SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Why does most of the fashion industry refuse to serve women of all sizes, specifically those above a size 14? It’s a question I’ve been grappling with for years. The answers are manifold, from the false notion that these women don’t care about dressing fashionably to the fact that, for decades, our industry has been built on the idea that only thin is beautiful. Instead of debating the social value systems, psychological implications and logistical challenges of scaling up garments that have led to the fashion industry failing to serve the 65 percent of women in the US who wear a size 14 or above, I chose to make my business part of the solution — and it’s paid off.
In 2010, we published a series of posts on ModCloth’s blog, asking our customers for suggestions on how we should tackle sizing and style. The response was overwhelming. We were harshly criticised, glowingly praised and everything in between.
At that point, we weren’t where we wanted to be with regards to the clothing sizes we offered. We were just as frustrated as our customers — being dependent on the indie designer market, only a small percentage of our products were actually available in larger sizes. Despite the fact that the average American woman was a size 14, the product simply did not exist.
In 2013, we conducted an independent third party survey of over 1,500 women on the state of the clothing market. The responses confirmed what we already knew:92 percent of women sized 16 and above said that they get upset when they can’t find cute clothes in their size. Eighty-eight percent of those women agreed with the statement, “I would buy more clothing if more trendy options were available in my size.”
The writing was on the wall. That same year, we launched a dedicated category of styles in sizes 16 and above. It wasn’t easy. The initial costs of designing and manufacturing larger sizes often discourage designers and we had to put our money where our mouth was — we set up a dedicated team to ensure fit and proportion are properly executed across all sizes, and shared this with designers that sell on ModCloth, as many lacked the resources to extend their sizing.
So does launching larger sizes have business benefits? Absolutely. Size 16 and above is our fastest growing category and, in 2014, sales in size 16 and above doubled year on year. We have found that styles in a full range of sizes sell around 20 percent more units and customers who buy sizes 16 and above place 20 percent more orders than the average consumer. These customers are also 66 percent more likely to spread positive feedback about their purchases on social media.
Ultimately, making sure that our product and marketing campaigns reflect the diversity of our community has proved valuable for both our customers and our brand. We declared that fashion is for every body and work very hard to produce and sell beautiful clothing for all women. More businesses need to do the same — this is a vastly underserved market opportunity. Every woman deserves tofeel good, regardless of the number on the tag inside her dress.
Susan Koger is the co-founder and chief creative officer of ModCloth.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.
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