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The evolution of plus-size as it joins mainstream fashion

By Weixin Zha

13 Nov 2019

Women are becoming ever-more confident with the size and shape of their bodies. With the growing trends of inclusivity and body positivity, the plus-size market isn’t only one of the fastest-growing segments for online retailers like Zalando, it is also evolving. An increasing number of conventional fashion companies such as Bestseller have launched new lines in recent years, while start-ups such as Universal Standard from the USA are stirring up the market.

“Right now women are really embracing their body size, they’re not trying to hide it anymore, they’re not trying to change who they are,” said Sabrina Shairzay, head of trend at Dutch fashion chain C&A in an interview. “We see that as a really great market opportunity.” C&A offers women's sizes up to 60 and is growing its bridal fashion collection to size 52 in autumn. The company also sees potential in expanding its range of casual and formal blazers, as well as occasion wear - up to now, it focused primarily on the casual sector.

One style for all

As younger consumers are becoming taller, plus size fashion is also changing, said Nico Jonker, brand manager for Danish label Zhenzi. Younger people dare to show more, he said at the WFC Big Brands trade fair in Amsterdam in July. The clothes aren’t long and covering anymore. An example for this is seen in denim, with tight and well-fitting jeans becoming a bestseller.

Picture: Zhenzi at WFC WFC Big Brands | FashionUnited

This has also been observed by Marrit Goselink, buying and sales coordinator Basics & Denim, at Dutch company Buur Fashion, which owns the label Yest and its bigger sister Yesta, as well as Ivy Beau and Ivy Bella. The differences between clothing for slim and taller women are disappearing notiably.“We believe that bigger women want to wear the same, we don’t want to make a difference,” she said at the Big Brands fair, adding that there’s no difference in style between the sizes anymore. The fits would still be adjusted for larger sizes, but not as much as before.

Wide and long styles, and expressive, colourful prints which conceal the shape of the body are falling out of fashion. Instead, basic items in unicolor are selling well, Goselink said.

image: Yesta at WFC Big Brands | FashionUnited

A market on the rise

Luxury fashion houses, which for a long time have been reluctant to embrace inclusive sizes, are gradually getting on board. This year, Dolce & Gabbana was the first luxury label to expand its size range to 54, while more and more mass-market brands like Tom Tailor are introducing their own plus-size categories. This season, the German apparel company introduced its line for plus sizes, My True Me. “Over the next three years, one third of our women's revenue should come from plus size,” said Micha Deelen,sales manager at Tom Tailor, at Big Brands.

The segment is also growing online, not only at specialized web stores like Navabi or Sheego, but also at Zalando, where around 5 percent of the European population makes its purchases. The online retailer's range for larger sizes has doubled since its launch and Zalando wants to "mirror" its entire womenswear segment in plus size in the future so that customers with different style preferences will find items on Zalando regardless of their body shape.

"The issue of size inclusivity has seen much support and strong growth in the European market in recent years," said Michelle Burkholder, director of buying women apparel special sizes, underwear & beachwear of Zalando SE, by email. "Existing fashion brands are adding larger sizes to their range; new brands are adding a plus size category and growing successfully".

The plus-size collections of seven private labels of mass-market British fashion suppliers more than tripled between 2015 and 2018, according to figures from data provider Edited. In Germany, more than half of women between the ages of 14 and 70 had a clothing size of 42 or larger, according to SizeGermany's latest measurement. And the trend towards larger bodies has been rising in Europe ever since.

The same themes

Burkholder observes the same appetite for plus-size fashion as in Zalando's core sizes: "The top sellers range from denim and t-shirts to trend-oriented items in the categories for blouses and dresses. Sustainability is an important growth area for all categories in textiles, including large sizes."

Image: Plaisir

The trend towards green fashion is also reflected in the swimwear of lingerie label Plaisir, which since 2015 has been using Econyl, nylon made from recycled materials such as fishing nets. Pastel shades are currently going well for lingerie and prints for swimwear, Aafke de Boer said at WFC Big Brands. She represents Plaisir and Pamela Mann's Curvy tights with her eponymous agency.

For clothing retailer C&A, the segment for large sizes has traditionally been an important market. Circular knit basics and light, fine gauge cardigans are currently in demand among customers, especially in medium brown shades, according to the company. In recent seasons, C&A has also started adding more dresses.

One or two brands?

As style becomes less defined by sizes, so too do brand identities. Increasingly, brands are bridging the gap between how they identify main and plus size collections. While Tom Tailor still decided to have an own name for his new line ‘My True Me’, other brands made less of a differentiation between their different size collections. Danish clothing group Bestseller’s labels Only and Vero Moda add just one more word for their plus-size versions, becoming Only Carmakoma and Vero Moda Curve. For Yest and Yesta, the difference in size consists only of the letter "a".

Finally, the US startup Universal Standard offers all sizes under one brand, ranging from 0 to 40 in the USA (30 to 72 in Europe), and it does so with conviction. Around 67 percent of US women are above size 14 (EU 46) said Alexandra Waldman, one of the founders of the label. "The idea of ‘plus size’ as a separate category, and as ‘niche’ has got to go!"

Image: Universal Standard Facebook

This article was written with the help of Yasmine Esser and Marjorie van Elven.

image: Nike Town London courtesy of Nike