By  on June 22, 2007

Maurices, the Duluth, Minn., chain owned by Dress Barn Inc., has entered the plus-size business and dropped men's wear.

The retailer has introduced an in-store shop featuring sizes 16 to 24 in casual, career and dressy looks, including denim, screened T-shirts and dresses. About 400 of Maurices' 587 stores, located in 42 states, sell the large sizes.

"We're excited to meet the needs of a new customer who, up until now, has had limited fashion choices available to her in our communities," Lisa Rhodes, Maurices' executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said in a statement.

Maurices is competing against Lane Bryant, which has about 750 units. Dress Barn stores also sell plus sizes. However, Dress Barn targets 35- to 55-year-olds, while Maurices focuses on the 17-to-34 age group. Dress Barn also is more dominant on the East Coast. Maurices is rooted in the Midwest, and in smaller markets.

"We created the plus-size line to satisfy the multiple lifestyles of the young, savvy, fashion-conscious customer who shops at Maurices, while giving special attention to details that flatter a curvier figure," Rhodes said.

The company made a strategic decision to exit the men's business, which was in more than 300 stores, to help focus on large sizes and "communicate a more feminine attitude," she said.

Dress Barn reported that May sales rose 10 percent on a comparable-store basis. Dress Barn's sales increased 7 percent and Maurices' rose 18 percent.

Before Dress Barn bought the division in January 2005, Maurices was owned by the Dutch firm Brenninkmeyer. The company's U.S. retail holdings included Ohrbach's, Steinbach's and Upton's, which were dissolved in the Nineties after years of mediocrity.

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