Are retailers ready to put plus-sizes on an even playing field with regular sizes?
WWD has learned that Nordstrom is developing a strategy to elevate its plus-size business. It’s a category that most retailers have largely neglected or relegated to the far corners of their stores.
“Nordstrom has an innovative ‘size-inclusive’ initiative in the works launching sometime this fall,” according to a source close to the company.
Other sources indicated that the Seattle-based Nordstrom is working with Universal Standard, a two-year-old women’s plus-size brand based in New York, as well as with Ralph Pucci International, which has created a plus-size mannequin collection called Sizes. Details on how Nordstrom will incorporate Pucci, Universal Standard and possibly other suppliers into its plus-size initiative could not be learned.
While Nordstrom declined to comment on the strategy, the retailer did confirm it has established a relationship with Universal Standard. “We’re working hard to represent a broader range of sizes for our customers by bringing them the best possible product including exclusive and limited distribution brands,” said Tricia Smith, Nordstrom’s executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s and designer apparel. “We believe this partnership with Universal Standard will give us the opportunity to better serve our customers and shine a light on the need to be more inclusive.”
Universal Standard will be spotlighted by Nordstrom through pop-up shops at six locations. The retailer also sells the collection online.
Meanwhile, Ralph Pucci International will unveil “Sizes” later this year, with sizes 16 and 12, as well as an 8, which is regular size. “Typically in the mannequin-retail world, size two is the norm. We wanted to show a variety of sizes,” Pucci said.
“Last year when we worked with Rebecca Moses on mannequins in different body positions and busts she was about embracing all nationalities and skin colors, sizes and shapes as well,” Pucci said. No large-size mannequins were created then, but the conversation led to Pucci approaching retailers about large sizes, including Nordstrom and Macy’s. “Both said this is an area that has to be addressed,” Pucci said. “Most of the time retailers don’t give much attention or time to the larger sizes. The shops, and even the mannequins are not as beautiful. Typically a mannequin would have used a regular size head for a bigger size. We actually sculpted it right to scale. The whole body flows now from head to toe. We decided to address this in a modern way. “
In December, the mannequins will be shown at the Pucci showroom on 18th Street and they’ll be dressed in Universal Standard. “The clothing is very modern. There’s a very sophisticated spirit and coloration, with blacks, grays and taupes. It’s not flowery or girly,” Pucci said.
Pucci suggested that some retailers are contemplating displaying large sizes mixed in with regular sizes, and that both retailers and shoppers will find it quite natural seeing plus-size mannequins and clothes, side by side with regular sizes. Twenty years ago, Pucci created a plus-size mannequin working with Ruben Toledo. “I sold it to one of the better stores in New York. They pushed it in the corner. Hopefully, stores will give Sizes some premiere space.”
Universal Standard, founded and owned by Polina Veksler and Alexandra Waldman, offers sizes 10 to 28. In an interview with WWD, Waldman described the look as “modern elevated essentials.”
So far, the firm has sold direct to consumers. Nordstrom will be the brand’s first wholesale account.
“It’s very hard to be complimentary with how retailers have dealt with larger sizes in general,” Waldman said. “I have a lot of experience shopping for plus-size clothes. I wear a plus-size. But we love how Nordstrom presents plus-sizes. The way they showcase plus-size brands is the way they showcase other sizes. It’s one of the few stores that gives plus-sizes equal play. In a lot of department stores, it’s regulated to top floors. The lighting is different. The feeling is different. It’s not a welcoming experience.”
“But Ralph [Pucci] sees the writing on the wall. He understands the importance of the category. He wanted to do something in the plus-size space that was clean, cool and minimalist, and when he said he wanted to work with our brand, we immediately said yes.”
Waldman said she’s taking Universal Standard on the road involving 12 pop-up shops including six key Nordstrom stores and at non-Nordstrom locations. “On Sept. 8, we’re starting a two-month, 12-city road trip for a series of in-store pop-ups in collaboration with Nordstrom.” She said Nordstrom will host pop-ups in their Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Century City, Calif., locations. “This is the first time we’ll be working with a major retail partner.”
The road trip will also take the Universal Standard owners to Portland, Ore.; Austin, Tex.; Houston; Dallas; St. Louis; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio, and Washington D.C., where pop-ups will be established in studios and galleries and the owners will meet more of their customers. It will wind up back in New York in November.
During the road trip, “We’ll also be conducting a model search to find the faces of our next campaign,” Waldman said. “It’s in partnership with The Lions Model Management, a boutique agency whose clients include Irina Shayk, Kate Upton, Cameron Russell, Stella Maxwell and Karen Elson.” The top contenders will be flown to New York to meet with executives from The Lions and considered for a contract.
“This is a huge initiative for us, in which we’re hoping to reach over 100 million American women who represent a vastly underserved majority that has, until now, been largely ignored by the mainstream fashion industry,” Waldman said.