Many plus-size shoppers are frustrated because they feel they are underrepresented when it comes to mainstream fashion. It’s rare that customers get a chance to tell the brands everything that they think is wrong with it right to their face, but that’s exactly what this group of shoppers got to do.
The CurvyCon was done in June in New York City. There were 500 women there and they were invited to the panel discussion called Dear Retailer. It was a conference where the women could give their views to the CEOs and designers of the top brands like Eloquii, Eleven60, and GwynnieBee. There were also representatives from JCPenney, StyleWatch, and Plus Model Mag.
The panel discussed with the representatives a lot of topics ranging from plus-size fashion production to the role of bloggers and social media and the way they have influenced the growing industry. The customers were eager to learn more about the brands and they also want stores to include more plus-size brands in their stock.
This was a great venue to give their feedback as a group. The companies were able to get a real sense of exactly what their customer wanted because they were able to give their complaints and comments directly to the CEOs who can ensure changes will be made.
The designers, editors, and marketers were also able to explain facts about the plus-size fashion industry that the average customer may not know. Kierra Sheard, creator of Eleven60, explained why plus-size items are more expensive, saying, “For the curvy woman, 4 yards is what we need of fabric to cover a size 16. If we pick a yard of fabric that costs about $20, that right there already makes up a price that we’re used to [$80]. But then you have to give to the brand for their profit, you have to give the brand to cover production, to get shipped overseas.”
Sheard also highlighted the importance of choosing good quality fabrics for plus-size clothing. She explained, “I’m looking at fabrics that still will give you that controlled fit, because I don’t always want to wear a girdle. So I’m trying to create fabrics that will pull me in by itself. Listen, I’m tired of a girdle and I’m tired of that crease.” Her honesty was well-received. The women in the crowd knew that they were able to relate to her words because they have also struggled with their own clothing.
The CurvyCon panelists also talked of the impact that fashion bloggers and social media in general have on businesses. Vice-president of JCPenney’s Brand Trend Design for Womenwear, Nathan Laffin, says, “We really use bloggers as a conduit to the larger community, because we can’t speak to every single customer in all 1,000 stores and we can’t speak to the millions of them in the shop at JCP.com. But we can follow you guys and look to you to help us understand what it is that your community at large is looking for that they’re not finding, as well as help us avoid making some of the mistakes that we’ve seen other retailers make.”
Editor of Plus Model Mag, Madeline Jones, was the moderator of the Dear Retailer discussion. She asked panelists about models and why the plus-size fashion world has continued to stay away from models who are truly plus size. In general, brands have been using women who wear a size 12, which is only considered plus-size in the modeling industry and not in real life. This question on models led to a discussion on the need for having diverse shapes and sizes represented.
Laffin says that JCPenney no longer uses size 6 models and they use “real women in straight sizes and plus sizes.” He added that in JCPenney “advertising now you’ll see a variety of shapes, a variety of sizes.”
The attendees of the event were able to voice out their concerns with regard to what they need from the fashion brands. The audience was allowed to ask the panelists any questions.
Mainly the questions asked of the panelists had to do with having better representations in the industry and problems with the shopping experience that these customers regularly face. One of the audience members asked JCPenney to extend their sizes for women who wear a size over size 28.
One of the women asked retailers to consider the petite plus-size body frame. She is 4 foot 9 inches tall and has been size 2 up to size 20. Being a bigger size, she finds herself having to have thing hemmed in. So she asked the panelists if they could make the right length for those customers who are five foot or shorter.
There were many other requests and questions from the audience and the panelists were all very receptive. They agree that there is a lot of things they can work on to improve their service to those plus-size consumers.
JCPenney’s representative, Laffin, said, “We’re super data driven, and it’s always balance between what we want to do and what makes sense to do for the business. So what we usually do is if we hear from you that there is a want or need we’ll try it for as long as makes sense.”
He explained that when brands try to fill the gap and offer more diverse sizing, there aren’t enough shoppers to support is and it is not viable from a business standpoint to keep it on the shelves.
The market has been changing and more brands are listening to the demands of their plus-size customers. The plus-size industry is worth $17 billion in sales and the market continues to grow. So it makes sense that these brands want to keep a hold of their customers.
Mainstream fashion is also more open to embracing plus-size. Rachel Antonoff, who is traditionally a straight-size designer, has expanded her line to include plus size. There are many designers who want to branch out into the plus-size market.
The plus-size industry is thriving. It’s important that as a community they embrace their natural figures and keep a body-positive attitude. They are slowly but surely making an impact on the straight-size fashion world just by being a growing presence in the industry.