between 2022 and 2030. In 2021, the market stood at 193.9 billion dollars (178.3 billion euros). The global plus size market (i.e. men and women) is estimated by Future Market Insights at 601.7 billion dollars (553.5 billion euros) in 2022 and is expected to grow to a market of 1,004.3 billion dollars (923.9 billion euros) within a decade. By comparison, the global fashion market was estimated between 1.7 trillion dollars and 2.5 trillion dollars (i.e. an amount with 12 zeros) in 2019 according to studies by Euromonitor and McKinsey.
Both the Future Market Insights survey and a survey by Allied Market Research point out that men are the leading gender in terms of plus size, but remarkably, very little is written about men in this category and little research can be found. Since there is less data available on men's fashion in this segment, we focused on women's fashion in this article from here on. However, this is not to say that plus-size men do not deserve attention.
So while the market for plus-size clothing is still expected to grow, its presence on the catwalk is currently small, according to research by Vogue Business. The platform examined all the shows and presentations of the FW23 season to look at size inclusivity. From the survey of 9,137 looks from a total of 219 shows and presentations, only 0.6 percent were plus-size (which is defined as US size 14 and above (the European size 44) by Vogue Business). 3.8 percent were mid-size (between US size 6 and 12) and 95.6 percent were shown at a size 0 to 4. Of all fashion weeks, London was the most size inclusive but still only 7 percent were mid-size or plus-size.
The plus size market is changing - but not all that much yet
Head of brand & PR Stefanie Stroop of plus size fashion platform House of Bilocca endorsed Vogue Business' finding. "The plus size market is not really improving, you can see that at Fashion Weeks, among other things. Besides, it's still the case that many brands don't want to (show) their collections on a plus-size body and they don't really care about making it accessible to that group. What they do care about is not being on the other side of public opinion." Stroop pointed out that marketing and PR are therefore committed, but the production of plus-size items is lagging behind. "An awful lot of pieces are being cancelled. This shows that plus size is often not taken completely seriously, that it remains an issue at the surface-level." Fortunately, Stroop also noted that there are certainly brands that are "doing great and making some great strides".
Research firm Edited said that despite the relatively small range in the field of larger sizes and plus size, the demand is definitely there. The agency pointed out that while it may cost more to create new patterns for products in larger sizes, excluding these larger sizes will only hurt the brand image, which could end up costing a company even more. The agency also warned that charging different prices for the larger sizes is a "dated practice". This will also ultimately deter consumers and, in the process, worsen the brand image. Those opting for extended sizes should also keep something else in mind. "If brands offer larger sizes, these products should encompass more than just the basic collection of T-shirts, wrap dresses and skinny jeans," the company warned.
According to a report by Research and Markets, "plus size customers are looking for options that give a similar level of luxury when you compare them to items for women of other sizes". "The rise in obesity is driving the market," according to the first reason cited by the report. But then the #bodypositivity and #bodyconfidence movement also enters the picture. "Increased body confidence among plus-size women is also driving demand for clothes that match the latest trends."
Several gaps to fill in the plus-size market
One brand that is pushing hard to be fully size inclusive is Danish fashion brand Ganni. Not only do models of all sizes appear for the brand on the catwalk, part of the collection has more size options. For instance, about a quarter of the collection is offered in sizes up to the European sizes 4XL or 56 (US size 24), including dresses, tops and trousers. The brand does not have a dedicated 'plus size' department and made a conscious decision to do so.
"For us, it doesn't make sense to create a special line because our goal is to offer extended sizes throughout the collection," Ditte Refstrup, creative director of Ganni, told FashionUnited in writing. "We want as many people as possible to feel involved in what we do. #GanniGirls is plural for a reason. Everyone is welcome." Since some of the collection only offers larger sizes, the question bubbles up as to how the brand makes the choice to offer an item in a larger size. "Everyone wants to feel and look good. That happens when clothes fit well, which is why we are very specific about the fit of our clothes.”
“We adjust our clothes for different body shapes and add pleats and elastic for customisable shapes. We are still learning a lot in this process, which is why we have chosen to focus on a selection of favourite items, where we believe we have really perfected the fit." Reffstrup added that Ganni will work step by step to expand sizes across the collection, but did not want to rush this. "This is just the beginning. We want to make sure the fit is just right."
Perfecting the fit is seen as the biggest challenge, as Edited also agreed. "Retailers are struggling or unwilling to invest in more than just the 'easy-fit' items, creating discrepancies between different items and products in larger sizes often lag behind when it comes to trends." The plus size range has the most supply of tops and dresses, as does the supply within the 'normal' sizes.
House of Bilocca’s Stroop agrees that dresses do very well with the target group, but the activewear, swimwear, wide-fit shoes and soft underwear categories are also popular with customers of the plus size platform. According to Edited, larger sizes have less supply in terms of trousers, skirts and clothing sets - items where fit is more important anyway. Also worth noting from the figures collected by the analytics firm is that within the plus size range, black is much more present. Edited therefore indicated that it is an easy step for brands and retailers to give well-selling items in larger sizes a trend colour, making the trends more attainable for consumers in other sizes as well.
Henrietta Rix, founder of British womenswear brand Rixo, told FashionUnited that the brand worked with a consultant within the plus-size industry when it decided to expand its size range. The name 'extended sizing' was therefore chosen for a special tab on the website, after discussing with the consultant.
"We chose this so that it is easier for consumers to find the range. Not all items come in sizes up to 5XL. We worked closely with women who have these sizes to learn which items from our collections they want to wear and feel their best self in. We wanted to release a considered range instead of releasing all items in 5XL (US size 26 approximately) and expecting that everyone would want these pieces. We have a sustainability strategy including producing in small quantities to reduce waste, so we don't want to have stock that is left in our warehouses. It was important for us to learn about this consumer," Rix said. The founder also pointed out that a lot of time has been put into ensuring the fit and range is good. The 'extended sizing' collection will definitely be expanded in the future, Rix says.
Movement from plus size to size inclusive has started, 'but we are not there yet'
Opportunities in the plus size market are plentiful if you ask Stroop. "There is definitely still room for brands that take plus size seriously, and then both on imaging and production. It still often happens that one of the two aspects is compromised, and it's a half-attached story to the regular collection." Stroop also sees another gap in the market when it comes to brands that focus on sustainable materials as well as plus size. "There really isn't enough of that at the moment," she said.
She also indicated that the premium offering at House of Bilocca is doing well. It reflected the findings of Research and Markets that hint at the needs for luxury products for women with a size more. "There are still prejudices like 'plus size women don't have the wallet to shop quality'. That's fat-shaming on another level. As with regular sizes, there are ladies at the ‘tertiary incoming level’, who like to spend their money on quality timeless looks."
When asked about the terms 'plus size, large sizes and size inclusive', Stroop says House of Bilocca deliberately chose plus size. "This was done to create instant recognition that House of Bilocca is the home for these groups. There is so much shouting, especially by and about inclusive brands, and then it turns out that immediately after launching such a concept, European size 48 (US 16) and 50 (US 18) are simply not produced for any piece.”
"I experienced this myself recently,” she continued. “That you are just not inclusive as a brand, and you are not helped as a plus-size woman. If that happens too often, this group will eventually not know where to turn. Until the time we can truly speak of size inclusive brands and offerings (more than stunts), we will continue to use plus size so that it is clear that our platform is their safe space/home." Stroop added that the industry is definitely evolving towards size inclusive. "We only welcome that. Nothing is better than brands celebrating that clothing is beautiful in all sizes and shapes, but for now we are not there yet."
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and editing from Dutch into English by Veerle Versteeg.