The Size Range Double Down: Why Are Brands Limiting Their Plus Sizes?

Part of the size expansion that Parfait by Affinitas did several years ago

Part of the size expansion that Parfait by Affinitas did several years ago

The lingerie industry can be hard to analyze in an objective way because so few brands and boutiques publish their statistics. Today I’m going to be relying on two boutiques that graciously have: A Sophisticated Pair and Bluestockings Boutique. Erica has actually just started to publish her series on her statistics over at A Sophisticated Pair this past week, so go here to see the updated numbers. For this article, I’ll be relying on her data from last year.

Cosabella Extended Line

Cosabella Extended Line

Cora commented in her latest trend report that size expansions seem to be on their way out with larger lingerie brands. As a lingerie copywriter, I’ve felt the same. Brands and retailers are doubling down on core sizes enthusiastically, whereas several years ago lots of big brands were talking about trying to expand their size range as quickly as they could. What’s strange about this is that it flies in the face of the little sales data that is out there, as well as the data that is available about the plus size market as a whole. The plus size market is now a $9 billion market, which is one of the reasons we’ve seen all the plus size ad campaigns and discussions about “extended” sizing this year.



Let’s start by taking a look at some hard numbers from A Sophisticated Pair. Last year, band sizes 32 to 38 accounted for 70% of A Sophisticated Pair’s sales. When you added in 40 bands, the total becomes nearly 80%. 40 bands also had the highest level of growth at 5%. Conversely, 28 and 30 bands accounted for less than 9% of total sales. Keep in mind that A Sophisticated Pair is not a dedicated plus size boutique — Erica works hard to stock options for an incredibly wide size range. However, she’s still making the majority of her sales from band sizes that are considered outside the industry standard.

Bluestockings Boutique released similar data, with an interesting addendum. While core sizes sell, plus sizes sell out first and universally sell for full price. As a result, Jenna ends up reordering plus size items many times over, while some core size pieces stick around for ages.

These statistics and the growth of the plus size industry as a whole clearly demonstrate a ravenous demand for plus size lingerie. Logically, you’d think this would be a great time to introduce more plus size items rather than deprive the market. However, the trend for the past two or three years has been to limit plus size options more than ever. Brands frequently upcharge for larger bands or cup sizes. Some Polish brands have even stealthily decreased their size range: they now only offer plus size items that used to be standard as custom made and non-returnable. So why is the market getting smaller as demand gets larger? As usual, there are some fairly complex explanations.

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1. Sales statistics are skewed by a lack of options in larger band sizes, putting an artificial cap on sales.
Erica’s statistics from A Sophisticated Pair express this point well: 40 bands had the highest growth, but are also hard to source. Erica goes out of her way to help her clients with special orders, but not everyone does. If all plus size customers could access a consultant like Erica, life would be easier. In reality, most plus size women have to spend time researching and returning lots of bras that don’t work or aren’t comfortable. All of this puts an artificial cap on sales. If 38+ bands had the same options available as 28/30 bands, we’d see a really different set of industry statistics.

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2. The online lingerie community is still dominated by small bands.
Plus size customers are buying more lingerie, but the face of lingerie online hasn’t changed much. Bloggers are still mostly in small band size ranges and the bra fit community is still incredibly active. This makes the “face” of lingerie online look much smaller than it is. When businesses look at social media or blogs, they aren’t seeing the full picture. In addition, these same bloggers end up with samples for review, so plus size customers can feel like lines that actually include their size aren’t really for them (or just never see them at all).

3. Retailers hate risk.
I’ve heard of several companies that have tried to do big size expansions, but shut down the process when they surveyed their retailers and couldn’t find buyers for the expanded stock. As consumers, we tend to believe that companies are not doing enough, which is frequently not the issue. Retailers control demand, so a company can’t make bras that won’t sell — no matter how much they want to. There are lots of great lingerie companies out there with drive and vision who are hampered by retailers rather than their own internal issues.

4. Plus size customers buy what is out there now at full price, so there’s little incentive to make things better.
In many ways, plus size customers are ideal lingerie consumers. We’re trained to buy options at full price so they don’t disappear and we’re trained to buy multiples of things we love lest we never find them again. Most importantly, we’re used to not being seen and not speaking up. We buy what companies put out at full price and rarely ask for more. Lingerie companies tend to make changes when sales are experiencing issues or they are hearing consistently negative feedback. When companies are making money off of plus size customers and not hearing many complaints, why would they try to do better?

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So many changes in the clothing industry have happened because plus size bloggers and models have gotten together to amplify the requests of the plus size fashion community. When Target brought out a subpar plus size collection, Chastity Garner, Nicolette Mason and Gabi Fresh all criticized the line on their blogs which brought about major changes in the line. Swimsuits for All has worked extensively with Gabi Fresh to develop a line of swimsuits that truly reflect what plus size customers want to see. Tons of media outlets like Bustle and Volup2 are talking about plus size fashion, which amplifies the feedback that designers and brands get from customers. However, the lingerie blogger community doesn’t have enough plus size bloggers in it to make a big difference.

Look at the great work that Lane Bryant and Addition Elle have done with recognizable spokesmodels on board — the industry just needs regular customers to be visible as well. Campaigns like #wearethethey, #honormycurves and #effyourbeautystandards have done amazing things for plus size visibility in the fashion industry, but we haven’t found the lingerie based equivalent yet.

Why do you think companies haven’t expanded their size ranges? What can consumers do to make a difference?

Mad Mimi Form

Holly
Holly Jackson

The Full Figured Chest provides creative and elegant copywriting for the high end lingerie industry.

