Deborah Weinswig on Forbes.com
I’ve written about inclusive design here before, and note that we are now seeing the fashion industry make significant progress on the inclusive and adaptive design front. However, we have much further to go. On June 14 my firm, Coresight Research, had the privilege of cohosting a daylong conference on inclusive design alongside Alvanon, a global apparel and product development consultancy. Our Trailblazers event, One Size Does Not Fit All—Inclusive Design & the Modern Consumer, brought together more than 300 people from a wide range of fashion disciplines. The participants and audience included C-suite retail and brand executives, entrepreneurs, designers, creators, and supply chain and manufacturing leaders who share a passion for bringing fashion to all, not just those who are “the right size and shape.” The panelists noted that approximately half of the US population is underserved by the fashion industry and highlighted how designers and retailers are now working to meet these consumers’ fashion desires.
At the event, discussions focused on how inclusive and adaptive design is revolutionizing the way we think of fashion consumers. Presenters talked about how retailers, designers, manufacturers and startups are working to meet the clothing needs of people with various disabilities and conditions as well as those who wear plus sizes, the challenges of inclusive design, new visions of beauty and fashion, and tools that enable digitalization. The event concluded with the Trailblazers14 pitch contest, where 14 innovative startups showcased their technology solutions for retailers and brands.
Why Inclusive Design Matters
Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon, kicked off the event with some heartfelt anecdotes about her passion for inclusivity in design. She said that she was tutored at age 12 by a woman who used a wheelchair and that her tutor insisted on being seen the same as any other person, wearing fashionable, bold apparel that reflected her personality. Wang said that, as a mother, she hopes her young daughters will have similar role models—real people who don’t fit the mold of the masses. She wants her daughters to see people of all shapes, sizes and abilities as healthy and beautiful.
The US Adaptive Design Market May Reach $51.8 Billion by 2022
At the conference, I discussed the need for adaptive and inclusive fashion, the segment’s recent growth and the enormous market opportunity it presents. Niche markets, including adaptive and plus-size designs, are growing fast in a world increasingly invested in empowering the underrepresented. Coresight Research estimates that the global adaptive clothing market will reach $278.2 billion this year and increase to $325.8 billion in 2022. We further estimate that the US adaptive clothing market will be worth $44.5 billion in 2018 and grow to $51.8 billion by 2022.
In the US, more than half of women wear size 14 and above and, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, more than 40 million Americans, or 12.6% of the US population, reported that they had a disability in 2016. These consumers can benefit from apparel offerings in nontraditional sizes and from clothing that marries function and fashion. However, consumers in these groups remain underserved in retail. As the graph below shows, the ratio of plus-size specialty apparel stores per 1,000 American women who wear a size 14 or higher is significantly lower than the ratio of specialty apparel stores per 1,000 American women overall.
The following graph further illustrates just how underserved the women’s plus-size market is in the US.
Online sales at department stores present an area of opportunity in terms of the inclusive clothing market. Zappos and Target have been at the forefront of this growing trend, offering adaptive footwear and apparel to their customers. Meanwhile, designer Slick Chicks has created easy-to-fasten women’s underwear that fits all body types and online retailer Fashion Nova offers a broader variety of sizes with just one click instead of a separate plus-size section.