EvansLondon is squeezing its ample silhouette into the crowded American apparel market.
The plus-size retailer, which is a sister company to the U.K.'s Topshop, plans to drop over one million catalogues in August, followed by the U.S. launch of its Web site in the fall. EvansLondon, which operates 350 stores in the U.K., also is looking at opening freestanding locations. Arcadia Group Ltd., which owns EvansLondon and Topshop as well as specialty chains Burton, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis, reported for the year ended Sept. 1, 2007 a 5.2 percent sales increase to 1.85 billion pounds, or $3.64 billion, from 1.8 billion pounds, or $3.5 billion, the previous year. Same-store sales rose 2.1 percent.
A populist approach differentiates the retailer from other plus-size brands. There are no loose-fitting pants with elastic waistbands, muumuus or caftans in the Evans range. Any mainstream style is fair game, from tube tops and short-shorts to skintight jeans, pencil skirts, fitted blazers, sleeveless floaty dresses and bikinis.
"There's nothing we won't translate," said Sue Perryman, EvansLondon's creative director. "We sell boob tubes and miniskirts. We might make a micromini a little wider to go over the customer's thigh. We do it in a flattering way. We won't apologize and we won't ban [anything]."
EvansLondon sells apparel in sizes 16 to 32. "Our specialty really is our fit," Perryman said. "We follow fashion but make sure our designs fit a curvy body."
The company's assortment is vast. "We offer a lot of young, funky trend-driven clothes straight off the catwalk," Perryman said. "We have more grown-up fashion and classics." The company recently launched a bridal collection and year-round swim business.
The Web site is broken into categories such as workwear, weekend wear, sportswear, swimwear, lingerie, hosiery, sleepwear, shoes and boots, accessories and jewelry. Prices won't strain a bank account. A white blazer with contrast trim is $108; an ombré dress, $167; black jeans, $59, and belted shorts, $49, converted at current exchange.
There's also Profiles, a separate online catalogue for basics, and an area for shopping by trend. "We sell confidence, not just clothes," said Perryman. "Young women in Britain today will wear a fitted T-shirt with a miniskirt, opaque tights and great boots. Their legs may look bigger and they may have a roll of fat under a tight T-shirt, but they look gorgeous and feel gorgeous."Perryman said Evans' approach to the large-size customer has evolved over the years. "We're not so fattest here," she said. "Some designers actually use plus-size girls on the catwalk. They kind of celebrate girls with curves. That's not to say that the U.K. was always like that. It changed, and the consumer led the change."
A woman's natural body shape is accepted overall in the U.K., she continued. "We don't really get the same kind of segregation as in the U.S.," Perryman said. "We're in [mainstream magazines] such as In Style, Marie Claire and Glamour in the U.K. We're integrated with everything."
The EvansLondon Web site in the U.S. will offer the same merchandise as the U.K. site, with a few notable differences. Prices will be converted to dollars, sizes will be American and copy will eliminate certain Anglo-centric phrases such as jumpers (sweaters) and trousers (pants). Perryman said EvansLondon's dabbles in the American market so far have been promising. Without advertising or marketing and almost no name recognition, EvansLondon has been getting about 50 orders a week, she said.
Perryman believes the success of Topshop's SoHo flagship opening in the fall in New York City will affect EvansLondon's retail prospects.
Meanwhile, the retailer has a lot on its plate. Georgina Goodman, an upscale British shoe designer, is launching a collection for EvansLondon, which will "absolutely do more collaborations. We did a swimsuit range last year with Ann Louise Roswald, a textiles designer. We're always interested in choosing different designers."
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