Why DTC Is Critical To Filling Retail's Plus-Size Void


The hole in the market when it comes to finding options for plus-sized consumers is well documented in the media, including in this publication. The stock and options available for plus-sized consumers are limited — and what there is often isn’t good. Kent Helbig, former Gilt Groupe technology head, and Brooke Cundiff, Gilt fashion director and head of brand acquisition, told PYMNTS in an interview that the average plus-sized shopper isn’t choosing floral prints and drapey, oversized clothing because that is the sole desire of the demographic.

Plus-sized shoppers are just like every other shopper — they want a range of stylish, well-fitting options in a variety of styles of a variety of tastes.

“Our woman has a great sense of style and loves fashion,” Cundiff said. “She’s well-versed in the trends. Our woman loves to shop; she loves the thrill of the hunt.”

And that thrill of the hunt for a demographic whose stalking grounds have historically been sparse — and the potential profitability in filling in that hole — has created a wave of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands angling for the plus-size shopper. Gilt, ModCloth, Eloquii, Universal Standard and HOURS are a short list of the DTC brands that have emerged in the last half decade or so to address the market — either with apparel addressed exclusively to plus-sized consumers, or via inclusive sizing ranges that top out far above the size 14 or 16 that tends to represent the top of the range most stores.

And that DTC trend, HOURS CEO and Co-Founder Harroop Gulati Kaur noted , isn’t a coincidence. For an up-and-coming brand in the crowded apparel market — particularly with a product as historically unpopular with mass market retailers as plus-sized clothing — DTC is often the fastest and most cost-effective way into the market. It’s labor intensive, she noted, but given the near complete void of good options in the mass market store and the proliferation of “non-sophisticated silhouettes and designs” that are the hallmark of the plus-size industry, it is also an excellent entry point to what is nearly a greenfield market.

Moreover, Kaur said, the DTC market allows a brand like Hours to address the fact that plus-size consumers also want to be able to have other priorities when they shop in terms of what brands they choose. Meeting what some might consider the basic table stakes of a good fashion offering — that the clothes fit and meet the customer’s style needs — is easy enough for many customers that they can then start considering other value-added options they want from their brands of choice. For consumers outside standard sizing charts, meeting that baseline becomes such a stutter step that considering much of anything else about a brand isn’t an option.

The expanding world of DTC brands catering to the plus-sized — and thus good old-fashioned competition emerging in a market where the pickings have been slim and floral-printed in the past — has meant that other options have started riding into the market. Subscription services, rewards programs, new data-driven fitting paradigms and focuses on sustainability in the product are just some of the value-added innovations that plus-size retailers in the last few years — all of which are built from the same basically enshrined value, consumer choice.

Because there are a  lot of consumers in this market underserved at present. Roughly two-thirds of American women are larger than a size 14. What that indicates is that for the average American woman, shopping within the “average” size ranges is not an option at most stores. That has sparked a migration online that Dia&Co CEO Nadia Boujarwah told PYMNTs has created a situation where the biggest brands in the world have collectively decided that the $20 billion or so a year the plus-size fashion industry already generates isn’t worth trying to collect.

And despite the fact that there is something at least conceptually odd about entrepreneurs going online to pursue the “niche” that is two-thirds of the apparel buying population in the U.S., innovators are rushing into the space with better clothes at base — and more robust brands built over top.

Because the market always abhors a vacuum — and in the age of digital it is getting easier to rush to fill such gaps.



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