Byline: Dick Silverman

NEW YORK — Apparel firms would do themselves some good if they reshaped their approach to the large-size market.
That’s the conclusion of Fairchild’s Strategic Information Services’ “Plus Size Apparel Market Report,” which reported that sales have soared to over $26 billion, giving the plus-size market a 27 percent share of all women’s apparel sales and making it the fastest-growing segment in the industry. The market boasts more than 36 million consumers, almost one-third of America’s female population, research by SIS and the NPD American Shoppers Panel revealed.
Despite the media’s focus on razor-thin models, six out of every 10 women wear size 12 or larger, and half of all American women are size 14 or larger, with nearly a third a size 16 or more, the plus-size study reported. In addition, super sizes — 17-28 and sometimes above — are in more demand than ever.
Yet retailers historically offer limited floor space targeted to the group, and shoppers have complained in surveys that they could not find clothes they like in their size.
“This screams opportunity, one from which many companies are profiting and many are choosing to ignore,” the SIS report stated.
Private label makes up 30 percent of all sales, bringing major new opportunities for national brands. While the market was criticized in past years for having only dowdy, matronly styles and few well-known brand names, conditions have changed dramatically. Designer labels have entered the market and find it can be profitable.
“While there’s an influx of resources currently flooding the market, there are many niches left unfilled and ripe for the carving,” the report added.
Research finds the large-size shopper is not a consumer to ignore. Surveys show many plus-size consumers are college graduates, with more disposable income than the average American woman. A significant portion earn $100,000 a year or more, according to the SIS report.
Large-size women are also shopping for apparel more than ever before: A majority reported they shop at least twice a week, and 90 percent purchase at least one item of clothing every two weeks, spending an average of $150 to $200 per outfit, SIS reported.
Plus-size women also offer added business to retailers, generally making strong purchases of accessories like scarves, jewelry, headwear, leather goods and sunglasses, the SIS study noted.
Research also shows large-size women will be loyal to apparel brands that show they care about consumers’ needs.
According to Cotton Inc.’s Lifestyle Monitor survey, 58 percent of women in the category complained they could not find clothes they like in their size — more than twice the number of smaller-size women surveyed. But the study showed large-size women still want to be just as stylish as smaller women, with 17 percent of plus-size and 18 percent of smaller women saying they enjoy “pushing fashion to the limits.”
“Manufacturers and retailers are beginning to realize the untapped potential of the lucrative women’s plus-size market,” the SIS report stressed.
It also revealed several key strategic opportunities in the market:
Trendy: After waiting years for quality styling, shoppers are feverishly rushing to large-size fashion labels.
Activewear: Styles made specifically to fit large-size women are in high demand. A subcategory with strong potential is activewear for older large-size women.
Upscale: There clearly is not enough designer quality and fashion merchandise yet available to fulfill market demand.
Plus-size junior apparel: Plus-size teens are flooding the large-size apparel market.
Super Sizes: Women’s apparel in sizes 17 to 28 or higher, is in growing demand. While many firms offer large sizes, much of it goes only to sizes 14 to 16, while a third of American women are size 16 or larger.
Accessories: The large-size market also has a large appetite for fashion accessories and bath and body products, offering retailers untapped sales potential, SIS stated.
Lifestyle/Concept shops: Just as in other apparel categories, there is a growing market for retail concept shops, including products from categories like large-size innerwear, activewear and sportswear.
The plus-size market is well represented in several apparel categories, all of which had percent increases last year, according to SIS and NPD.
Sportswear, with total large-size apparel sales of $20.8 billion, has the largest portion with 47 percent; women’s ready-to-wear has 22 percent; intimate apparel has risen to 18 percent; outerwear is 5 percent; swim/activewear holds 6 percent; and other was 7 percent.
The market also is widely sold at most retail channels. Discounters had 20 percent of the retail sales, national chains held 17 percent, department stores had 16 percent, specialty chains were 19 percent, direct mail accounted for 8 percent, off-price retail was 5 percent, factory stores were 3 percent, non-chain specialty stores 6 percent, and all other stores 6 percent, SIS reported.
Branding opportunities are rising as the market continues to expand.
Private label sales still make up 32 percent of the large-size market, national brands were 32 percent, designer labels were 14 percent, and others were 2 percent.
The plus-size market may have an image of older shoppers, but it is well represented across all age groups, with young people increasingly wearing plus sizes.
The SIS study showed that consumers under age 24 comprised 10 percent of the market; women 25 to 34 were 15 percent; 35 to 44 was 20 percent; 45 to 54 had 21 percent; 55 to 64 was 15 percent; 65 and over was 16 percent, and 3 percent was not reported.
Large-size women do not want existing styles that are just cut larger. They want and demand fashions designed and proportioned for larger bodies.
Studies show America is bigger than ever. National surveys reveal obesity and weight gain is a rising health problem in the United States, affecting 97 million people.
More than half of all Americans — 55 percent of the population — are overweight, with one in four people medically obese, government studies report.

The SIS Report is part of a continuing series addressing strategic issues in the apparel industry. The articles examine SIS proprietary research and analysis of major trends and developments.

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