When Nike launched its first ever range of plus-size activewear for women earlier this year, its vice president of women’s training apparel, Helen Boucher, said: “Strong is the keyword for us; size doesn’t matter.”
This statement earned Nike the admiration of consumers around the world and put it squarely at the heart of a growing movement to embrace body diversity in the fashion industry.
With the average dress size of Australian women now falling between 14 and 16, more clothing brands and retailers are starting to cater to this audience through specially trained staff, targeted marketing campaigns and, of course, extended sizes.
Suzanne Grae is one recent example of this trend. Last November, the womenswear retailer expanded its product offering to include sizes 20 and 22. According to the company’s CEO Suzanne Scozzi, the decision came out of a desire to be more inclusive.
“We want our customers to feel beautiful no matter what her size,” she says.
Besides extending the range of sizes it carries, Suzanne Grae also trained in-store staff to offer styling tips for customers of all shapes and sizes, from pushing up a sleeve to balance body proportions, to half-tucking a top.
“It’s amazing how small adjustments can make a world of difference to an outfit,” Scozzi says.
Myer took a similar approach when it revamped its plus-size offering last year. The company not only added 30 City Chic brand destinations for women’s sizes 14 and above, but also introduced new mannequins, sleeker merchandising and specially trained staff to assist customers.
“Our customers want to shop for more directional, fashion pieces they like first and foremost, and not be restricted by sizes or lack of choice,” Myer’s group general manager of apparel, Karen Brewster says.
“It’s about the style, not the size, and we want our customers to feel fashionable by providing them with a full offering of brands for all occasions,” she says.
The department store chain also carries the Jack Stone brand for ‘big and tall’ men, a customer segment that may be even more neglected than plus-size women.
As more mainstream fashion retailers disrupt the plus-size category with fashion-forward designs, traditional marketing campaigns are also changing to reflect real women, rather than the typical six-foot-tall, size 8 model.
Online women’s clothing store Birdsnest recently started shooting each of its garments on two to three different body types, after customers said they wanted to see more diversity of body shapes and sizes in photos.
The e-retailer has also teamed up with Taryn Brumfitt, the South Australian woman behind the international Body Image Movement and hit documentary, Embrace, to support a positive body image among its staff and customers.
Adrift is another retailer celebrating body diversity in its marketing. The up-and-coming Queensland-based clothing company shoots every item it sells on size 10 and 16 models and has gained a loyal customer following in the process.
And while some retailers argue that it’s too expensive to show clothes on different body shapes and sizes – designers typically provide samples in size 8 – those that do may see the investment pay off.
According to a recent report from IBISWorld, revenue in the plus-size category is expected to reach $842.7 million in 2016-17, a 5.3 per cent jump from 2011-12, thanks to strong consumer demand.
As the report points out, the plus size consumer base is steadily getting bigger. Nearly two thirds of Australians fall into the category today, and despite increasing health consciousness, the level is expected to continue to rise.