The Plight of Plus-Size: Why Curvy Consumers Can't Catch a Break When It Comes to Clothing
Let's be honest. Despite the "strides" made by apparel brands in recent years to diversify their product lines, fashion has objectively let the plus-size community down. Whether it be scarce collections tucked in obscure corners in retail stores; or the overuse of models whose body dimensions are everything but plus-size, the frustrations plus-size shoppers face when replenishing their wardrobes are seemingly never-ending.
What's interesting (in a morbid sort of way) is that plus-size fashion is no longer an obscure subsegment of the industry. In fact, plus-size shoppers are rapidly becoming the majority, with the average women's jean size in America reaching 18-20 in 2023!
So why the discrepancy? What's stopping brands from remedying the issues plus-size shoppers face and capitalizing on this blossoming market? Let's look deeper into the plight of the plus-size shopper to find the answers to these pressing questions.
The State of Plus-Size Fashion in 2023
The global plus-size women's clothing market was valued at $194 billion in 2021 and is predicted to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 4.3% in the next 8-10 years. This makes it one of the fastest-growing subsegments of the fashion industry.
The reasons for this rise to prominence are:
- People are getting larger
As the percentage of plus-size shoppers in developed markets (such as the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom) continues to grow, demand for plus-size clothing has also risen as a result.
- And they have no issue with that fact
As people become less obsessed with celebrities' bodies and accept themselves for who they are, body positivity and approval of all sizes have risen significantly. We've seen this manifest in several ways, notably in the rise of plus-size social media fashion influencers and industry leaders such as Sean Taylor and Jennifer Buckingham.
- Fashion seems to be accepting it as well (to a degree...)
In the past, one wouldn't have dreamt of seeing a size 16-20 model running the catwalk. Yet, due to the aforementioned factors, plus-size fashion models have made their triumphant debut in fashion's center stage. This was no accident. As brands continued to hear pleas from plus-size shoppers to diversify their product lines, many saw it fit (no pun intended) to include a more diverse model range for their fashion shows.
Looking at these recent strides toward a more inclusive fashion industry, one could be forgiven for thinking the shopping experience has also evolved to match the pace. Sadly, that is far from the case.
What Are Plus-Size Shoppers Saying About Their Experiences?
While it's no secret that plus-size shoppers are constantly frustrated when shopping for new clothing, we wanted to hear from the source why their experiences have been so poor. Here are a few testimonials from plus-size shoppers we interviewed on the topic:
These were only a few standout responses we received from plus-size shoppers who have become absolutely fed up with their online shopping experiences. When asked about their in-store experiences, most respondents lamented that plus-size options were often separated from straight-size options, alienating them from friends during their shopping sessions and making the simple act of shopping appear shameful.
We also gained some additional insider information from Taylor Long, Founder and CEO of Nomads Swimwear (a plus-size and sustainable clothing label), who has a longstanding history in the world of plus-size fashion. Here's what she had to say:
"Many brands that have expanded into plus-size have built off their straight sizes without a proper size break. What that does is throw their sizing off. So, say they make a garment in 2X that fits a 14-16. That's not a true 2X, especially to that plus-size consumer. Additionally, there's not enough attention to detail when trying to market and communicate to plus-size consumers. They have very high BS meters, and if a brand hasn't done the research, their expansion into plus-size won't be successful for either party."
How Brands Can Improve the Plus-Size Shopper Journey
Now that we've identified why plus-size shoppers are encountering difficulty when purchasing clothing, we can begin to formulate solutions to their problems. After all, not only do plus-size shoppers deserve to be serviced in the same manner as their straight-size counterparts, but the potential the plus-size market holds is too great to be ignored any longer.
- Improve fit model diversity: While we've seen major apparel brands playing with the idea of using AI to solve this issue, there is no true substitute for simply hiring a more diverse lineup of fit models for your plus-size products. The solution here is to work with agencies that work with a plethora of different models to better represent your products and the shoppers purchasing them.
- Ditch drab or inconsistent styling: If your straight-sized shoppers are raving about a certain pattern or design, you can be confident your plus-size shoppers want it as well! Ditch the muted colors and sweatpants, and start providing your core products in plus size. Your plus-size shoppers (and revenue numbers) will thank you later.
- Make sizing simple: Finding the best-fitting products online is an issue that affects shoppers of all sizes. While optimizing existing size charts or adding model dimensions are often tempting steps, these "fixes" still perpetuate the cycle of shoppers having to measure their bodies and consult at least one (sometimes multiple) size chart. Implementing a size recommendation tool (like WAIR) can help remove this friction from the shopper journey leading to more satisfied buyers and higher conversion rates.
- Leverage body data to improve the design process: It's clear from the testimonials we heard earlier that simply making your straight sizes larger is not a viable strategy when designing your plus-size collections. Rather than relying on guesswork for your plus-size design strategy, leverage body data collection tools (like WAIR) to uncover the body dimensions of your shoppers and design products guaranteed to fit and flatter. Remember, plus-size bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and gaining insight into the body dimensions of your shoppers will be a critical unlock for any brand selling plus-size apparel.
Paving a Path to a Better Plus-Size Shopping Experience
If there's one clear takeaway from this article, it's that plus-size is the true dark horse when it comes to fashion. We know expanding into uncharted territory is intimidating, especially in the current economic climate. Still, by consulting industry experts and leveraging modern solutions, this once daunting scenario can become a painless and fruitful endeavor that enriches the shopping experience of plus-size consumers everywhere. In a time where brands are constantly looking to increase profitability and discover new revenue streams, plus-size fashion remains a shining opportunity that, if slept on, will be capitalized on by your growing competition.
Interested in learning more about WAIR? Schedule a demo here, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook for all your fashion content needs!