The competition is getting fierce in the plus-size women’s apparel market.
Revenues are expected to rise 1.9 percent to $9.7 billion in the sector this year and reach $10.4 billion over the next five years, according to IbisWorld Research.
The need for better style and fashion, along with better fit in the size 12 and up range, has created an opportunity for apparel entrepreneurs who are rushing in.
The getting still seems to be good, but not quite as good as it was. While the business has been expanding, Ibis said growth would be more subdued over the next five years as the field becomes more crowded.
“We are so far away from saturation,” said Christine Hunsicker, founder of large size online brand Gwynnie Bee. “It feels like there’s still a lot more out there.”
Hunsicker founded Gwynnie Bee in 2011 and now has 400 employees.
“For every win, there is still a loss,” Hunsicker said, referring to the overall market.
She cited Old Navy’s decision to pull large sizes from the selling floor and make them online only and Saks Fifth Avenue’s move to leave the space. Gwynnie Bee charges a monthly fee to rent clothes and offers an option to buy. The company recently launched a partnership with straight size designer Rachel Antonoff.
That makes nine partnerships for the company, with three more on the way this summer. When Gwynnie Bee links up with a designer, Hunsicker said her company takes their technical patterns and re-creates the style in plus sizes. It’s a nuanced approach that means more than adding a few inches here and there.
Entrepreneurs are finding room for plus-sized activewear.
Lola Getts, the plus-size athletic apparel brand was founded when Stacey Goldstein became unhappy with the large size options in high performance athletic wear.
“Nike and Under Armour were just scaling up the size,” Goldstein, cofounder of the company. “There was limited selection and limited supplies.”
The big brands also didn’t understand the specific needs of a larger female athlete, she said. Lola Getts uses a thicker fabric that stays opaque and stretches better. The flat stitching doesn’t leave seam lines in the skin and the bottoms have a special waistband that doesn’t roll down.
“A lot are dabbling in it, but it isn’t their primary customer,” said Goldstein, who produces her line in Los Angeles and uses a size 16 fit model.
Lola Getts is focusing only on its e-commerce business as it builds its database of customers. The firm is self-financed, but will be opening a round shortly to get investors involved. Goldstein said the company signed with a celebrity who will be introduced in August.
Goldstein also prefers the term “curvy” instead of “plus-size.”
“We want to de-stigmatize plus-size and curvy resonates better,” she said. Lola Getts most be doing something right. It was founded in 2012 and has been growing by 50 percent each year and has a less than 5 percent return rate.
Not everyone vying for market share in the space is a newbie.
Lane Bryant’s great-grandson Michael Kaplan founded the plus-size chain Fashion to Figure 10 years ago after having grown up in the plus-size world.
“The reality is that the category is growing, but the amount of companies dipping into the space is growing as well,” Kaplan said. “My great-grandmother invented the category.”
He also noted that while big chains such as J.C. Penney and Target were devoting more square footage to the space, he too brought up the departure of Saks Fifth Avenue.
“There have been companies like H&M and Old Navy that bring it in and out,” Kaplan said. “There are a lot of people throwing their hat in the category.”
Size isn’t the emphasis for Fashion to Figure, which Kaplan said focuses on style and price. He suggested that some retail businesses are jumping into the area because it’s trendy.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a plus-size model in Sports Illustrated before [recently] or in a Joe Jonas video,” he said. Evidence that the body positive movement has entered pop culture.
Kaplan isn’t convinced the all the fresh faces will stay.
Fending off the newcomers is the current market share leader Ascena Retail Group Inc., which owns the Lane Bryant and Catherines chains.
But both of these brands have experienced sales declines over the past year, with Lane Bryant down 1.3 percent in the most recent quarter and Catherines off 9.1 percent. Ascena said in its earnings release that the decline was attributed to store closings.
With so much money at stake, the competition is bound to stay fierce.