We’re constantly getting fatter. Both women and men. But stylish outfits are often only available up to European size 42. Not offering plus sizes is a missed opportunity for the fashion industry to make big money.
Too much fat, sugar and fast food are making people around the world overweight. There are XL seats in buses in Brazil and soft drink commercials are not allowed on Mexican TV. Mexico is just behind the US in world rankings for obesity among adults. Newspapers report that Great Britain, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Germany are among the countries with the most overweight populations, followed closely by France and Italy. What is also alarming is the rising number of obese children and young people.
In our hedonistic society, fat folks are an off-limits topic which the fashion industry is not eager to talk about either. Many fear that plus sizes could water down their image. For example, James Leslie, co-owner of the Trilogy multibrand store in London, says: “We sell jeans with a waist of up to 34 inches. Our goal is to offer all women jeans which flatter them.”Are slender people the only ones who have a right to cool clothing? Most womenswear collection sizes stop at European 42/44. “But more than 50% of women today have a dress size of 42 or larger,” says Sabine Tietz, press spokesperson of Schwab Versand, who is responsible for the Sheego brand. It looks as though a large part of the industry is forgoing a considerable amount of sales revenue and also leaving many customers frustrated.
“All we can find offered in stores are leggings and tents with hideous patterns,” says Beate, 38, from Münster, Germany, whose dress size 44 makes her one of the “slender” ones. Sabine in Milan, 44, says: “It’s hard to find trendy fashion looks which also fit.” Anna, 43, from Milan has similar experiences: “I don’t feel good while shopping. It would be so nice if I were able to buy things which I really like.” Diva from Dallas, Texas adds: “Some sales staff are friendly and some are just clueless as to how to help us bigger girls shop.” These women don’t even dare to step into chic shops,“you get a withering glance at those places,” says Claudia from Düsseldorf, who wears size 52.
Yet in the meantime, plus-size fashion now has a certain number of people championing it. Singer Beth Ditto proudly weighs in at just under 100 kilos wearing short glitter outfits and British label Boohoo has engaged big-size blogger Nadia Aboulhosn for a campaign.
Each year Milan-based journalist, stylist, personal shopper and blogger Barbara Christmann publishes a “Beautifulcurvy” calendar featuring curvaceous models with dress sizes larger than 44. And she does this successfully. So far the calendar has been downloaded 60,000 times. Until now it was primarily meant for women’s fashion houses, who have a heart for curvy women. “We see considerable opportunity for growth in the plus-size market,” says Tietz. Not only is demand increasing but the expectations of fashion quality is on the rise.
Customers want perfectly cut and fashionable styles for every type of figure and want their shopping trip to be exciting–no matter what size they wear. As so often true, vertical operators and shippers were faster out of the blocks when it came to plus sizes. The “Asos Curve” plus-size collection starts at size 44 and goes to 54. The range covers well-considered, trendy styles with a flattering shape, adapted with intelligence. At the beginning of 2014, Mango introduced the plus-size label Violeta–and for years now California-based young fashion chain Forever 21 has had their Forever 21+ line including highly fashionable knit dresses in attractive colors, for sizes 3XL, while H&M has been offering large sizes for years, too. Boohoo has extended its young fashion sizes from 44 up to 52. Head buyer Melanie Strothers explains: “For us it was a natural process to do that.”
German specialist chain store Weingarten, which has brands such as Mavi, Tommy Hilfiger, Pepe, G-Star and Diesel in the most common sizes in its Blue department, has been leading the way in specializing in plus sizes and wants to extend the growing market for young fashion. Brands such as Zizzi, Junarose, Triangle, Aprico, Studio, b2 by Via Appia and Open End pick up on new trends quickly. Several months ago Weingarten even launched a blog devoted to plus sizes. As managing director Annegret Weingarten puts it: “It doesn’t have to be kept concealed somehow.
Young customers want to wear what they see in newspapers, magazines, on the street or online.” SinnLeffers clothing has also reacted to increased demand and is offering plus sizes in ten of its stores. Maria Skorta, buyer for Lovely Size, says, “We have adapted to customer requirements and continuously added to our range with brands such as Triangle by S.Oliver and Zizzi.”
