(Filed Under wholesale Plus Size News). Over the past year, BODY Magazine has noticed changes in the plus-size intimate apparel market, encompassing all aspects from fit and design to variety and availability.
BODY asked both retailers and manufacturers for their take on concrete examples of changes in the market. Several companies chimed in on the most important aspects of the market as well as how they are growing and adapting to customers’ needs to stay successful in this increasingly competitve field.
BODY Magazine: How has the plus-size market has changed in the past year or two?
Jim Lofgren of OneStopPlus.com: The plus-size market has really boomed in the online channel over the last couple of years. We find that store retailers within the plus-size apparel arena are having a very tough time with in-store sales, but growing online. This is causing them in a longer term perspective to either diminish their store size, close some stores or manage to revamp their store networks. Amazon and marketplace retailers such as OneStopPlus.com, who offer products from many different retailers — all in one place — have won significant market share in a stable market environment.
Tina Karakourtis of Tina’s Closet: The plus-size woman needs larger cup sizes in smaller back sizes. A plus size in bras no longer means a 50B; the plus size customer whom I help today measures a 36J or K cup!
Cathy Kamikura of WhatSheBuys.com: The plus size woman is looking for more fashion and appeal. They don’t want frumpy. They want what the petite and regular-size woman are offered. They want style, comfort, color, design just made in a way to fit the plus-size woman.
Lorraine Chambers of Knock out! Panties: It’s expanded into all demographics, including juniors. Plus size, when Googled, starts at a size 12 or 14. Ten years ago, a plus size was a woman who wore half sizes. Plus sizes/half sizes denoted a bigger garment with a much larger waist. A 14 1/2 plus size equaled a Missy size 18. Today the counter trend to the runway model is the woman with curves. The new trend is a woman is no longer thought of as overweight, but now she and her man celebrate curves.
Mia Holtzman of Julie France Body Shapers: We have been contacted by several retailers — online retailers in particular — that chose us because they are looking specifically for product that is available in regular to plus sizes.
Kara Oguschewitz of Moonlight Serenade: For the past couple of years, there are more plus-sized customers than ever and the numbers are still growing. There also has been a growing number of online stores for plus-size women to select from.
Meryl Kutzin of Q-T Intimates: Plus women want more fashion and more sizes to choose from.
Liliana Mann of Linea Intima: I do not feel the market changed — the same customer is on the lookout for the items that fit her needs.
BODY: How have you been dealing with the changes in the plus-size market at your company?
Ping Yau of Lovely Day Lingerie: The plus size cost more to make, cost more in inventory control.
Jim: OneStopPlus.com launched its marketplace in 2006, offering brands from the largest plus size retailer Redcats USA. In 2010, OneStopPlus.com was the first online plus-size apparel company that opened up the doors to external retailers. Since March 2010, OneStopPlus.com has amassed a significant number of new partners in a wide range of industries.
Cathy: Over the past few years we have added plus-size loungerie and cozy wear whenever it is offered. We offer it in Spanx, Sassybax, Wacoal, Hanky Panky and in comfy lounge-around-the-house wear by Barefoot Dreams.
Lorraine: We are a company that is less than a year old, but our buyers made it very clear that we needed plus sizes — Knock out! introduced plus sizes this last August.
Mia: We have increased the number of styles available in plus sizes.
Kara: Coming soon, we will be offering lingerie specially for plus-size brides.
Meryl: We are adding more fashion to our line as well as more sizes to our basic styles.
Liliana: We are carrying bras up to 46 and up to an I cup, and increased sleepwear to 3XL.
BODY: What percentage of your business is in plus? Do you expect this percentage to grow in the next few years?
Ping: We carried about 20 percent of the items in plus sizes two years ago; due to customer feedback, we carry 80 percent of items in plus sizes.
Jim: One hundred percent of our business is focused on the plus size woman.
Lorraine: We started shipping plus sizes in October, so it is a new business for us. We have projected a growth rate of 10 percent for 2012. Sales will be our true predictor of the percentage of 2012 business.
Mia: We make more than half our line available in plus sizes. The plus-size category could very well increase.
Kara: We cater 100 percent to the plus sizes only. Plus size will always be growing since American are getting bigger than ever.
Meryl: Fifty percent of our business is in plus, and that’s a growing number monthly.
BODY: Fit, price, fashion — how would you rank these three components compare in terms of importance to the plus customer? Which is most important in your business?
Eric Schlobohm of Shirley of Hollywood: Fit, fashion and pricing are all very important in the design phase, in that order. We put a big emphasis on fit and quality in all our collections, from our better-priced packaged HOT collection, also offering full figure sizes, to Shirley and Intimate Attitudes. We go through an individual fitting on every item, with a 1X fit model for Intimate Attitudes. Grading a large into full figures does not cut it, and will not have a proper fit. Fashion colors, and racy hot styles are of great importance as well. I always joke that we go way past the basic beige that is so common in full-figure intimates.
Ping: Fit first, price second, fashion last.
Jim: It is impossible to rank the three: Some might want plus-size designer labels and are less concerned with price ... some other customers want basics at a very competitive price. We want to also be able to service these customers with an excellent and wide range of products.
Cathy: Fit, fashion and then price. If it doesn’t fit, they aren’t going to buy it. If it isn’t their style or fashionable, they aren’t going to buy it. If it’s not the right price, but they love it, they will most likely still make the purchase.
Lorraine: Fit comes first — nothing could be worse for any woman then panties that do not fit or wear properly. Fashion and price can go hand in hand — I personally believe that women will pay more for quality in a classic look and these same women will pay less for a seasonal trend piece.
