Although inclusive fashion is becoming mainstream, both brands and consumers still don't know enough about it in practice.
By Nino Tang for BoF China, March 11, 2020
Shanghai, China – At the beginning of 2020, Ashley Graham, a 1.75-meter-tall model and 90 kg in weight, stood on the cover of the January issue of the American version of “Vogue.” Reprinted the “Fashion Bible” twice.
“I dragged a friend to buy this magazine from the United States and put it in the most prominent place in the room. I look forward to being like her one day.” Xiaoxiao (a pseudonym), who was born and raised in Guangdong, bought three magazines and kept one. One for her parents and one for junior high school classmates who once mocked her for being fat.
Xiaoxiao began to gain weight during puberty. She once weighed 96 kg at a height of 1.65 meters . Ten years ago, losing and regaining weight were only two options, but also made her the subject of bullying in school. “Girls in school uniforms wear short skirts. I don’t want to, and I dare not wear them.” And there are many people who are distressed by their own obesity like Xiaoxiao, especially in China.
The global adult weight survey report published by the well-known medical magazine “The Lancet” shows that at present the obese people in the world have surpassed the “lean” people, and the obese people in China have surpassed the United States to rank first in the world. 30.1% of Chinese adults are overweight, 11.9 % are obese.
When obesity comes to the forefront, the business opportunities surrounding obesity also appear. Those who have been bullied have become consumers that businesses are watching. “I’m happy and I’m healthy,” says Xiaoxiao.
Take plus-size fashion, for example. Past plus-size clothing has always been with obesity, detached from style, or worse is linked with a lot of middle-aged consumer groups. But now, plus-size clothing is breaking that barrier .
According to the global retail think tank Coresight Research, by 2020, the size of the U.S. plus size apparel market will grow to $24 billion, with an annual growth rate of approximately twice the total growth rate of the apparel market, up to $10.9 billion.
“I often see confident and stylish fat girls in TV movies and fashion magazines and websites in Europe and the United States, but this doesn’t seem to be true in Asia,” Xiaoxiao said. As early as June 2012, the Italian version of Vogue began to use plus-size models, and the cover of the June issue was pushed to the altar by the fashion industry. The magazine is based on the theme of “authentic beauty.” Photographer Steven Meisel shot three women with rich textures. Franca Sozzani, then editor-in-chief, commented: “Full women are now shining again.” She also launched an online signature campaign against the promotion of diet and weight loss. Her public support is undoubtedly a dose of fashion in the plus-size market, and international brands have gradually begun to tap into “curvy beauty” to explore opportunities in emerging markets.
In March 2017, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced the acquisition of ModCloth, a full-size clothing brand. Anthropologie, a casual high-end brand owned by URBN, has also launched its first plus-size collection. Ann Taylor Loft, Nike, H & M, and J.Crew have long carried out strategies for the plus-size clothing lines. European and American fashion brands such as Universal Standard and Dia & Co have also emerged.
The founder of New York fashion boutique Totokaelo, Jill Wenger, sold the well-known boutique she founded in 2016, and in the following year founded the inclusive fashion brand Roucha, which is dedicated to women of all sizes from 0 to 20. Wenger even designed the brand’s own size chart for this purpose, focusing on designing clothing of “different lengths and widths.” As a plus-size crowd, she tried hard to put on beautiful clothes. Even if she opened a buyer’s shop, she failed to meet her wishes. She said, “I used to choose 2400 styles for Totokaelo every quarter, but there are still not many clothes that can suit me without any modification. Except for the extremely small possibility of finding one or two oversized styles of Celine or Dries Von Noten, there are not many options on the market. “
The same goes for the parity market, or even worse.
“For those of us who are slightly bigger in size, it is really difficult to buy clothes. Generally, the brands that you like to browse are only XL. Even if they are oversized, their length is unreasonable.” It will make Xiaoxiao feel at ease. At first, she always went to a shop called “Fat Sister Cool Girl” to buy clothes. Here, she not only provided oversized clothes, but also changed clothes. “But it’s really hard to find a dress that you like, looks good and fits well,” she said.
In China nowadays, to slim and beautiful in China is popular, but the development of the plus-size fashion industry is in a state of “hard work and irrespective of world affairs.”
According to the “Report on China’s Large-size Women’s Wear Industry Forecast and Investment Direction (2019 Edition)” released by Limu Information Consulting, China is the world’s largest producer of plus-size women’s wear with an output of about 95% of the world. Guangzhou, where Xiaoxiao is located, is attached to the prosperous women’s clothing e-commerce and foreign trade apparel industry in the Pearl River Delta. It is also a major town for self-sale and export of plus-size clothing. In addition, the developed clothing trade and e-commerce development have also made Taobao the largest gathering point for Chinese plus-size clothing.
In 2018, there were more than 10,000 Taobao stores with plus-size women’s clothing, of which more than 10 had annual sales of over 100 million. Actually, when Taobao first emerged, there was plus-size clothing on sale. From the earliest “foreign trade tails,” “plus size,” “elderly clothes,” street stores to today’s variety, these stores keep up with the trends. The high-quality stores in China are gradually developing towards the trend of youthful fashion and branding. Xiaoxiao is now one of the witnesses who watched the development of plus-size clothing in China.
