NEW YORK — With competition for consumer spending intensifying, apparel retailers and vendors can eke out growth by more effectively targeting the special-sizes market, Judith Russell, president of the consultancy Markethink Inc., said on Tuesday.

Russell addressed a seminar at the Fashion Institute of Technology entitled, “All Sizes, for All Styles, for All Women, the Opportunity in Special Sizes.”

Retailers to some degree are resistant to the plus-size business, often placing assortments in out-of-the-way areas of the store. Russell said this is partly because of a lack of understanding of the large-size business, though misses’ manufacturers are picking up some of the slack with larger cuts and more pieces in the 16 to 18 size range.

Large-size sportswear — apparel labeled as plus sized and women’s, sizes 16 and up in misses’ and XXL and above — is an $8.3 billion market, Russell said, citing figures from STS Market Research. The overall women’s sportswear market last year pulled in sales of $38 billion.

It is a segment of the market that has been embattled, however, weathering a 10 percent sales drop from 2002 to 2003, while sportswear overall slid 1.5 percent.

The large-size market, which she described as “unbelievably undeserved,” offers opportunities for vendors and retailers to take share through the use of better branding campaigns and sharper fashions.

Brands such as Talbots, Ralph Lauren and Dana Buchman have been successful with brand extensions through reproportioned and restyled collections, she said. Others, such as Lane Bryant and Torrid, have focused strictly on large sizes.

Finally, Russell pointed to firms that have approached the consumer more subtly, like Chico’s, where the traditional misses’ sizes 14-16 are referred to as a size 3.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association and the National Retail Federation were among the seminar’s sponsors.

— Evan Clark

This story first appeared in the October 6, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.