Making plus size profitable

Tuesday 27 August 2019


Plus sized clothing is one of the fastest growing sectors in UK fashion retail, but it is not without challenges.

A decade ago, plus sized clothing was ghettoised to a handful of specialist high street shops. Size 18 or above? These were your only options regardless of age or taste. A lot has changed. Today’s plus size shopper might mix skinny jeans from H&M+ with a bra top from Missguided and a fitted jacket from ASOS Curve.

Plus size retail has changed

The market is (literally) growing as the nation gets bigger. Over the last five years, plus size fashion growth has outperformed its mainstream counterpart. Even the terminology has changed to keep up. The ‘plus size’ of yesteryear, UK size 18 and above, has become normalised, necessitating the term ‘true plus size’ to describe women who are UK size 26 or over. Semantics aside, both these groups account for a growing proportion of UK fashion retail, a critical mass of which retailers have taken note.

Not only are customers’ bodies changing, but so are their mindsets. Once the message for the plus sized was to hide under baggy jumpers and tent-like dresses. Now, thanks to the body positive movement, curves are celebrated and difference lauded. Inspirational hashtags such SimplyBe’s #WeAreCurves and Evans’ #IamMe tell this story well. Plus size shoppers want clothes that reflect their personalities, not their measurements.

Advances in e-commerce are also shaping the sector. Targeted social media advertising allows brands to reach niche audiences at the click of a button - want to advertise to UK women, aged 36-44 who worry about their upper arms? No problem. Online only retailers also have the advantage of being able to stock a broad range of sizes and styles without the headache of in store inventory management.

The fight for the plus size pound

While the evolution of plus size shopping is great news for customers, it means retailers must work harder to win their spend in an increasingly fragmented market. High street brands, department stores, online marketplaces and e-commerce start ups are all fighting for the plus size pound. The victors are those that understand their customers. Moreover, they deliver on fit, price and availability.

Plus size is no longer a USP in its own right. Customers are seeking retailers with an identity that matches their own. This means brand messaging comes into play more than ever before. Do you speak to a young party crowd, or busy professionals? In the US, where the plus size fashion market is more advanced, retailers such as Lane Bryant, Torrid and Catherine’s do this well (catering for the classic, trend-led and comfort driven shopper respectively). Brand identity is particularly important to younger shoppers, with Generation Z more likely than any other group to cherry pick small online brands that speak to them as individuals. These might have been brought to their attention by a growing number of plus sized influencers rather than traditional marketing methods

Fit, price and availability are key

Marketing may lead a customer to your store or website, but if you fail to deliver on fit, price and availability then you will lose them forever. Leading plus size brands appreciate that fit is key to their target customers. It is not about offering customers a size 22 version of a size 8 dress, but cutting shapes to fit the proportions of large body sizes.

A price point that mirrors mainstream sizes is also important. UK fast fashion retailer New Look fell afoul of this. In 2016, it was accused of charging a ‘fat tax’ by selling larger sizes at a higher price.

A similar no-no is to promise customers a size that is out of stock or difficult to find. In fact, inventory management is the biggest challenge for any retailer catering for the plus size market.

A regular store that aims to do plus sized well must invest in a wide range of sizes to serve a relatively small customer base. This puts pressure on margins. To make plus size profitable, brands must be smart in their merchandising. Inventories must be kept tight through intelligent buying, frequent stock drops, and fulfilling online orders from stores. An alternative is an online first approach where stock is managed in a single location.

Does your brand make plus size profitable?

To recap, brands wishing to target one of the fastest growing segments of UK fashion retail need to ask themselves the following questions. Get the answers right and you will soon be enjoying plus size profits.

  • Does your brand clearly stand for something, and have a distinctive proposition?
  • Do you understand the right product fit for your consumer?
  • Does your business model get product to your customers profitably?

If you would like to develop a market beating plus size strategy, please reach out to:

Mairi Fairley, Partner

Katherine Fiander, Associate Partner

Experts in this insight:

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