Annegret Weingarten would like to see more fashion-oriented young labels. But there are high standards to meet: Designs have to be trendy–but it is also important to have a good fit, intelligent cuts and models in the right lengths. The seams and visual lines have to be well worked out. She feels it is an art to offer the right styles which fit well and look good. Size 42/44 still has a waistline, but this gradually becomes less and starting with size 60, there is no longer a figure in the traditional sense of the word. This often makes it difficult for brands to manufacture fashion apparel in these sizes. It works for jeans a lot–for women’s and men’s jeans. That’s why heavy-set men are usually able to find jeans.
“We’ve developed a pair of jeans which we also offer in plus sizes,” says Hans-Bernd Cartsberg, CPO at Mustang. Its sizes extend to 50 inches, and inseams go all the way to 40 inches for individual models. Shirts and tops are available to size 3XL. Division manager Thomas Vogel confirms that H.I.S Jeans also sees growth potential in the plus-size area. Key criteria in manufacturing are graduation and cuts so that the fit comes out just right. “The plus sizes topic should not be underestimated, demand is there,” says Bertram M. Laufer, brand manager at Colorado Denim.
Depending on the style, Colorado Jeans offers a 54-inch waist and 38-inch inseam. For women it’s labels such as Mac, Cambio, Angels and NYDJ which cater to generous figures. Starting from size 42, Danish brand and online retailer My Star Denim offers women a special service which allows nearly tailor-made jeans to be prepared based on a patented technology. Jeans sizes aren’t calculated based on standard clothing sizes but by using individual measurements. This means every woman gets a pair of jeans perfectly matching her figure. The more obesity there is in society, the more the fashion industry has to come to terms with plus sizes. Whoever takes this market seriously will definitely be able to gain a loyal and appreciative customer base. And grow with them.
‘People Identify with Slim Figures’ by Regina Henkel
How are store designers responding to the changing needs of customers? Put very directly, the topic of plus sizes has hardly had any relevance in store design so far, “at least not in Europe,” says Ruth Töchterle of Interstore Design. Except for the stores specialized in plus-size apparel, very few retailers ask for special store design solutions or visual merchandising concepts. The general trend toward wider aisles and larger fitting rooms in store designs accommodates plus-size customers.
“Spacious changing rooms, lobby areas and walking areas are being accounted for more and more in our concept stores. But that is only indirectly related to the body weight of customers,” says Klaus Schwitzke of the Schwitzke Group. Instead he considers these things part of a response to an aging society and their increasing need for convenience and ease of movement. Nevertheless–the tendency within society is obvious and as Nadine Frommer of Stuttgart-based DFrost puts it, “The market for plus-size fashion is developing into a promising segment.” Vertical retail chains and online retailer have confirmed this with their recently launched plus-size concepts.
Today the market offers these players considerable opportunity from extended-size hangers to large-size mannequins all the way to various materials, degrees of abstraction, and poses. “More and more retail space is dedicated to plus sizes which involve our mannequins in slightly larger and highly aesthetic proportions,” says Christian Bruckner of mannequin manufacturer Eurodisplay. At Hans Boodt the largest size for women is 44/46 and for men 54. Mainstream fashion retailers do not use plus-size mannequins at all.
“Fashion retail is not calling for larger sized mannequins because people continue to identify with slim figures,” says Cor Monteban of Hans Boodt. A far larger share of retail businesses are continuing to use the classic– but not necessarily less up-to-date–ideal of slender models for presenting apparel.
‘Creative and Wonderful’
Designer Susanne Jassoy talks about designing clothes for plus-size customers.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge designing plus-size fashion?
The biggest challenge is how the cut is done and the fit. Trends have to be done proportionally for large sizes and that is the clincher for everything, because body shapes differ considerably, even with plus-size customers. If a plus-size customer looks in the mirror, she shouldn’t see her figure first; instead she should see “I look good.” That has to be the goal for every design.
