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Retailer Eloquii Believes That Fashion Doesn’t Stop at Size 12

For years, Hollywood and the advertising media have perpetuated a stereotypical image of women. As a result, many consumers have the unrealistic expectation that women should be poreless, hipless, silken-haired, high-cheekboned, size 0, 20-year-old goddesses. But is this beauty myth finally changing? Fashion retailer Eloquii believes that it should.208 It’s offering normal-sized women an array of apparel offerings that meet their desire to be fashionable but in a realistic way. It’s no secret that we are growing as a population—not just in quantity, but in our individual sizes. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention num-bers indicate that more than 70 percent of U.S. adults ages 20 and over were overweight or obese.209 The mean waist size for women in that age range was 38 inches, a size 16 in most apparel brands. However, regular sizes (known as “straight” sizes in the industry) run only up to size 12.

Apparel manufacturers have responded with “plus” sizes, which begin at size 14. And how many American women wear those sizes and higher? Plunkett Research estimates 68 percent. That group drove sales of almost $21.4 billion in 2016 in the plus-size category. That’s 6 percent higher than the prior year—and twice the growth rate of the overall U.S. apparel market.211 Founded in 1900 in New York, Lane Bryant is the oldest and best-known brand that focuses on the fashion needs of larger women. The company actually coined the term “plus size.”212 Now owned by Ascena Retail Group, Lane Bryant is both a fashion brand and a major retailer with 800 stores in 48 states. Other major retailers have jumped into the plus-size market as well, including H&M, Gap/Old Navy, Target, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s.214 However, some consumers still complain about the lim-ited selection in styles and sizes these stores offer. Even market leader Lane Bryant only offers up to size 34. And the shopping experience can be intimidating, with special parts of the store devoted to plus-sizes. This requires women to identify themselves as being plus-sized and many shop-pers don’t relish that. And, a lot of the fashions offered in straight sizes are not even available in plus. In one survey, 77 percent of plus-size women said they can’t find clothing that fits well and 73 percent say sizing is inconsistent across brands.216 Eloquii is among the upstarts to address those concerns.

The brand used to be the plus-size label of The Limited, but was dropped in 2013. At that time a few key employees found an investor and together they started a new online-only business focused on the fashion needs of plus-size women. Rather than just “sizing up” The Limited products, Eloquii used draping and unusual cuts to create flattering silhouettes (rather than the baggy, high-wasted, “empire cuts” tradition-ally used).217 “When we set up our factory network and sup-plier base, we weren’t looking for apparel factories that had done plus before,” says CEO Mariah Chase. Instead, they found new factories and trained them to produce the unique fit and construction of the Eloquii designs.218 It’s no accident that Eloquii and other new entrants chose an online strategy. In addition to the convenience, plus-size shoppers get the added benefit of avoiding the stigma of shopping in a regular store’s “big woman” section or at a dedicated store like Lane Bryant. Online also offers efficiencies for the retailer. Matthew Kaness, CEO of competitor Modcloth says, “We can constantly add sizes to every item without worrying about, ‘How many extra-smalls and 2Xs should I send to the Tallahassee store for the third week of August?’”But serving this market is not without its costs. The design process is more involved. Moving from size 2 to 12 can be a simple matter of scale, but plus sizes may require a separate pattern to account for different proportions. The products can also cost more to manufacture. There is more material involved and overseas factories are often not set up to make these sizes. Changes must be made to cutting tables and machines, all of which increase prices.Despite these challenges, Eloquii is winning in the market-place. It has doubled its sales every year since 2014, reaching around $80 million for fiscal 2017.223 The company is even dipping a toe in the bricks-and-mortar world, with plans to open up to 40 stores in the next four years.224 Other fashion brands and traditional retailers are taking notice. Michael Kors and Comme des Garçons have added plus sizes in their high-fashion lines, and now H&M and Target offer specific collections for plus-size women. Nordstrom is integrating plus sizes with straight sizes, adding larger mannequins, and showcasing plus-size models on its website. Even Walmart is getting in on the game with plans to acquire ModCloth, one of the pioneers in size-inclusive fashion.225 There is no sign that the population is slimming down, and as our bodies grow, the market for plus-size fashions grows as well. Attitudes are slowly changing, with more positive media attention and more balanced ways in which plus size consumers view themselves. Perhaps success cannot be declared until the market is no longer considered something “different,” as Alexandra Waldman, founder of Universal Standard notes: “If we are still talking about a plus-size market 10 years from now, we will have failed.”226

§6-1. Explain the success that Eloquii and similar brands have experienced in relation to self-concept, self-esteem, and self-consciousness.

§6-2 How can the plus-size industry leverage what we know about consumer behavior to address self-esteem issues? Be sure to address the unique challenges facing plus-size brands in today’s marketplace.

§6-3. Discuss the real-world changes that appear to be occurring with respect to media images of women. What are the reasons for this? Find two recent articles or examples that illustrate these changes.

§ 6-4. How do you reconcile the greater degree of acceptance of plus-size women with the parallel emphasis our society continues to place on thinness (as evidenced by the billions we spend on diet products, exercise, and so on)? Given the health problems associated with obesity (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) should the industry continue to encourage this acceptance? What role is social media playing?

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