Plus-size fashion is a growing industry; over the past decade, various clothing retailers have started stocking their own plus-size ranges. Additionally, we have seen a rise in the number of specialist plus-size brands (retailers stocking only plus-size). But how has the plus-size fashion industry grown and what do industry experts predict for the sector over the next few years? River Island explore the rise of the plus-size fashion industry in the UK and take a look at what could be in store for 2019 and beyond.
As of 2017, the plus-size market was worth approximately £6.6 billion, according to a PwC report, and £4.7 billion of this was for female plus-size clothing only. When it comes to the plus-size sector, the UK fashion industry is generally divided into specialist plus-size brands (which serve the plus-size customer only) and generalist plus-size brands (which have extended their sizing ranges to include plus-size options).
It is interesting to compare the performance of plus-size clothing in the UK to the general womenswear and menswear sectors. Reportedly, the plus-size market had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.3% during the 2012 and 2017 period, while the men’s and women’s clothing sector grew just 2.4% in the same timeframe. What’s more, the value of the plus-size industry is anticipated to develop at a 7.1% CAGR from now until 2022 and potentially hit a value of £1.3 billion by 2019 — but why and what trends can we expect to emerge as a result?
How is the plus-size industry developing?
There are several factors which have contributed to the success of the plus-size sector, from successful advertising campaigns to social media influencers who have helped to increase the visibility of plus-size.
Many plus-size clothing campaigns focus on loving your body. An increase in body confidence and the support of key fashion influencers have undoubtedly helped to ‘normalise’ the plus-size industry and encouraged its popularity growth.
Many prominent fashion designers have come out in support of plus-size. Donatella Versace, vice president and artistic director, Versace Group, said: “Plus-sized women shouldn’t think of themselves as a size. They should think of themselves as women with rich goals in life.” Comments like these from powerful people in the industry have supported the plus-size market, making it more attractive to not only buy into from a consumer perspective, but invest in from a brand point of view.
In addition, fashion designers have been including more plus-sized models in their catwalk shows. In September last year, audiences at London Fashion Week saw female models up to a size 26 take to the catwalk — including the notably outspoken plus-size models, Tess Holliday and Callie Thorpe. Similarly, the New York Designers Spring-Summer 2018 Show also sent plus-size models down the runway — although, only two out of a cast of around 70. Despite a rise in the inclusion of plus-size models at major fashion events in the past few years, the number has disappointingly fallen in the most recent fashion shows, according to The Fashion Spot report — only 30 plus-size models took part in each of the four major cities (Milan, Paris, London, and New York).
It may be that credit should be given to the plus-size models rather than the fashion brands they collaborate with. Recently, the world has seen a surge in plus-size influencers and models which may have been a greater assistance to the growth of the sector. For example, on Instagram, US plus-size models Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday have 7.2 million and 1.6 million followers respectively, while Brits, Callie Thorpe and Felicity Hayward, have 196,000 and 192,000.
Technology and plus-size
With fashion ecommerce revenue expected to exceed $712,8 billion over the next four years, it is clear that digital platforms are crucial for the fashion industry as a whole – but how is technology affecting plus-size?
Online shopping is a key part of the success of plus-size. According to the previously-mentioned PwC report, plus-size consumers shop online for everything — from plus-size dresses to plus-size beachwear — more than female consumers of general womenswear. Part of the success of plus-size is potentially the proactivity of brands that sell this type of clothing to engage with their target audience in their preferred method — online. What’s more, development in fashion ecommerce sites and online channels have also helped to grow sales in the sector to a greater extent than if there was less online availability for purchasing plus-size clothing.
As more and more fashion brands begin to offer their own plus-size ranges, we predict that they will start to improve their tech offerings to help enhance the customer journey and experience. For example, many brands are currently investing in virtual stylists, body scanners and online fitting rooms — all of which create an interactive and enjoyable experience for plus-size customers that will help bring this specific sector of fashion onto a more even playing field with the overall womenswear market.
Facebook and Instagram advertising has played a big role in helping to promote plus-size to a wider audience. Instagram Shop is making it easier to buy online without having to visit a store site, while many plus-size retailers are capitalising on the almost 40 million UK Facebook users by channelling their marketing efforts onto this platform. Social media advertising is also helping to bring plus-size clothing to a younger demographic.
According to a study into social media use by age in the UK, reported by eMarketer, 75% of all Facebook users and 59% of all Instagram users fall into the 16-22 age bracket. Clearly, these two social media platforms are far more popular among the younger generations, which is perhaps why ads and marketing efforts have been redirected here by some specialist and generalist brands of plus-size clothing. With more popular high-street brands stocking plus-size options and a rise in social media coverage of the sector, the plus-size market is able to target a more youthful audience and expand its reach.
Predictions for the future of plus-size
According to Google Trends, the number of searched for ‘plus-size’ is on the rise in the UK, reaching peak popularity in summer 2018.
The future looks bright for plus-size fashion. A report by IBISWorld states that the growing consumer base and rise in retailers of plus-size clothing will help develop the market even further. So much so, that the sector is expected to be an important contributor as a growth market to the wider economy in the next few years.
Technology will continue to play an important role in the success of the industry. As fashion focuses more on the user experience and virtual technology, we can expect to see greater interactivity between the plus-size consumer and their online shopping journey, as well as key plus-size influencers gaining more authority in their campaigning of inclusivity for plus-size fashion in the mainstream world. With the news that global fashion shows are falling behind when it comes to the exposure of plus-size models on the runway, organisers may react positively and include more of these models in future events, too. Overall, the future looks bright for plus-size women’s fashion and we should expect more innovations and developments as the industry gains momentum over the next few years.
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