When it comes to buying clothes, plus-size women - who are generally defined as women who wear clothes sized 14 or larger - have many challenges. Choices are limited. The quality of products is oftentimes inferior. But the biggest problem is fit.
The fact is that clothes for larger women just don't seem to fit very well, and according to a recent Fast Company article, this was confirmed by research that showed that 77 percent of plus-size women can't find clothing that fits well and 73 percent say sizing is inconsistent across brands. Why? Some believe that manufacturers are using models that are not scaled proportionally. But there's another, even bigger problem: the changing bodies of customers.
"Women were disassociating from themselves because they didn't want to accept what they were seeing in the mirror," Alexandra Waldman (a size 20), said in the Fast Company article. "So they bought cheap clothes that they felt would be temporary, or they bought clothes that were too small."
Waldman, who for the past two years has co-owned Universal Standard - a high-end, plus-size clothing brand startup - believes that many plus-size women like her often don't believe that they'll stay at their current weight for very long. Many are planning to lose weight, while others fear getting heavier. Some are afraid to admit that what they see in the mirror is real. As a result, they're reluctant to spend money on clothes because they may not fit now or ever.
This attitude, she feels, has contributed to the inferior quality and limited choices of clothing available for women of her size. "Finding something that fits shouldn't be a special experience," Waldman says. "In order to start to equalize the playing field, we've got to stop patting ourselves on the back every time you find a frock that you can wear."
Waldman has come up with what she thinks is a winning answer: why not sell a more expensive, higher end line of clothing that plus-size women can exchange, without penalty, as much as they want for up to a year? This year, her company is launching a new program - which is kind of a variation on personal styling services like Stitch Fix and Dia&Co - called Universal Fit Liberty, which will do just that. She's hoping the program will "put an end to this vicious cycle." Her company has tripled sales every quarter since its founding and has recently attracted $1.5 million from venture capitalists. The money will be used to produce more clothes to meet a growing consumer demand. A partnership with retailer Nordstrom is also in the works.
There's certainly a market. Studies have found that 67 percent of American women are size 14 or larger, yet they only represent 18 percent of apparel purchases. According to one study, 81 percent of plus-size women say they would spend more on clothing if they had better choices. The fashion industry is also taking notice. According to the Fast Company article, this year there were 27 plus-size models who walked during New York's Fashion Week, more than twice in the prior year and almost seven times the number from two years ago. Designer brands from Prabal Gurung to celebrity lines like Victoria Beckham and Melissa McCarthy are also jumping in on the trend.
"The prevailing belief in the fashion industry is that plus-size women will only spend money on discount clothing," investor Scott Birnbaum told Fast Company. "The implication here is that plus-size women either don't have money or they don't want to spend their money on clothing. I just don't think this is true." If Waldman's strategy is right, her plus-sized idea might turn into plus-sized profits.