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Larger women have plenty of plus points for retailers

Plus-size womenswear chain Evans emerged last week as the latest retailer gunning for a greater slice of the multi-billion pound plus-size sector, as Drapers revealed its plans to launch a branded young fashion offer.

The trend-led offer, which will be available this autumn in store and via a standalone website, could not have been more timely. Sales of plus-size womenswear have jumped 45% over the past five years, with the market forecast to reach £3.8bn this year, according to data from consumer research company Mintel. The overall womenswear market has increased just 15% over the same period.

Almost 40% of UK women are a size 16 or over and retailers and brands are finally waking up to the growing potential of the plus-size market.

Last month, Marks & Spencer rolled out a plus-size range of school uniforms, and designer label Marc Jacobs is reportedly to start offering pieces in a size 14 and above.

Tamara Sender, senior fashion analyst at Mintel, said: “These consumers can no longer be considered a minority.”

Matt Hudson, group product director at home-shopping giant Shop Direct Group, agreed that the market has great potential.

“Plus-size womenswear is our fastest-growing category. Our So Fabulous [plus-size] range is doing very well,” he said, adding that Shop Direct has plans to “expand” So Fabulous further, although he would not disclose details.

Etailer Asos tapped into the market in January with the launch of Asos Curve, which offers trend-led pieces in sizes 20 to 26. Rob Bready, product and trading director at Asos, said the business reacted after noticing that sales of its size 16 and 18 products were soaring. “There was an old belief that women got bigger as they got older, but it’s not true - young girls are getting bigger and there’s a bigger demand [from a younger consumer] for larger sizes,” said Bready.

The plus-size market is becoming increasingly trend-led and offers growth opportunities for both the high street and online operators.

Alan White, chief executive of home-shopping group N Brown, said the sector was more suited to online and home shopping than the high street and that half of the group’s menswear and womenswear sales were from clothing at size 20 and above. “It’s all about whether sales are high enough [to justify] per square foot,” White added.

Online sales at plus-size womenswear chain Ann Harvey are also going from strength to strength, according to Fiona Wilson, marketing director of parent company Alexon Group.

However, she said claims that larger women wanted to shop online because they felt uncomfortable in store were “presumptuous”.

Ann Harvey plans to launch a marketing campaign celebrating the fuller figure, under the slogan ‘Ann Harvey women are Beautifuller’. Wilson would not disclose when the campaign will launch.

In the US, the plus-sized market is more mature, but there are still opportunities for UK retailers to maximise their potential across the Atlantic. N Brown is launching a catalogue and website in the US on Tuesday for its Simply Be plus-size brand. “We think we can take our expertise there and win,” said White.

But while sales of plus-size womenswear continue to pick up speed, demand for larger-size menswear is lagging behind. Sales of plus-size menswear have grown just 6% to £1.9bn over the past five years. However, the potential for growth is still there. Bready said: “We are continually told by the media [that people are getting bigger] and this isn’t going away.”

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