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Long overlooked by major retailers and brands, the plus-size market is finally getting some attention.
This story first appeared in the September 28, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Next month, The Limited launches eloquii by The Limited, a division catering to full-figured women with designs “in the same spirit” as the main chain. “There will definitely be a common sensibility between the two brands,” Linda Heasley, chief executive officer of The Limited, told WWD exclusively.
And Charming Shoppes Inc. has a new online system, making it easier to size up plus-size customers and steer them to appropriate fits and styles. “They’re the most underserved and marginalized population in apparel,” said Bill Bass, president of Charming Shoppes Direct, discussing the plight of plus-size women.
According to Heasley, many stores do sell clothes for full-figured women, who account for 50 percent of the U.S. female population. The problem is the assortments “lack choice relative to fashion.…Women don’t want to be relegated to wearing a tent or a muumuu. They don’t want something dumbed down. She wants a miniskirt that’s tasteful and appropriate and pushes a fashion viewpoint. Eloquii is about amazing clothes for a figure you can celebrate.”
Eloquii will target professional women, 25 to 34 years old, just as Limited does, and step out with trend pieces such as one-shoulder and strapless dresses, leather bombers and belted capes, Heasley said. “We’ve created a wardrobe that’s broad — that will get her through the day, into the evening, and for her to have fun on the weekend. We are moving her toward a lifestyle.”
Aside from sportswear and dresses, accessories will be part of the eloquii offering and “proportioned appropriately,” Heasley promised, with straps, for example, that are longer than they would be in a misses’ counterpart. Footwear is on the drawing boards for next year. “You will see it’s a sister brand” to Limited, Heasley said, adding that some of the prints will be the same as what Limited offers, though re-scaled.
The Limited has been selling up to size 14 clothes in its stores, and as large as size 16 and 18 online, and will continue to do so at least for awhile. It’s how the company learned that plus-size women want to see more fashion and convinced it to start a separate division. “She’s been very vocal about what she likes and doesn’t like,” Heasley said. “Fifty percent of the American female population is at least a size 12,” Heasley said. “She has been under served. She wants the same things her skinny friends get.”
Eloquii’s size range is 14W to 24W, and the price range is dresses, $89.90 to $148; blazers, $98 to $168; pants, $69.90 to $89.90, and tops, $29.90 to $69.90.
Eloquii will launch online Oct. 26 at http://www.eloquii.com, and is planning to open stores next year, possibly in the third quarter. The company has hired Jodi Arnold as vice president of design for eloquii. She previously designed her own label, and collaborated on designs for Limited for spring and fall 2011. Her first eloquii collection will be spring 2012.
Also, plus-size fashion blogger GabiFresh will be the voice of eloquii for the launch.
Charming Shoppes, in conjunction with Zafu technology, has been first to develop online surveys for tops, bottoms and bras, each involving 10 to 20 questions (some of a very personal nature) and taking about three minutes to fill out. It’s called Fashion Genius and is geared to determine a woman’s body type and style preferences, and then automatically suggest items that look and fit the best.
Fashion Genius is powered by an algorithm that took months to build and involved 10,000 in-person fittings of bras, pants and tops and 1.25 million survey answers. While the technology and effort behind the survey are complicated, the intent is not. It’s just all about getting to the customer base better.
For example, shoppers are asked: “Which bra style is preferred: demi cup, balconette, full coverage, plunge, sexy or sport?” “How do cups fit? Do they spill at the bottom, at the top, on the sides, do the bras fit fine? How much do your breasts sag with a bra? Have you ever had the underwire break?”
Shoppers are also asked: “Where do you carry most of your weight — tummy, tummy and bust, hips, thighs and seat, evenly upper and lower body?” And, “How do your jeans fit? Do they gape at the hips? How would you describe your seat? Flat, proportionate, prominent/high, or full and wide?” The survey is adaptive, meaning how a woman answers a question determines the next question to pop up.
So far, tens of thousands of large women have taken the survey, launched earlier this month, according to Charming. It’s on catherines.com, fashionbug.com, cacique.com, and sonsi.com, which are all divisions of Charming. Not surprisingly, eloquii will feature a “shape my style” tab to provide styling suggestions based on body types, similar to Charming’s format.
According to Charming, 93 percent of plus-size women want to conceal their tummy; 63 percent want to conceal their arms, and 65 percent report problems with jeans and pants gaping at the waist. Only one in eight are happy with the fit of their bras, with cup shape, shoulder strap and band lines cited as major issues. Plus-size women also avoid certain silhouettes and patterns, particularly stripes and narrow-leg pants. As Bass said, “Searching for apparel online has been a frustrating hit or miss experience, lacking the personalization necessary for finding clothes that fit.”