Two-thirds of American women wear a size 14 or larger, yet most clothing retailers only designate a small portion of their stores to plus-sized clothing. Many designers don’t take “plus sizes” into consideration at all, yet most women fall into that category. When you look at these numbers, the idea of only marketing to “straight-size” women may seem foolish (probably because it is). Until recently, there was an untapped market of plus-size women just waiting to be offered high-end, beautifully made, vibrant products that actually fit, worn by realistic models. Designers have (finally) caught on.
The plus-size fashion market is worth about $21 billion and growing. Its visibility is also increasing thanks to the internet, social media and outspoken activists. Where fashion advertisement was once ruled by ad and model agencies with strict conventions of what was and was not acceptable, it is now dominated by Instagram models, influencers and promoted posts. This created a more democratic system of sharing images of fashion and opened the door to a more realistic idea of what real women look like in the clothes being advertised.
And so, brands are beginning to follow suit. One memorable example of this was Aerie’s #AerieReal campaign, which was famously un-retouched and featured models of all shapes and sizes. Its aim was to promote body positivity, inclusivity, and acceptance, but the numbers show that the campaign increased the growth of American Eagle Outfitters (Aerie’s parent company) by four percent in 2015. Lane Bryant, which launched a similar #PlusIsEqual campaign, saw a six percent increase in same-store sales. Magazines like Sports Illustrated and Cosmopolitan have also noticed the need for diversified size representation, with Sports Illustrated featuring the first plus-size model to be on the cover of their famous swimsuit issue for the first time in 2016 with Ashley Graham.
Perhaps the most dramatic of stories like this is that of designer Christian Siriano, who claims he has tripled his business by simply designing clothing for plus-sized women. Tripled!!! The line is now fifty percent plus size, accurately reflecting current demographics, and likely his customer base as well. “Adding plus sizes to my line tripled my business. Why wouldn’t you do that?!” Siriano told the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fern Mallis. “Do we not want to triple the business? Do we not think these women should wear our clothes? Do we not want these women to have beautiful things because we’re afraid they’re not beautiful? What is going on here?”