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Ahead of the curve: why fashion is embracing size inclusivity

Drapers explores why size inclusivity and body positivity are increasingly important topics in fashion.

Inclusivity and diversity are rapidly becoming fashion’s new watchwords. The industry is targeting a new generation of socially switched-on young shoppers by embracing size inclusivity and body positivity.

Take Collusion, the new “coming of age” brand launched by fast fashion giant Asos in October. The etailer chose to unveil the Generation Z-focused label with an inclusive campaign that captured 100 people – of different genders, ethnicities and, crucially, sizes – who have turned or will turn 18 this year.

The decision to include a variety of sizes in the campaign also makes sense commercially for the etailer, as sales of size-inclusive styles – plus, petite and tall – jumped 37% in the six months to 31 August.

The UK plus-size market was worth £6.6bn last year, professional services firm PwC reports. Plus-size womenswear is set to grow at an annual compound growth rate of between 4% and 5% from 2017 to 2022 and plus-size menswear at 6% to 8% over the same period, compared with 3.3% and 2.4% respectively in the overall clothing market.

The report says this growth is being driven by rising obesity rates, increasing body confidence among plus-size consumers and better media representation of different body shapes.

Competition in the UK plus-size clothing market continues to grow as more and more brands expand their size ranges

Samantha Dover

Samantha Dover, a senior retail analyst at Mintel, agrees, adding that social media is playing a vital role in the shift: “Competition in the UK plus-size clothing market continues to grow as more and more brands expand their size ranges.

“Pressure is mounting on retailers that don’t cater to those in need of larger sizes. This is being driven by social media. Those that don’t offer their products in a broad range of sizes are now often criticised for not being inclusive. This demand for inclusivity is also filtering into fashion advertising, and retailers are using models which better represent the UK population.”

Body beautiful

Plus-size model Tess Holliday hit the headlines when she appeared wearing lingerie on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine’s October issue. Ashley Graham, a fellow plus-size model, has walked for designers including Michael Kors this year, and launched a collaboration in sizes 6 to 28 with fast fashion brand PrettyLittleThing in September.

Known for its fashion-forward product, PrettyLittleThing has also won praise from customers for showcasing styles from another collaboration, a range of glitzy partywear with Hailey Baldwin, on different body types. The brand launched its first plus collection, PLT+, in September 2017, and Baldwin’s comes in sizes 4 to 26.

“We’ve grown our Plus collection over the past year and now offer a range that caters for sizes ranging from 4 to 26,” says founder and chief executive Umar Kamani. “The ecommerce campaign showing different-sized models is another step forward in showing our customers that we cater for different body shapes.”

Sister brand Nasty Gal (both are owned by the Boohoo Group) has also expanded its sizing range this year, making its autumn collection available in sizes 4-22. The brand previously offered customers sizes 4-16.

“Our customer is confident and fearless, which makes up the core DNA of who we are [as a brand], but size inclusivity has not always been part of the conversation,” explains Nasty Gal’s head of buying Claire Asher. “It was safe to say, we were overdue for a change, and we’re finally joining the party by extending our sizes. As a brand, we wanted to extend our sizes in a move to become more inclusive and empower body confidence, offering an array of styles and key pieces to our customers.”


Nasty gal plus 2

Nasty Gal

Alongside stars like Holliday and Graham, a wave of curvier influencers, including Callie Thorpe (202,000 Instagram followers), Danielle Vanier (107,000) and Stephanie Yeboah (21,000), are demonstrating the new expectations of the plus-size consumer. Larger shoppers are demanding trend-driven, fashionable products that fit perfectly – just like their “straight-size” counterparts.

“The mistake the majority of retailers make is that they consider this market to be totally different to fashion in general,” explains Ralph Tucker, chief product and supply officer at N Brown Group, which owns plus-size brand Simply Be and size-inclusive brands JD Williams and Jacamo.

“These consumers are looking for fantastic on-trend product, great value, convenience in terms of delivery and product that takes into consideration not only size, but shape and fit,” he adds. “They also want to feel connected to a brand that understands and relates to them. As such, they want to be represented and championed in the marketing material from the retailer they choose to shop with. Those who ignore this last point are dinosaurs, and do so at their peril.”

People who haven’t been represented or spoken to by the high street before also want to look good

Plyska Genova

Plyska Genova, marketing executive at plus-size women’s etailer Pink Clove, agrees that the rise of social media and influencers is encouraging fashion brands to cater to a more diverse customer base.

“Influencers have given this customer a voice,” she says. “People who haven’t been represented or spoken to by the high street before also want to look good. This market doesn’t want to be treated as separate or different.”


Big competition

Menswear brand and supplier Duke Clothing Company has seen demand for plus-size clothing ranges rocket over the past couple of seasons. Plus-size clothing – XL to 8XL – now accounts for half of its orders, compared with just 10% three years ago.

“It used to be only the specialist retailers doing plus size, but there’s been a huge increase in mainstream retailers moving into the market,” director Rohan Bassi tells Drapers. “Retailers now are looking to cater to as many people as possible. Now, we work with Asos, Boohoo, Zalando and Sports Direct. Retailers aren’t differentiating for a plus-size customer, and are targeting their existing markets, so Asos is looking for extremely trend-driven styles regardless of size.”

The plus-size customer wants to be able to buy the same range as everyone else.

Sarah Welsh, Oasis

Bassi adds that the success of a plus-size range all hangs on fit: “Fit is so important for this customer and it is very easy to get wrong. We have to constantly adapt our sizing as trends change and people change. You can’t just assume the normal [size-scaling] rules apply for big sizes, because they don’t.”

High street womenswear chain Oasis launched its first Curve collection, catering to sizes 20 to 26, in September this year, following a successful collaboration with specialist Simply Be.

“We had a lot of feedback from customers who wanted to wear Oasis but couldn’t, and we are conscious that we have a broad, feminine appeal,” brand director Sarah Welsh tells Drapers. “We’re a friendly, accessible brand and we want as many customers to people to shop with us as possible. Our approach was to take our bestsellers and making them available to more customers, rather than creating a bespoke plus range that imposed our judgement of what those customers would wear. The plus-size customer wants to be able to buy the same range as everyone else. The whole mindset has shifted. Instead of walking into a shop that only caters for size 20-26, this customer wants to be able to love a brand and be able to buy into it.”



Asos Collusion

The combination of specialist brands, big high-street names offering curve collections and fast fashion etailers expanding their sizing ranges means the plus-size market is increasingly competitive. However, plus-size sportswear and occasionwear remain underserved categories and premium brands have been slow off the mark, Mintel’s Dover adds.

“Premium retailers have been much slower to embrace the demand for plus-sized clothing, and many are reluctant to offer products in sizes beyond a 16. Those that do tend to have a much more limited assortment at the bigger end of the scale. As a result, there would be an appetite for more brands in this space.”

Whistles, Reiss and Jigsaw currently only cater to customers up to a size 16, while Hobbs and LK Bennett offer up to a size 18.

Fast fashion brands such as Asos and the Boohoo Group may cater to the plus-size market, but it is worth noting that the fashion industry still has a long way to go before all customers are represented. 

Topshop and Zara are among the high street giants that don’t offer a plus-size range, and customers over a size 26 still have limited choice. Generation Z’s focus on inclusivity means retailers who ignore plus-size customers risk their sales as well as their brand reputation.


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