By  on February 2, 2005

NEW YORK — Joseph A. is taking a swing at special sizes and expects to succeed by virtue of its follow-through.

“It’s always been treated as a stepchild,” said founder and chief executive officer Elan Eliau, referring to the special-size category.

Joseph A. is looking to capitalize on the expanding waistbands of Americans by committing resources to new machinery to handle larger looks and using that investment to keep new fashions flowing into the stores. “We’re just not offering her a set in six colors,” he said.

Shipments of special-size spring merchandise are set to begin this month, said Eliau, noting that plus sizes represent more of an opportunity for sales growth than petites, which the sweater firm is also introducing.

According to STS Market Research, the large-size sportswear market — apparel labeled as plus sized, sizes 16 and up in misses’ and XXL and above — accounts for $8.3 billion in sales annually. Sales of the total sportswear market come in at $39 billion.

Joseph A., based here, expects to do 15 to 20 percent of its business in special sizes this year. Overall, the company, which last year pulled in sales of over $100 million, is slated to grow its top line by at least 15 percent.

Joseph A. is sold in more than 1,600 department store doors and 1,800 specialty stores, such as Von Maur. Special sizes will roll out to 210 department store doors and 100 to 150 independent specialty stores.

Fit will be adjusted as needed, but the styling will go unchanged for the special sizes. The special-sized business will mirror Joseph A.’s misses’ assortment, which has basics, such as twin sets or turtlenecks, fashion basics that keep up with trends and more novel, embellished looks. Trends for spring include crochet trims, open necklines, bohemian-inspired beads, cut-out hearts and floral details.

“The special-size customer wants that product, wants those new trends,” said Eliau. “There’s a lack of hip novelty product being offered to the large-size customer.”

Petites and misses’ wholesale for $19 to $40, while prices on plus sizes run 15 percent higher.Key to the rollout’s success will be a broad range of product that will be continuously updated, as the vendor can turn around goods in as fast as 30 days to stay on top of bestsellers.

“We are going to learn about what trends are working in season and react,” said Eliau. “I’m not going to keep [the large-size customer] two steps behind. You definitely don’t want to over-sku the business, but you can’t insult the customer.”

After shipping merchandise for spring and summer,  Joseph A. will support the special-size effort for fall with a marketing campaign featuring a larger-size model, in-store signage, outdoor advertising and possibly magazine and newspaper advertisements.

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