By Rieva Lesonsky
The Los Angeles Times recently published an article that, frankly, I’m surprised to be reading in 2010. The topic? Why manufacturers and designers are still reluctant to create plus-size clothing for women.
As someone who tracks trends for a living, I’ve been writing about the potential in plus-size women’s clothing for more than a decade. And while there has been some progress in terms of the availability of plus-sized items, it’s surprising to me how much this profitable market has been neglected by businesses.
National Center for Health Statistics data show 65% of American women are overweight; more than 35% of those are obese. And while studies have consistently shown a willingness among women—especially younger ones—to pay for stylish plus-sized clothing, the plus-size market currently accounts for just 17% of women’s apparel sales.
Why is the largest segment of the female apparel shopping population being ignored? The Times suggests possible reasons: Many plus-size shoppers are over 55, and many are low-income. Plus-size manufacturing and merchandising also requires different patterns, cuts, and mannequins—investments some companies aren’t willing to make.
Frankly, those arguments just don’t cut it with me. I know plenty of stylish women—all ages—with money to spend on clothes, but nowhere to spend it. The companies the Times mentions as ignoring plus-size are all big companies. From what I’ve seen, the growth in plus-size has come from small, niche entrepreneurial companies—many of them online-only—that know how to reach this market.
This reminds me of how, for many years, the senior market—though huge—was ignored by marketers. Today, senior-related businesses of all kinds are finally surging. When will the same thing happen to plus-size clothing? It can’t come too soon—and when it does, the companies that were forward-thinking enough to embrace this market will reap the profit.