US retail giant Walmart continues to boost its apparel offering by acquiring women’s plus-size online retailer Eloquii, tapping into a growing and under-served sector of the market.

The move is part of Walmart’s focus on developing a portfolio of direct to consumer brands offering a “unique assortment” and follows the rollout of four private apparel brands for women, men and its first child-centric line earlier this year.

It already owns ModCloth, Bonobos and Allswell and acquired Jet.com for about US$3bn in 2016.

While the terms of the Eloquii deal were not disclosed, reports have valued the acquisition at about $100m.

“This year, we’ve made great progress adding new brands, developing exclusive products, and launching new fashion partnerships,” Andy Dunn, senior vice president of digital consumer brands, Walmart US e-commerce, said in a blog post yesterday (2 October). “As the retail landscape evolves at light speed, we remain firm in our belief that it’s not just about selling brands, it’s also about building brands and customer relationships. As such, we are laser-focused on developing a portfolio of direct to consumer brands with a unique assortment you can’t find anywhere else. With that in mind, I’m thrilled to announce our plans to acquire Eloquii.”

Known for its trend-driven, fashion-focused assortment, Eloquii is a digitally native vertical brand that offers apparel specifically designed for women size 14 and up exclusively through its website and stores.

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Founded in 2011 as part of The Limited, Eloquii re-launched online in 2014 as an independent direct to consumer brand.

“Today, more than half of women age 18-65 in the US wear size 14+. We know they’re looking not just for basics, but also for on-trend pieces that allow them to express their individuality,” Dunn continues. “This is a segment of the market that has been historically underserved and neglected. We believe she deserves better.”

The women’s plus-size market has been growing faster than the apparel market overall in the US, and analysts predict that the segment will continue to grow faster than the overall clothing market in coming years.

According to The NPD Group, American shoppers spent $21.4bn on women’s plus-size clothing in 2016. The global information company also suggests teenage females aged between 13 and 17 are reinvigorating the US plus-size market, with the number buying plus-size clothing having almost doubled between 2012 and 2016.

Its research also found that plus-size consumers want a wider variety of styles, with half seeking apparel brands that make both regular and plus-sizes. In addition, teens are the most likely of all age groups to feel that “plus-size clothing should be available in the same styles available for my smaller friends” and not offered as an afterthought.

Recent moves have seen Old Navy extend its specialty plus-size line from its website to 75 stores and denim apparel brand 7 For All Mankind launch a plus-size range of jeans for women, accommodating sizes 23-34.

Meanwhile, as a digitally native vertical brand (DNVB), Eloquii has a direct connection with its customers that helps inform how products get developed, how they’re marketed, and how the brand comes to life.

“This tight customer feedback loop is core to the ethos of DNVBs, and we are excited to have Mariah Chase, CEO of Eloquii , and her team join a portfolio that includes  ModCloth, Bonobos and Allswell,” Dunn says. “DNVBs are an important part of our strategy because they offer unique and differentiated products while building strong relationships with customers.

“What makes a digital brand great is how it converts a pain point in the market into a source of delight for the customer. It means creating real connections with people, building a spirited and interactive following, and offering customers an experience they can’t get anywhere else. It means offering a broad and growing range of great products for that customer and fundamentally elevating how they are served both online and offline. Eloquii allows us to do all these things.”

Jennifer Sherman, senior vice president of product and strategy at cloud-based unified commerce platform provider Kibo, says the deal makes “perfect sense” for Walmart or any other retailer trying to capture part of a fast-growing market.

“The US plus-sized fashion market is growing at a CAGR of 5.3%, that’s 3.6 times faster than the rest of the women’s apparel market.  Coresight research estimates that the US plus-sized apparel market is about $46bn today with potential to grow to $60bn by 2020,” she notes.

“With this acquisition Walmart is buying an established brand in a space that is growing faster than most of its other segments and offerings. As well, Walmart will also bring something to Eloquii that they haven’t had since The Limited divested the organisation – physical stores. Today Eloquii has five stores. In an industry that has historically failed to focus on and cater to the unique body shapes that today’s women have, the option to buy online and pick up in store and therefore verify the fit is critical. With this acquisition, a larger segment of women will now have local stores as a shopping option, where they can try on Eloquii clothes and find the right fit before committing their funds.  This move is great for Walmart and great for the women of America.”