Americans are all about “Go Big or Go Home!” We have a penchant for living big time all the time. And for better or worse, it’s had an effect on our waistlines. The reality apparel makers and retailers have slowly been coming to terms with is that plus-size fashions can be quite profitable, especially for those that connect with the curvy female customer.

"We manufacture in the U.S. and that allows us to customize our collection. It brings so much joy to our clients because a lot of time they complain that no one has great clothes for the plus sizes and the clothes are not accessible."

-Estel Day ,
Co-Founder, Mark & Estel

Consider the full-figured shopper spent about 60% less on apparel in the last month than her non-plus size counterpart ($48 versus $78), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey. Most women’s designer clothes range from size 2-to-12, yet the average U.S. woman wears a 14. The plus category is teeming with possibilities. The upcoming Full Figure Fashion Week will highlight many of these options – directly to consumers. Meanwhile, some designers work plus sizes right into their lines.

 

 

Mark & Estel, the Los Angeles-based women’s clothing brand that merges SoCal fashion with rock star style, sought to include the plus customer from the time the company began a decade ago. And it’s paid off, according to co-founder Estel Day.

“We actually get a lot of customers and retail clients because we’re able to produce for everybody. We’ve gone up to 6XL – and people are so happy about that,” Day says. “We manufacture in the U.S. and that allows us to customize our collection. It brings so much joy to our clients because a lot of time they complain that no one has great clothes for the plus sizes and the clothes are not accessible.”

There is more demand than ever for such fashion-driven plus-size collections. Along with women who are healthy but larger than the average runway model, and despite the best intentions, waistlines from coast to coast have continuously expanded. The U.S. National Institutes of Health says almost two-thirds (64%) of women are overweight, with 36% of that group classified as obese.

This bulge didn’t come about overnight. But the apparel industry – long represented by gorgeous yet gaunt girls – was slow to respond to the cultural shift. This meant there weren’t many options for plus women – even those with means. And that’s a lot of women, seeing as the National Center for Health Statistics shows that there are more obese women among upper (29%) and middle income (39%) females combined than there are obese lower income (42%) women.

“The plus-size fashion industry has definitely come a long way and I am sure that it’s because of the realization that the spending power of the plus-size consumer is huge,” says Gwendolyn DeVoe, CEO, DeVoe Signature Events, Inc., and creator/executive producer of the Full Figured Fashion Week. This year’s FFFWeek takes place in New York June 14-20.

“Women in general spend billions in the beauty and fashion industries, and the plus consumer is no different,” DeVoe states. “In fact, the plus consumer may tend to be a bit more loyal to brands she likes because of the lack of choices she has.  Brands are now more aware that they have been missing out on a large profit margin by ignoring the plus consumer.”

The NPD Group reports that women’s plus apparel (which does not include petite plus or junior plus) typically accounts for 15% of the total women’s apparel business. Women’s plus reached $17.6 billion in 2014. That’s flat from 2013, according to The NPD, but up 8% since 2011, when it totaled $16.3 billion. The firm says three plus-size categories that posted strong gains last year were dresses, sweats/active bottoms and tights/hosiery.

While the majority of plus-size women (54%) say they “love or enjoy” clothes shopping, that’s significantly lower than non-plus women (68%), according to the Monitor. However, more than 7 in 10 plus-size Millennials (71%) have a high affinity for clothes shopping, similar to non-plus size Millennials (77%). In fact, regardless of size, Millennial women are similar in their habits regarding changing their clothes for multiple events (33%) and shopping on impulse (44%). Also, significantly more full-figured women (21%) say if they need something from an apparel store, “I go in, get it and leave.” Compare that to 13% of non-plus shoppers. This difference is hardly surprising considering the dearth of plus-sized fashion options.

DeVoe says Full Figured Fashion Week draws the bloggers, retailers, and editors, but is designed to connect plus designers with the average curvy consumer.

“In addition to the runway events, FFFWeek includes workshops, trunk sales, product launches, and social events,” she says, all of which are aimed at the consumer attendees. “In marketing our event, we invite consumers to assist us in the planning by recommending what is of interest to them. This ‘for us, by us’ policy has worked very well and has led to the event being sold out every year.”

Events like FFFWeek may increase the number of fashion-minded plus-size shoppers. Currently, 24% of plus women consider themselves fashionistas, compared to 45% of non-plus consumers, the Monitor™ survey shows. Plus-size women are significantly more likely than non-plus to shop for most clothes at mass merchants (34% versus 20%) and on the Internet (11% versus 6%). It is not surprising that plus-size women are shopping more online given that many brands only offer extended sizes on their online shops.

Target recently launched its internally designed Ava & Viv line to appeal to the curvy shopper. It also employed three popular plus-size bloggers to model the clothes and generate buzz. Meanwhile, several other well-known brands have been called out for not offering plus-size clothing at all in their collections.

Day says everyone from celebrities to online customers to retailers have benefited from Mark & Estel’s ability to make their pieces in sizes that run larger than the average found in stores.

“Some labels maybe have a separate plus-size line. But we believe all our clothes should be for everybody,” Day says. “It’s a norm for us to be able to offer any size. We look at all our customers as equals. They’re all fashion rock stars!”