One should never underestimate how the quest for the perfect T-shirt can drive a fashion business. The basic item has spawned the genesis of numerous brands, including American Apparel and James Perse. Now Roxanne Heptner, owner and designer of Wilt Clothing in Los Angeles, is using the basic garment to lay the foundation for a plus-size women’s line called Wilt Plus.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” Heptner said. “The simpler the garment, the harder it is to make. It’s a basic white T-shirt. It’s all about the fabric and fit and the cut of the garment. It seems so simple, but it’s not.”
Staying true to her architectural aesthetic — for instance, asymmetric hems and trapeze silhouettes — and a palette drenched in muddy neutral tints, Heptner wants to offer an alternative to the women’s plus-size market, which is estimated by The NPD Group to ring in about $17.5 billion in annual sales. Her goal is to offer a full line to women who previously could select only one or two of her designs that might fit them. For instance, her $151 garment-dyed French terry sweatshirt with a slant in the back runs large enough for some plus-size women to wear. One of her own employees found linen tops that she stretched in the dryer to fit her size 2X frame. Plus, recent focus groups enlightened Heptner on the ages and sizes of her customers.
“My takeaway with that is a lot of people wish they could be wearing it,” she said.
Starting this summer, Heptner is going to offer 15 pieces, including 100-percent linen T-shirts and tops with handkerchief hems, from Wilt Plus on her e-commerce site, which ships internationally. For the fall, she’s prepping an expanded grouping of 25 pieces to sell at department stores. To be unveiled at Coterie later this month, that collection includes lightweight tees and other tops cut from cashmere-cotton jersey, cotton slub jersey and linen. Then for next spring, she’s aiming to land a full lineup, including novelty pieces like sweatshirts with leather panels, at specialty stores.
“I don’t want to lose the aesthetic of Wilt in this transition,” she said. “That’s why we’re taking it slow and making sure we do it correctly.”
While the sizes for Wilt Clothing run from XS to L, or the equivalent of 0 to 10, Wilt Plus offers sizes 1X to 3X. Retail prices range between $80 and $200, representing a 20 percent premium from the main line due to the bigger yield of textiles required.
If Heptner does it right, Wilt Plus could make up 20 percent of the company’s sales, which are on track to reach $25 million this year. Eventually, the plus-size business will benefit from her Co-creators program, in which she selects creative women, such as ceramicist Isabel Halley and chef Lee Tilghman, to serve as muses for new designs. She’s looking to find someone for Wilt Plus in time for next spring’s rollout to specialty stores.
“It’s really important the plus-size consumer is treated like any other consumer,” she said.