And the manufacturers that make the plus-size clothing have a solid foundation. Source sites such as Cool Lala Plus Size Women’s Clothing Network and Fat Ye.com have integrated most of the plus-size women’s clothing and men’s clothing stores in the market. These stores are like thirteen rows of stalls, with a whole large shop behind them.
The huge supply and demand relationship has also caused plus-size fashion agents, model brokers, cultural and creative companies, and internet celebrity incubators to re-emerge. “Nanfang Dushi Bao,” “China Youth Daily,” and plus-size models reflect the growing prosperity of plus-size fashion in China–salary up to 2000 yuan in Guangzhou; with plus-size models, a salary of 70,000 to ten thousand yuan; even for ordinary models, the monthly income is over ten thousand yuan.
Uncle Nandao, the co-founder of Taobao plus-size womenswear brand Nandao Feng, said in an interview with Chinanews that in Hangzhou and Guangzhou, design proofing, professional manufacturer production, professional plus-size model displays, large-scale anchor incubation, and other parts of the fashion ecological chain have begun to take shape.
But the biggest difference between the development of China’s plus-size clothing market and the Western world is that it is “early and backward.” Early on, business opportunities were discovered on the front-end of the supply chain, and the supply of the industrial chain was sufficient, but at the brand end and consumer terminals, the correct perception of plus-size fashion was lagging behind.
In April 2019, a “Body Confidence” fashion show was held next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The amateur models were all plus-size. They shouted the slogan “My body is beautiful.” The models did not have the “perfect body” in the traditional fashion world sense but were confident. The organizer of the fashion show hopes to tell most ordinary women through this show that they are beautiful. Although they may have a belly, cellulite, stretch marks–these are normal.
Xiaoxiao also hopes to become confident, and hopes to start her own plus-size women’s clothing business. She submitted her resume and selfies to the plus size model agency eight times in a row, tried to send an email, and also directly wrote to a famous plus-size model agent on Weibo, but all of them got rejected replies. 165 cm and 180 kg is not the ideal figure that the plus size model agent is looking for. “I know, I’m not that pretty,” she said wryly.
“The plus-size model circle also has its own requirements, and 165 cm and 160 kg are the golden figure”
What makes Xiaoxiao feel discouraged is not the repeated rejection, but the employees in the industry who still don’t understand or even show interest in the multiple body types, not to mention how the ordinary fashion industry in China treats them.
Her concerns are also reflected in China’s mature fashion brands. For example, Chinese consumers are familiar with JNBY and Mo & Co. In their Tmall flagship store, the clothing sizes are only XS, S, M, L, and XL. Those who exceed the size of the two ends are excluded. Not only must clothes look good, but they also have to be wearable. This is universal.
A survey by Alvanon, a global innovations company that provides data and intelligent analysis for the clothing industry, shows that women who wear plus-size clothing currently spend only 20% compared to the average female, which also means 80% of the market potential and opportunities are waiting to be tapped. 72% of millennial girls surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the plus-size products offered by retailers, 61% of respondents said that clothing fit was where they needed to improve, and 34% said that the number of plus-size products need to be increased and improved.
Alvanon Executive Director of R & D, Jonathan Wang, told BoF: “For Chinese brands and consumers, the XL concept is still a very new concept. There are very few brands that offer plus-size clothing. The Chinese market is untapped and services need to be explored and enhanced.”
This kind of exploration and improvement is not only to reach out to the plus-size crowd, but also to feed the needs of the plus-size crowd. Some people choose to create new brands and social e-commerce.
In 2018, Chinese plus-size fashion womenswear brand Garden Lis received a multi-million-yuan angel round of financing from Angel Bay, and then completed a new round of financing. Bay followed the vote. Brands have been installed in all channels including offline, Taobao, Tmall, JD.com, WeChat Mall, and Xiaohongshu. They have also cooperated with foreign e-commerce platforms to carry out international business. ideas.
It has also become common to bring in plus-size people who were originally “invisible” to the public. Plus-size fashion bloggers who have settled in Douyin, Weibo, Bilibili, and Xiaohongshu have also sprung up, and often there is a manufacturer’s supply chain support behind an account. After Xiaoxiao was rejected, she also registered a Douyin account and slowly began to share her dress with her fans: “I never thought that there were so many people like me.”
Jonathan Wang suggests that brands that want to enter the plus-size market or develop existing products in the plus-size market should ideally have a technical team dedicated to the development of plus-size products. Successful implementation of plus-size garments requires development standards that differ from conventional body types. If the brand’s suppliers are unfamiliar with plus-size products, they need to strengthen training to understand the original shape and grading of large bodies to meet the different needs of plus-size bodies.
Faced with brands that have already launched related businesses, his advice is that brands need to help consumers understand their body shape. To help them make better clothing choices, in addition to striving to provide better product fit, brands need to develop sound marketing strategies. For designers who create for the plus-size crowd, they should not only focus on products targeting single shapes such as “hourglass.” Instead, they should deepen their understanding of different shapes and provide products that fit the different body types.
But a real prerequisite is to truly understand the plus-size crowd. The fashion future must be consist of diversified development; every business should uplift the plus-size crowd, without obscuring them in yards of fabric.