NOW TRENDIER, PLUS-SIZES VIE FOR SPACE

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — A number of junior sportswear firms are aggressively courting plus-size teens with trendy sportswear. Now they just have to convince retailers to give their lines some space.
“A lot of retailers have been resistant,” said Beth Glassman, sales director of One Step Up Plus, a division of One Step Up, which is now in its second season of offering large-sized junior apparel.
“Many are trying to find the physical space, but they don’t know whether junior plus-size should go into the plus department or the junior department. There is a lot of potential in this market, but many stores are avoiding it.”
Overall, the plus-size apparel market has been rapidly expanding in recent years and has evolved to include more fashionable offerings by a number of misses’ sportswear firms, as well as plus-size lines aimed at the younger market. Among the junior sportswear firms that have recently introduced looks for plus-size teens and young woman are One Step Up, Self Esteem, LA Movers, Fubu and Younique.
Fubu, the sportswear manufacturer known primarily for its urban streetwear, launched a plus-size collection last holiday season, but retailers have been slow to offer space for the line, said Leslie Short, vice president of marketing for Fubu Ladies.
“It is very frustrating,” Short said. “There is a lot of demand out there, and it is an untapped market. These girls want to look like their friends and they don’t want to shop in a different area. They are embarrassed to shop in the adult section. It is my dream to have a Fubu rack that includes every size.”
Another problem, industry executives said, is that price points are higher for plus-size juniors than for regular junior lines due to the additional fabric costs, making them more expensive than most other offerings in the junior department.
Sears is one of the few national retailers to devote substantial space to this segment. After testing large-size junior apparel in about 60 stores in 1998, Sears rolled out its in-store concept, called Mainframe for You, in more than 400 units this past fall. Mainframe for You includes large signage and special fixturing to clearly identity the department, and it features products from vendors such as Younique, LA Movers and Alpha, according to a Sears spokeswoman. Most of the product retails for $24 to $32.
Federated Department Stores is just starting to offer more plus-size juniors in some of its chains, but overall the company has been very slow to give room to the category, industry executives said. Federated’s Macy’s West division will introduce some items this spring in the Macy’s Woman section of the store, and Burdines and Bloomingdale’s by Mail also feature some larger apparel for juniors.
Anne Spangenberg, divisional merchandise manager for Macy Woman at Macy’s West, said her department is planning a 10-door test this spring with some younger-oriented merchandise from resources that include LA Movers, Vintage Blue and California Concepts. She said Macy’s West has been interested in adding more updated plus-size looks but that the company has had to determine the best place to put the merchandise. After discussions, Macy’s West has decided to house it in the Macy Woman department, in part because that department offers trained specialists who can assist with fittings, she said.
“We definitely feel there is a young, contemporary customer out there who isn’t being served,” Spangenberg said. “We are thrilled about the opportunity and are looking to add more resources.”
While some chains are starting to allocate more real estate, these efforts are still minimal, many industry executives contended.
“Department stores need to do more,” said Lisa Green, who heads up the large-size division at LA Movers. “They need to prioritize advertising and signage. Girls want to shop with their friends and they shouldn’t be stigmatized. They want to look like their contemporaries.”
Some industry executives note that junior departments in many department stores are focused on big, branded companies such as Guess, XOXO, Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger, Rampage and Esprit de Corps, none of which currently offers large-size apparel.
Della Olsher, vice president of marketing and brand management for the junior sportswear firm Rampage, said the company has been talking to manufacturers about licensing agreements for plus-size apparel. “We definitely believe in this category and feel it is very important,” Olsher said. “We are just trying to find the best way to go into it. For stores not to go into it and recognize it, and not find space for it, is a mistake.”
Among other chains, Kmart offers some fashion-forward large-size women’s apparel as part of its private-label Route 66 program, but the store does not have any plus-size apparel specifically for teens, noted a company spokeswoman.
While a handful of specialty shops such as Cato Corp. and Charming Shoppes carry apparel for heavier teens, few of the youth-oriented specialty stores are aggressively going after the plus-size junior market.
Dennis Nelson, president of The Buckle, a 232-unit chain targeting young men and woman, said his company is not carrying any large-size merchandise, adding “It’s not something we have really discussed.”
Specialty stores may want to take a cue from Lane Bryant, the plus-size concept owned by The Limited. Lane Bryant doesn’t specifically target junior apparel but is widely seen as a retail leader in the plus-size fashion industry with its offerings of trendy and updated looks. In the fast few years, the company has increasingly geared its apparel to a younger customer, and now the bulk of its shoppers are ages 16 to 30, according to a store spokeswoman.
While many traditional retail stores have been hesitant to offer apparel for this seemingly fertile demographic, Internet companies are starting to grab on to this fast growing market. Alight.com, a site targeting plus-size consumers, recently purchased Sydandsam.com, a large-size apparel e-commerce site.
Alight.com’s site now includes a section called “Hip and Happening,” which includes large-size apparel geared toward younger customers. The site offers novelty items such as sari-inspired dresses, embroidered jeans, denim shorts and printed T-shirts from a variety of companies, including Bongo, California Concepts and LA Movers.
“This business offers a huge opportunity,” said Laurie Dietz, executive vice president of merchandising at Alight.com. “We don’t have the real estate limitations that brick-and-mortar retailers have, and we believe our concept appeals to women of all ages.”
Jon Langbert, Alight.com’s president, added, “We are actively seeking merchandise in this area.” Langbert said plans are to add editorial for a younger audience, as well as an advertising campaign set to break this summer.

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