They represent nearly $16B of retail revenue and account. 67% of the apparel-purchasing population. And are redefining the way they influence retailers, push fashion commentary, and we speak the language of fashion.In short, thought leaders (and consumers) of the plus-size population are revolutionizing fashion. And not nearly enough retailers are paying attention.
For too long, this sizable and growing segment has been ignored. Treated shabbily, ostracized by the “pro-skinny fashion world,” and seemingly discarded by designers, department stores, and retailers alike, plus-size fashion consumers, critics, and bloggers are taking back their spending and sartorial power and, in turn, changing both the e-commerce and retailing landscapes. No longer content to sit on the fashion and retail sidelines, plus size thought leaders and consumers are changing the rules of the retail game and making the fashion world theirs.
Make no mistake: the plus size revolution is upon us. And it’s time the world takes notice.
Now, it’s not necessarily new news that plus size bloggers are driving this transformation, reflecting the fresh, new face of the fashion future of plus size retail. Tired of rude salespeople, uncomfortable and unpleasant shopping experiences (really, why would ANY retailer treat poorly a valued customer eager to spend?), and of being ignored by all but a few (some would argue sub-par – I’m looking at you, Lane Bryant) retailers (while being relegated to the corners and unreachable floors of a few others), these thought leaders are changing and defining the way their readers shop, respond to newly-released plus size lines (Forever 21: a major bust), and spend their hard-earned dollars.
With the “traditional” retail industry refusing – for a variety of cultural and sartorial reasons including snobbery, exclusivity, and design – to acknowledge the power of this plus size marketplace, this clothes-buying segment, led by a group of media-savvy writers and critics, is taking control and redefining and repurposing a significantly-sized industry in its image. Through impactful blogging, disciplined purchasing habits, and sheer force of will, the plus size “purchasing community” is rejecting the idea that only the editors at Vogue have a say in who sells what to whom; by refusing to sit on the sartorial sidelines, “thought leaders” in the plus-size fashion game are taking to the internet, leveraging the influence, size and interest of their built-in market, and in turn influencing designers and brands from the outside in. In short, plus size shoppers have managed to successfully run an end-around the (well, let’s just admit it) snobbishness and exclusivity of the traditional design community – one that still, despite all financial and fashion evidence to the contrary, snubs the majority of the clothes-buying population – and empowered itself through the power blogger and, frankly, grapevine inherent in fashion gossip. Instead of simply accepting the fashion industry’s refusal to acknowledge this marketplace, these key players have created a community that rewards those retailers eager to cater to the plus size shopper while punishing those shops that fail to live up to traditional consumer standards.
So what’s to be learned from this plus size social media revolution? Certainly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s more than one way to work within and revolutionise an industry. Instead of trying to traditionally “convince” retailers the plus-size market and consumer should be front and centre, these bloggers and their followers have created an ecosystem that operates outside the traditional media and advertising platform – and in doing so, have “spread the word” about where and how and when to frequent retailers that work successfully with the plus size customer. It’s social advertising at its best.
A final note: the fashion industry – in particular the plus-size segment – is in for a revolution. With the plus size market currently bifurcated between a few (albeit in most cases, lazy) mass-production retailers and 1,000’s of city or region-specific independent boutiques catering to individuals within a few dozen mile radius, the plus size industry is positioned for a massive market shift. What’s this mean? Like many industries before it, the plus size clothing world is poised for consolidation – for smaller regional (or city specific) boutiques to roll up with each other (ala, on a different scale, like those brands housed under the GAP name), which in turn will streamline backroom operations, normalize distribution processes, and synthesize the online presence and experience, thereby creating stronger, more efficient systems, operations, and delivery processes through which to better supply and serve this underserved and underappreciated (but quickly growing) marketplace.
In short, the plus size market is writing and demanding and purchasing its way toward creating the retail experience and product it deserves: trendy, quickly-turned, affordable and transitional clothing options sold in a positive (yet profitable) atmosphere.
And it’s time the retail world starts listening. Or reading, as the case may be.
Margaret Bogenrief is a partner with ACM Partners, a boutique crisis management and distressed investing firm serving companies and municipalities in financial distress. She can be reached at [email protected]
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