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Special sizes are a weighty issue in a society that's growing bigger and bigger

There’s great entertainment to be had in the month of August by checking the nationals for their silly season stories.

I was delighted to see that Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph carried a fine example of the genre on its front page, no less, under the headline ‘Deck chairs widened to cater for the growing beach bums’.

This bit of social analysis revealed that Southsea Deckchairs of Portsmouth is adding an extra inch to the width of its standard seaside seats – taking them up to 23in across – “to accommodate larger customers”. Moreover, its 36in Wideboy model, originally designed to accommodate loving couples, is becoming very popular with single users who require the increased capacity.

The Telegraph finished off its topical report with the revelation that a drivable deckchair has been invented. I suspect it may be from the US as it is fitted with fridge, slushy drinks maker and a sun umbrella. Its purpose is to permit the less active beachgoer to move to a new spot without having to perform the tiresome task of walking. Thank goodness for human ingenuity.

Levity aside, the larger deckchair story was another reminder – if one were needed – that as consumers we are getting larger. The problems of the UK’s “obesity epidemic” are all too obvious to anyone walking the streets of any town and city. But aside from this worrying social and medical issue, we are, in many cases, getting genetically bigger and taller. And that applies to both sexes.

It has been noticeable that there has been quite a bit of activity in the plus-size sector recently as retailers and brands weigh up (excuse the unintended pun) the benefits of devoting time and effort to serving this particular market sector. Our story last week that George is about to introduce its first dedicated plus-size range was only the latest in a series of initiatives involving New Look, Boohoo.com, the House of Fraser online shop and a Mango plus-size young fashion range. The Australian specialist chain Taking Shape is also on an expansion drive across the UK.

At Moda Lingerie this week, there were plenty of brands reporting that larger cup sizes were in demand – and, as usual, all were stressing that women need to be correctly fitted to ensure the maximum benefit from the incredible research on sizing that goes into this specialist field (see page 28 for more lingerie insights). And if you want to hear about frustrating customer experience, ask a tall woman about the difficulty of finding stylish and fashionable larger-size shoes.

Funnily enough the question of ‘special sizes’ – and that includes petites as well as plus-sizes – has been an ever-present concern for the three decades I’ve worked in the business. There is a curious irony that a subject that is so concerned with getting fit right is being given a boost by the advantages to niche operators offered by online shopping. Look out for next week’s issue for a feature on the plus-size market. In the meantime, we’d be delighted to hear of the experiences of retailers, brands and, yes, consumers about the sector.

And talking about subjects that have been around for 30 years and more, I am intrigued to see that the debate about trade fair dates has been reignited this week by comments on Drapersonline.com and the more traditional method of a letter to the editor (which did come in by email, of course! Turn to page 4 to read it). 

Unusually, I am positioning myself firmly on the fence on this one. The market will decide what works and what doesn’t. It’s a free country and anyone can set up a trade event and then try and get the brands to support it and hope the buyers turn up. I say good luck to them all.   

Readers' comments (1)

  • Hi Eric,
    Delightful read (as always), thank you.

    However we do need to speak... there is too much talk about fit and not enough talk about 'style' (i.e. garment designs).

    By example, bigger busts need more structural support, so bras designed accordingly is actually the starting point. For the record, I am a professionally trained bra fitter...

    The same for so called 'plus sizes'. The winners and losers in this growing category will be retailers who recognise the importance of style and how it needs to match body shape.

    I've seen a real mishmash (new and old) in terms of good and bad designs. However if I were to summarise through the eyes of consumers I work with:

    I see a lot of poor 'in store' and online merchandising and display modelling, plus as a real bug to me, a lot of so called style advice that is inaccurate. In other industries it may even be considered mis-selling... however it typically results in the retailer's cost... as a return.

    As you know, I've recently starting working with retailers to help correct these issues. www.noplacelikeholm.com if I'm allowed the plug? ;o)

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