Mia: First fit, then price, then fashion — ssince we offer a functional basic item, fashion is less of an issue over function. The plus customer encounters unique fit requirements that are different from the smaller customer.
Kara: Fit, then fashion, then prices.
Meryl: Fit is much more important in the plus market. Price is not as important in plus as in missy because plus women are just happy to get color and fashion in their assortment.
Liliana: Fit, then price, than fashion.
BODY: Does the plus customer want the same brands as everyone else, just in her size? Or does the plus customer want special plus specialty brands that are not available in smaller sizes?
Ping: I think the customer just want the same brands like everyone.
Jim: Our surveys and focus groups show that our customers feel alienated from the traditional retailers because they do not carry sizes larger than 16 in most cases. They express that they would like all retailers to cater also for the plus-size woman over size 12, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the U.S. female population.
Cathy: Plus-size women like the same brands as everyone else. They just want it to fit and be size-appropriate. I believe plus-size women don’t want to have brands that scream “I’m a plus size woman.” They know they are plus size and they want to wear what everyone wears. However, if a brand had super great styles, fashion, prices and were slimming, I believe the plus size woman would wear it.
Lorraine: Both — if it is a brand she admires, she wants to be included; but on the other hand, the plus-size customer wants to look good — this can require special construction or a change in fabric so the garments lay right on the body.
Mia: The plus customer would like to be able to purchase the SAME brands as smaller customers and be able to look equally good in them.
Kara: It shouldn’t matter the brand, as long as it is a garment that is both comfortable and sexy.
Meryl: I think she just wants fashion and fit and I’m sure the label matters that much to her. I think the industry puts more emphasis on “brand” than it should. The bra should fit and be a good value.
Liliana: I do not think she thinks about it — she wants things that fit.
BODY: Is the plus business doing better than the standard size business these days?
Jim: In the first 6 months of 2011, the women’s apparel market was stable versus last year. The plus-size women’s apparel market in the same period declined by 3 percent. The online market for plus size however showed growth by 7 percent in the first six months of 2011 vs 2010. With its forward-thinking approach, OneStopPlus.com experienced double-digit sales growth in 2010 versus 2009.
Cathy: It is definitely a growing business because the plus-size woman has to buy plus size and can’t just go anywhere to get her items. She knows she can’t just go to the local boutique and pick up something quick. She has to plan out her purchases or purchase when she finds them. A plus-size woman has fewer options and if it fits right, is fashionable and makes her look good, she will buy it! Maybe in a few different colors. She’s also more brand loyal because she knows which brand she likes that fits her sense of style and her body.
Lorraine: As the plus-size industry expands, so does the excitement for the consumer; but for manufacturers, the competition gets harder. There is not a clear definition of plus size today — is it a size 12 or a size 20?
BODY: What are the most important rules to being successful in the plus market?
Jim: A consistent fit, outstanding customer service, a good fashion mix and very attractive prices — these are the most important success factors in the plus-size business today.
Tina: Stock the right inventory, check out your competition and listen to your customers. Above all deliver outstanding customer service to every customer, every time. However, the merchandise has to be available that will fit and support the customer; otherwise it simply won’t sell and you may lose a potential loyal customer.
Cathy: Offering a selection of fashionable styles that fit the plus woman.
Lorraine: All women want to look good and feel good about themselves. Remembering this is important when designing for the plus-size business.
Mia: Understanding that there is a market for women that want to look and feel good regardless of their size, and that the plus customer requires sizing for their distinct body shape needs.
Kara: The key is to remember that a comfortable fit is just as important as the sexy look.
Meryl: FIT, FIT, FIT!
Liliana: Treat the customer with dignity and without jokes or stories that will make her self-aware and uncomfortable.
BODY: Do you have any recent news to report about your company’s plus-size business?
Eric: The 2012 collection spans jewel tones, pastels, gorgeous laces, and jacquards throughout our corsets, babydolls, chemises from 1X to 3X, with some of our best sellers up to 6X, or size 50 in corsets. Truly something sexy for everyone. Watch for the Hollywood Nouveau Shirley of Hollywood/Intimate Attitudes catalog coming out the first week of January.
Jim: In June 2011, OneStopPlus.com launched international shipping to more than 92 countries in the world. Results so far in 2011 are 35 percent above our forecast, which is extremely promising. We are also continuing to add exciting new external partners and in November we started to offer more than 6,000 fragrances to boost our holiday sales.
Lorraine: We will be expanding our plus-size style and color assortment in 2012.
Mia: In January 2012, Julie France Body Shapers will add plus sizing in three additional styles to the already existing eight, as well as introduce the new Leger’ Ultralight Collection that will include plus sizing in eight out of 12 styles.
Kara: Moonlight Serenade has recently been featured in Essence.com, the Fashionable Housewife, Pulse, and Full Figure Plus as well as making its presence known at the Adultcon trade show.
BODY: What are your favorite plus-size brands or retailers?
Jim: I must recommend our new plus size online retailer — Fullbeauty.com — that launched in September of this year. They focus on plus size lingerie and offer everything a woman could need — from exclusive lingerie brands such as Chantelle and Le Mystere, to more functional, affordable branded lingerie such as Comfort Choice and Avenue Body.
Tina: Wacoal is integrating wider width back bands into their new designs. Chantelle has also addressed this larger cup issue by creating new elegant and sexy bra styles. Aviana is another brand that got the sizing right.
Cathy: Right now it has to be Barefoot Dreams because of the styles they introduced that fits almost all body types. A few years ago you could only fit their hoodie if you were a size 8 or 10.
Lorraine: Kathleen Sommers.
Kara: La Perla.
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