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Retailers Prioritize Initiatives Promoting a More Inclusive Future of Fashion

Globally, plus size fashion is a $178B market; retailers like Old Navy and Victoria’s Secret are disrupting the plus size fashion narrative by revising their pricing, merchandising and garment construction practices and introducing a diverse cohort of brand ambassadors respectively. While these changes are certainly welcome and long overdue improvements in an industry notorious for lack of stylish selection, the long-term impact of such initiatives remains up for debate. Read on to learn how these major retailers are prioritizing inclusivity within their own organizations, as well as the broad scale implications for the fashion industry.

Old Navy’s BodEquality Program Departs from Traditional Pricing and Merchandising Practices, Citing a ‘Fashion Revolution’

After 3 years in the making, Old Navy debuted their BodEquality initiative, both in-stores and online, offering sizes 00-30, XS-4X, with no difference in price and no designated section in store; the retailer is calling the movement a ‘fashion revolution’ citing the changes as long overdue. In store shoppers will see mannequins in sizes 4, 8 and 12, and plus size clothes interspersed among all other products on the sales floor.

The revolution continues online, as shoppers can select which sized model they’d like to view. Old Navy’s process is not merely cosmetic; the retailer restructured their entire fit process, leveraging body scans of 389 women to create digital avatars that closely resembled women’s’ bodies. Old Navy also ran fit clinics with models sized 20-28 and established full time partnerships with fit models size 8 and 20.

The process behind BodEquality is significant for the plus size industry, as it serves as a revision to the dominant process of retailers “scaling up” their clothing to accommodate the plus sizes. Here, Old Navy’s fit process is showing not only that they understand the plus size consumer, but their merchandising tactics suggest that they don’t want them to be at any kind of disadvantage, whether it be monetary, or stylistically.

As the Ascena Retail Group, parent company to the women’s plus size retailer Lane Bryant, filed for bankruptcy in 2020, closing 150 Lane Bryant stores, retailers like Old Navy were left to pick up the slack. The women’s plus size market has a high degree of fragmentation and Old Navy can fill white space and strategically position themselves as a cutting-edge player in the industry and gain market share as they reverse generations of size discrimination.

Victoria’s Secret Attempts to Create an Inclusive Culture with a New Cohort of Brand Ambassadors

In June 2021 Victoria’s Secret dissolved their longstanding clique of Angels, replacing them with Victoria’s Secret Collective. The Collective’s 7 founding members include professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe and actress, producer and tech investor Priyanka Chopra. The group’s goal: promote a more inclusive brand image; in addition to modeling for Victoria’s Secret, the Collective will serve an advisory role to the retailer, with the idea that they will reinforce change from within.

While the Collective is certainly a refreshing change, it also brings questions to surface. First, will consumers buy into the authenticity of Victoria’s Secret’s new image? The brand undoubtedly has some hurdles to overcome as they’ve received criticism for catering their offerings to male preferences, and for perpetuating a standard of beauty that represented only a fraction of the population. Victoria’s Secret only featured their first plus-sized model in 2019, so there is significant work to be done across all facets of the customer experience to engage in meaningful connections with customers to show that this change is not merely superficial.

Second, is it simply too little, too late for Victoria’s Secret? In the past, the retailer excelled in selection and service compared to its department store counterparts. However, now, Victoria’s Secret competes with up-and-coming, inclusive DTC brands like ThirdLove and Cuup, who like Victoria’s Secret, prioritize robust selection and customer service. Where they differ: It is in an environment where all body types are represented; as these players gain market share, is potentially at the expense of any future growth opportunities for Victoria’s Secret.

What does this mean for the fashion industry?

Historically, plus size fashion is notorious for lack of selection and higher prices; in many brick-and-mortar retailers, plus garments are sequestered in a corner of the sales floor. Contrary to this paradigm, there is tremendous growth opportunity in plus size clothing; according to Acute Market Research, the global plus-sized market is valued at over $178 billion, with a projected 4.3% annual growth rate through 2028. Conversely, Euromonitor predicts the women’s apparel market to grow by less than half that rate, at 2.1%. Despite the opportunity, many retailers failed to capitalize on the gains from plus size investment, dissuaded by higher costs of production due to constraints surrounding garment construction and more broadly, the societal construct to perpetuate the “sample size” standard. The bottom line: many brands and retailers are misaligning their assortment and merchandising practices with that fact that the average American woman is getting larger.

Retailers seeking out revisions to their internal company architecture and absorbing the extra production costs will further democratize fashion for women of all sizes. However, the long-term success of these movements is still in question, as the industry disruption is still in its nascent stages. However, the rise of the body inclusivity movement bodes promise for the future of plus size fashion, as it puts pressure on brands and retailers to produce high quality, size inclusive solutions, a departure from the more limited scope of previous offerings.

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Reagan Jacobs

Reagan provides research, planning and analysis support for McMillanDoolittle retail consulting projects. She supports company and client projects through consumer research planning, merchandise and operations analysis, financial modeling and graphic design work.

1 Comment
  • Camilla Olson

    August 30, 2021 at 7:39 am Reply

    Inclusivity is broader than plus-size. We estimate a $120B missed opportunity by brands not designing for people with weight, height, torso-length, and shoulder differences from the hourglass shaped tradition. It is hard to design for all these body types. Savitude offers a software solution, Design Studio.

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