Are there fabrics which don’t work with plus-sizes?
You should never exclude certain materials right away, that limits creativity. However, it is vital that the clothing be comfortable, which often means there has to be a stretch component. Stretch fabric is a must, especially for underwear, but also for dresses, blouses and blazers. However, we shouldn’t equate comfort with casual– the apparel needs to be comfortable without looking like it’s been made that way. Plus, accessories naturally also play a big role with plus-size customers. Decorative jewelry or fashionable scarves should be included in collections.
What rules are there for colors and patterns?
Again, the rule is: You should not exclude any trends, patterns or colors as a matter of principle. Plus-size customers have a right to fashion, too. Patterns with broad areas simply have to be made smaller, placed elsewhere or only appear as a reference, and other articles must always be offered in restrained or muted colors. The design team has to keep entire outfits or combinations in mind when working on designs. This also makes it easier to sell because sales advice and service are a very important function for plus-size customers. If the fit and service are right, you could win over a customer for life.
Does this make fit more important than designing to match trends in this segment?
A good fit is a prerequisite. However, before a customer will even look at the material and fit, the first things they notice are colors and patterns. That means: You have to feature trends. Because plus-size customers also look up to actresses and celebrities and have role models, and want to wear that fashion. Plus-size customers are often more courageous than we designers think. Especially if each year more and more new young, self-assured and fashionably clued-in plus-size customers are entering the market.
Is it more difficult to create designs for plus-size than for other sizes?
No, but production is more elaborate, more fabric is required, while at the same time plus-size consumers don’t have more money available than other women. Because of the key importance of sales advice for this area, a plus-size designer can’t simply think like a designer. They always need to consider the sales process and presentation in retail. Otherwise, it is just as creative and a wonderful task.
‘I do not let them discriminate me’
Having grown up in Hollywood as the daughter of famous actor David Hasselhoff, Hayley Hasselhoff certainly knows the hype around size 0. Still, the 22-year-old did not get too impressed by the weight watching mania and found her niche as a plus-size model promoting a body type that is widely seen but so far not promoted by the fashion industry’s big players. We met her to talk about her views on beauty ideals and the fashion offer for curvy girls. Interview by Sabine Kühnl
What should a “normal” body look like?
I really can’t tell what a normal body should look like,how thin or how big it should be. I don’t think this is even the question. The main thing is that you have to feel healthy and happy. In this sense I feel that I have a normal body. From my traveling I also see that there are so many different body types in all different countries–there is a Swedish body type or a British one for example, no one looks the same. People think too much about who they want to be or what they want to look like instead of appreciating who they are. There are things you have to accept and this is one of them.
Having grown up in Hollywood what’s your opinion on the fitness and body hype?
Actually the public’s idea of LA is different from what it really is like. You just hang out with the people you like and that share your interests, just as in any other place.You chose the groups that surround you. But from apart all that I like to have a healthy lifestyle. I enjoy working out. I do spinning, yoga and pilates and I definitely prefer a kale salad to any burger. I go to the doctor every month for a checkup and I am completely healthy.
You often model for plus-size brands. How do you see this segment evolving?
I definitely see a huge growth in this segment. It’s also amazing how many newcomer designers and brands are around and what great looks they create. There are upcoming names such as Remi Ray and also retailers and brands such as Evans or Sheego that offer a great choice. I do not really understand why regular brands do not try to get their share in this growing market. It might be because it is more expensive to adopt your collection to bigger sizes and to the changing body types when it comes to sizes 14 and bigger.
Do you feel that the fashion industry discriminates against curvy women?
Well, I do not let them discriminate me. I go to all kinds of stores and just buy regular stuff. I don’t go to plussize stores or look for the plus-size departments. Also at designer stores I don’t see a problem. So for example if on the catwalk they might suggest you wear the blouse buttoned up which might not fit my bust size I will buy it anyway and just wear it unbuttoned with some top underneath. And what is your favorite denim? I love boyfriend jeans by Paige denim–they have a great fit and fabrics!