As the climate emergency accelerates, the fashion industry’s impact on the planet has become front of mind for retailers who have been forced to upheave their processes to work towards a greener future. However, less than 20% of conscious products currently in the market cater to above-average sizes.
Retailers are neglecting a key demographic within their ranges. In this report, we analyze the current state of the size-inclusive market and where sustainability fits into it, as well as its future.
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Why it’s important
Sustainability needs to be inclusive
Similar to the concept of Intersectional Environmentalism, the future of sustainability needs to be inclusive, with retailers prioritizing people as well as the planet. Brands can’t rightly call themselves sustainable if they are ignoring marginalized groups, which includes size.
There’s market opportunity
According to Credence Research, the global plus size women’s market was worth an estimated $165.2 billion in 2017, growing at 4.4% CAGR for 2018-2026. The UK alone is expecting a 13% increase in value over the next two years. Additionally, the body positivity community continues to grow and become more vocal on social media about inclusivity in fashion.
Demand is constant
In addition to the overall market poised for growth, charting global Google searches trends show a consistent demand for the term “sustainable plus size.” With environmental issues discussed daily, new hyped brands entering the market and retailers spinning off eco lines are becoming common practice. This high frequency could mirror the frustration of consumers looking for sustainable alternatives in their size.
It appeals to the next generation
Gen-Z has been applauded for their woke behavior as they champion social causes, embrace flaws and celebrate diversity. Combined with their interests rooted in sustainability, retailers that don’t align themselves with this cohort’s values now will struggle to earn their trust in the future – not to mention their $143 billion spending power based on Millennial Marketing.
It encourages slow fashion
The limited size-diverse sustainable options could see the slow fashion movement derailed. The majority of fast fashion brands offer shop-by-fit categories, driving customers towards purchasing disposable, lower-quality goods that are more likely to end up in landfill.
The state of the market
Analyzing product described with sustainable keywords currently available online reveals the limitations within larger sizing. The key takeaways to note are:
• According to the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, the average American woman wears a size 16-18, yet the majority of sustainable products available in the US are between sizes 0-8.
• Even brands that promote extended size ranges are falling short on their sustainable offers. Of the eco-friendly product available at H&M, only 2.5% sit within H&M + (up to 4XL), while only 5% of dresses in stock at Reformation are available in extended sizes (up to 3XL).
• A similar pattern within the UK is revealed, where the average women wears a size 16 cited by FashionUnited. Sustainable products are more skewed towards smaller sizes with even fewer options above a size 20.
• In the UK, only 3.3% of Zara‘s Join Life range is available in an XXL. Breaking down the eco options within ASOS’s private labels, which partner with the Better Cotton Initiative, show 10% of these sit with ASOS Curve (up to a UK30).
For brands looking to cater to this untapped market:
• Streamline major trends across all sizes. The notion that an individual print or silhouette is more suited to one body shape over another is outdated and will not resonate with today’s consumer.
• Don’t add a “fat tax.” There is often hesitance to supply larger sizes due to additional material costs. With coronavirus ushering in the “kindness economy”, consumers will be looking to back brands that prioritize people and the planet over their bottom line.
Where is the market heading?
With online shopping now the norm, it’s more crucial than ever to perfect fits to avoid items being returned or discarded. Made to order label Laws Of Motion has revolutionized sizing by using data science to engineer 99 microsizes, designed with a zero-waste manufacturing process. Also rethinking traditional sizing, Converse recently launched its debut genderless collection, Converse Shapes – featuring a range of basic items made from 50% recycled materials. Accompanying the launch was a new sizing system to accommodate all body types; sizes include I, II, III and IIII.
Much like the school uniforms designed to adapt to children’s changing bodies, which are rife in the back-to-school market, there’s also demand for better-engineered garments to grow with adults to avoid throwing out items that no longer fit. The average woman experiences 31 size changes during her adult life based on Twin Genie, leading to brands such as Mara Hoffman, Universal Standard and Anyango Mpinga to create “hackable” garments that can be worn regardless of size fluctuations and prolonging shelf life. Features include extra fabric allowance around the hips, detachable belts, adjustable waistlines, elastic sleeve openings and internal drawstrings.
Rental & resale
As the fashion industry moves towards more sustainable practices, rental services have grown in popularity as an alternative to buying new. Platforms catering to larger sizes include Rent The Runway, which offers garments up to a size 24 and a filter to browse by body shape, Gwynnie Bee, stocking sizes 0-32, and StitchFix’s plus size subscription box service catering to a size 24 and 3XL. Plus size retailer Eloquii recently made its first foray into this space, launching the Eloquii Unlimited program in which customers can rent sizes 14-28 for $79 per month. The resale market is also continuing to blossom, but how diverse are the sizes?
The reluctance from designer labels to cater to larger sizes means minimal plus size options on luxury consignment sites. Currently, Vestiaire Collective carries up to a size 20 and The Real Real carries up to a size XL. On the other end of the scale, with over 50,000 products, ThredUp has a dedicated plus section catering to a 5XL, while smaller vintage boutiques such as Berriez and Cake are bubbling up on Instagram. These circular models are also an attractive option for maternitywear, so women don’t have to invest in new clothes that will only be worn for a limited period.
Brands to note
ace&jig (XXS – 4X)
ace&jig creates clothing by hand, working closely with fabric dyers and weavers to achieve its signature striped fabric. It reuses all of its offcuts to minimize waste, whether through recycling or artisan collaborations. Its collections are also season-less, going against the traditional fashion calendar.
Organic Basics (XS – XXL)
Organic basics is a minimalist intimates and activewear label that focuses on using eco-friendly materials such as Tencel. The brand champions transparency, displaying each product’s impact on its site while also offering customers a low-impact version of its website, which requires less energy to run.
Sotela prides itself on being an inclusive brand, holding the tagline “for humans, by humans.” The brand uses a unique measurement style, with sizes numbered from 0 to 10. Products are made-to-order, utilizing materials such as organic linen.
Hara (XS – 5XL)
Hara is a lounge and activewear label that uses non-toxic dyes and sustainable fabrics, including bamboo. It also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. The brand represents a range of body types on its Instagram while tackling taboo subjects such as menstruation.
Influencers in the space
Marielle Elizabeth – She/Her
Marielle Elizabeth is an advocate for slow fashion for all. She creates resources for followers on topics such as plus-size vintage shops and unpacking fat phobic imagery.
Kat Eves – She/Her
Kat Eves is a podcast host, feminist, body positivity advocate and supporter of ethical fashion. The influencer favors bright color palettes and bold prints adding a playful edge to her outfit posts.
Sydney Grace – She/Her
Sydney Grace creates Instagram and TikTok content, challenging fat phobia while promoting radical self-love. The influencer often works with Lovefool, a vintage clothing brand, while also highlighting plus size ethical fashion brands.
Lydia Okello – They/Them
A model and creative, Lydia Okello shares their outfits weekly, championing bold, non-binary fashion. They have worked with brands including Rothy’s and are signed with Stranger Agency.
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Brands and influencer contributions by Ashley Graham