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Op-Ed | Plus-Size is a Huge Growth Opportunity

More mainstream retailers are selling clothes in a wide range of sizes, but plus-size fashion remains an under-serviced sector with huge opportunities for growth, says Tamara Sender of market research firm Mintel.
Plus-size woman wearing a bikini | Source: Shutterstock
  • Tamara Sender

LONDON, United Kingdom — According to Mintel's latest research, plus-size women (here categorised as UK size 18 and above) are the demographic least likely to have bought new clothes in the last year. Half of these women said that they avoid certain retailers because they don't offer a wide range of sizes.

Some mainstream retailers are finally turning their attention to the oft-sidestepped category of plus-size fashion. In 2014, department store House of Fraser, supermarket clothing brand George at Asda, online retailer Boohoo and high-street store Mango all launched dedicated plus-size sections, though House of Fraser’s and Mango’s ranges were only available online. The entry of new international specialists is also fuelling the growth of this market. Australian plus-size brand Taking Shape has opened 18 stores in the UK since launching here in 2013.

And yet, there continues to be a major gap in the market for catering to plus-size consumers. Many of the major high street clothing retailers, such as Topshop, Zara, Reiss and Whistles still have no plus-size ranges.

These trend-led retailers, who have previously shied away from creating larger sizes due to fear that it would alienate existing customers, are missing a major opportunity. Increasingly, younger customers come in all shapes and sizes and a new generation of fashion conscious plus-size consumers is creating demand for the same trend-led clothes that exist for slimmer women. Currently, their needs are not being met.

On the other hand, there is direct correlation between age and bodyweight. Women’s clothing sizes increases with age and almost a quarter of females aged 55 and above wear a size 18 or above. As the population ages, retailers will need to ensure that they design garments to flatter and fit larger sizes. They will also need to stock more plus-sizes in store to cater to older consumers who prefer to visit stores than shop online for clothes.

Mintel’s consumer research found that issues with sizing are one of the biggest problems that people face when buying clothes. When we asked consumers what would improve their shopping experience, the number one response was better availability of clothes in their size.

Plus-size shoppers face more barriers than most when it comes to finding clothes that fit them well. And yet, women who wear plus-sizes are particularly interested in finding clothes that flatter their body shape. These is a real demand for retailers to design clothes specifically for larger sizes, so that the cut and fit flatter fuller shapes — rather than just creating bigger versions of existing garments.

We also found that the larger a consumer is, the less likely they are to try on an outfit before buying it, which is indicative of the discomfort and embarrassment that larger consumers feel about the physical retail environment. In response to this, brands could consider features like larger fitting lounges to offer plus-size shoppers a more comfortable in-store experience.

Plus-size consumers can no longer be considered a minority or a niche demographic. Retailers of all types of clothing need to wake up to the growth potential of this market and design clothing for larger-sized shoppers that is both flattering and fashionable.

Tamara Sender is the senior fashion analyst at Mintel.

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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