Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio and Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — In a generally difficult sales environment, apparel firms are looking at special sizes — petites and plus size — for growth opportunities.
To build this business, manufacturers are focusing on
Fashion items.
Sharper price points.
Development of plus-size petites, designed for the heavyweight woman 5 foot 4 inches and under.
Special sizes, however, do not carry a guarantee of success. Some that have gone into large sizes, particularly, said they found it difficult to win or maintain appropriate retail support and dropped out of the race.
Yet, others feel fashion is the answer these days to woo and win the large-size customers.
“Firms making basic goods for a large-size customer are now having problems,” said Norty Sperling, president of Norton McNaughton, a moderate-price sportswear firm, which has made Maggie McNaughton large-size designs for a number of years. “Every day, we hear from stores that they want more fashion.” Among some of the items checking well for fall are sweaters featuring velvet collars and cuffs and A-line skirts, as well as patterned sweaters and knitwear pieces.
Liz Claiborne Inc., is looking to increase its petites and large-size business. As part of its petites strategy, the firm has developed a visual merchandising package, which includes logos and new fixtures, to debut in June for its top 100 doors. “We want to distinguish Liz Claiborne as a designer resource,” said Michael Wilson, vice president of petites sportswear.
As for its large-size Elisabeth business, the firm plans to convert 20 to 25 First Issue stores to Elisabeth formats this year. As reported, the company is phasing out its First Issue stores. Currently, there are 13 Elisabeth stores. Among trends Elisabeth is going after for fall are men’s wear looks, like pinstriped suiting, retro looks and tuxedo dressing. Elisabeth Petites, which targets the plus-size petite customer, is also a growing business. Karen Greenberg, president of Elisabeth, noted that it currently offers 65 percent of the styles in Elisabeth to the plus-size petite customer, with plans to expand that number.
First Option, an eight-year-old moderate division of Tracy Evans, opened a large-size and a petites division two years ago; both have doubled sales each year, Freda Lisnow, vice president of First Option.
Among some of the items for the plus-size customer that are booking for fall are tartan kilts, bias skirts and pleated skirts. The firm is going after the customer with a young attitude, someone ranging in age from 18 to 40.
Lisnow does point to one challenge in serving the plus-size woman: “Consumers in the moderate market are more price-conscious. It is the old adage that they think they’ll lose weight, so they don’t want to spend a lot of money.”
Reflecting the greater use of fabric, though, wholesale prices for large-size garments average about $2 more per garment than misses’ and petites. The range for misses’ and petites is $14 to $22.
Petites, on the other hand, are not as price-conscious, she said. The items checking well for fall include cigarette and soft pajama pants, scooters, walk shorts and jacket vests.
In Europe and the U.S., Mondi Fashion Group has relaunched its 10-year-old plus-size Patricia line after an 18-month hiatus to incorporate a younger attitude. The line will be available for July delivery to specialty and department stores. “The line had previously been very conservative, staid, featuring a lot of matronly looks,” said Rachel Roth, a New York sales representative for the line. Limited primarily to suit looks in the past, the line has expanded to include colorful outerwear, quilted vests, melange tweed sweater sets and crop jackets. It also includes eveningwear pieces like velvet jackets and skirts, as well as an embroidered crop jackets.
Wholesale prices are 10 to 15 percent lower than the previous line. Blouses wholesale from $75 to $85; skirts, from $85 to $110, and jackets at $185. The line is expected to generate more than $1 million in sales for its first year, with plans to double sales the following year.
Givenchy En Plus saw an 8 percent sales gain in 1994 and expects a 15 percent hike in 1995, according to Susanne Neckermann, president. Looking to expand its market share, Givenchy En Plus has added more eveningwear and casual pieces to its 200-piece fall line, although the main thrust continues to be daytime and career clothing.
Introduced in 1991, Donna Ricco Petites, a division of Donna Ricco Inc., accounts for 35 percent of the resource’s overall business, according to Helen Purdon, account executive. Next year, the petite business should account for 45 percent of total volume, she added.
In November, the company closed its year-old large-size dress line called Donna Ricco Woman. Unlike the company’s petite line, there was a great deal of disparity among retailers in terms of what they ordered, calling for shorter runs in production, and that became a problem, according to a company spokeswoman.