While many mass market fashion retailers, such as Asos and Marks & Spencer, have well-established plus-size offers, helping them to widen their appeal, premium brands have often been criticised for their lack of inclusivity, with sizes at most players only extending up to a UK 18 or XL.
However, in recent months there has been a surge in premium retailers launching plus-size ranges – so the likes of Cos, Ted Baker and All Saints must follow suit in order to become accessible to a wider segment of shoppers. Though catering to plus-size shoppers will require additional spend and workforce initially, due to the larger product quantities and more specialised expertise required, these retailers already have strong experience in perfecting the fit of their products, so they are better positioned than most mass market retailers to easily extend the sizes available within their collections.
In October 2020, Karen Millen introduced its first inclusive collection following its acquisition by the Boohoo Group, which has always championed diversity. And so far in 2021, rental platform Hurr Collective has outlined plans to offer more products in sizes above UK 16 via brands like Loud Bodies and Selkie, and Anthropologie launched its inclusive ‘APlus’ third-party range online in the UK after its successful rollout in the US.
Premium womenswear brand Rixo also announced in April 2021 that it will be collaborating with US retailer Target to offer items up to a size 4XL. While this will allow Rixo to trial these collections and get a gauge of plus-size consumers’ differing demands, Target’s value price positioning has the potential to devalue the brand, so Rixo should aim to launch these plus-size ranges in-house in the future to protect its brand perception.
This leap in activity will now put pressure on other premium retailers, as increased inclusivity will boost their appeal among a greater proportion of the population. With the implementation of specific plus-size ranges often costly, since it requires retailers to buy in more stock and expand their workforces to cope with the addition of a new category, it would be more financially viable for players to first extend the sizing of their existing products, initially on core items like jeans or basic T-shirts, as this will give a sound indication of the preferences and size breakdowns of their customer bases.
Introducing larger sizes through partnerships with third-party brands can also help retailers to gain traction among plus-size shoppers, boost the credibility of their collections, and reduce the costs of investment, as has been leveraged by both Anthropologie and Rixo. Once retailers have successfully used these avenues to gain shopper insight and optimise the product fit and design elements, they should then incorporate plus-sizes on a more widespread level to give consumers greater choice.
In order to encourage shoppers to trial their new plus-size ranges, retailers must market them effectively, utilising plus-size models on product pages and in campaign images to emphasise inclusivity, and collaborating with plus-size influencers on sponsored social media posts to drive awareness. Partnering with third-party platforms like Asos or Zalando will also help to build the visibility and reputation of inclusive collections, with Asos in particular already having a well-established plus-size customer base, that will welcome having new brands to choose from.