14 Comments on this post

  1. […] After seeing a post on one of my favorite blogs by the Lingerie Addict about how their really are not that many Plus Size Lingerie bloggers out there to change the way Plus Size Lingerie is run. You can read it here http://www.thelingerieaddict.com/2015/11/the-size-range-double-down-why-are-brands-limiting-their-pl… […]

  2. RollsAndCurves says:

    I’m here from your high waisted panty article.

    I agree with the assessment that the community is skewed to view smaller women as the majority. Many sources claim that the average woman in America is a size 14, which is considered plus sized at many retailers.

    I’m not trying to dismiss anyone’s concerns with this statement, but I’ve noticed that women in the smaller range of full bust lines are the most vocal when it comes to asking for better options. There’s a much bigger push for 26 bands than there is for cups over a K, even though there’s undoubtedly a market for both. I can go to the grocery store and see women with bigger breasts than mine, and I need a 36L which already leaves me sized out of most brands.

    It’s unfortunate that visibility doesn’t matter as much as sales, because I know many women can’t afford lingerie even from brands like Panache and Elomi. It’s easier for the average American woman to go to Walmart and get a 44D Playtex bra than it is for her to blindly order bras online in a non-matrix size and worry about getting stuck with bras she can’t wear and can’t return.

    I think a few things need to happen for these issues to resolve or at least gain more attention.

    1: It needs to be easier for women of all sizes to get lingerie in all sizes. The alphabet does not stop at DDD, and band sizes do not only exist in 32-40 bands. I understand the costs involved with producing specialty sizes, but I do believe that it would be easier to get women to buy lingerie if it was more affordable. Many reviews of the Parfait Charlotte quote the price as a positive, and I’ve read some that were drawn to the bra because of the price.

    2: There needs to be less stigma when it comes to sizing. Every large woman is not a 38DD, and every thin woman is not a 34A. Women shouldn’t fear sizes like 30FF because of the way we’ve been conditioned to view bra sizes (over DD=porn star). In addition, plus sized women are not the only women who need cup sizes over a DDD.

    3: Retailers need to open themselves up to the concept of a plus sized/full bust market. Who says there can’t be a brand with the same sex appeal and marketing campaign of Victoria’s Secret, but with a variety of models and sizes? It could definitely be done if a risky company came forward with this approach.

    4: We, as “unusually sized” women, need to be loud and proud when it comes to telling lingerie brands what we want. The only way we’re going to get what we want is if we demand it time and time again. An example is Katherine Hamilton Intimates. They increased their size range solely because they received a ton of feedback about it and realized they could attract more customers with a larger size range.

    5: We need to be more critical of the options available to us. We can’t just give bras we don’t like good reviews when we’re secretly hating aspects of them. I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers will gloss over flaws in the bra that impact fit for fear of upsetting the company (this happens more often when the bra was a free sample for review.) How are these brands going to know what features we want if we don’t tell them?

    Of course, there are some brands out there that don’t really listen to customer feedback (or just downright minimize customer complaints), but the ones that do are the brands that stand the test of time and remain a positive influence in the bra fitting community.

    I’m obviously not an expert on this subject. I’ve just observed trends in the past couple of years that I’ve been a part of this community.

  3. Pique says:

    Totally agree. No. 3 especially resonates with me. As a fledgling label for big cups I’ve consistently been told that no retailer will buy from you if you haven’t shown/survived for at least three seasons. Which makes it so much harder to get a product off the ground which fills the gap that nobody else is filling. (But if you’re a small boutique, I totally get it. Taking a risk can cost a lot of money). But the giants have no excuse in my book. I just feel like this is wasted potential on the manufacturers’ part. Oh the things I would make if I had their resources!

  4. Abigail Tyrrell says:

    Oh I wish! “trained to buy options at full price “… Maybe that does not extend to luxury lingerie, because if there is not a sale on stock does not shift.

    • Holly says:

      This is sadly true. Luxury lingerie is it’s own thing, although logically it shouldn’t be harder to sell as plus size/full figured bras have crept up so much in price. For some reason, customers view a $80 Elomi bra differently than a piece by an independent designer in the same price range.

  5. Thursday says:

    “In many ways, plus size customers are ideal lingerie consumers. We’re trained to buy options at full price so they don’t disappear and we’re trained to buy multiples of things we love lest we never find them again.”

    This viewpoint is particularly interesting to me, as TLA often advises that as consumers, it’s important to show our support for brands that are catering to us by buying at full price when we can. So if brands just expect us to buy regardless, and don’t seem to be particularly interested in taking more of our money, I’m not really sure how we reconcile this.

    • Holly says:

      I think there’s a difference between buying something you love 100% and essentially “voting” for it by picking it up at full price and just buying a bunch of full price bras because you need them (and otherwise there won’t be any to buy).

      • Thursday says:

        Yes, from the consumer perspective, these motivations can be quite distinct. From the selling side, this doesn’t seem to matter. So it leaves the plus size consumer in a quandary. Buy what I need because I need it, even though it’s imperfect, or don’t buy what I need and risk not having it available at all? It feels like a situation where the industry has the upper hand entirely and the consumer starts feeling like they can’t effect change at all.

        • Dee Lushious says:

          Agree with Thursday on this — my first thought when reading this article was that this flies in the face of the usual advice on TLA, and the points raised in this article. If the plus sized market has the highest growth, but is capped because of the lack of options, wouldn’t increasingly buying at full price support providing MORE options as makers respond to that buying power, and then crummy options will fall by the wayside?

  6. Sophisticated Pair says:

    Thank you for the sweet words about the shop in this post! <3 It's interesting because in our shop, Elomi is the best-selling brand for the shop, and we saw a lot of growth for Goddess last year too. This will be something I'll post about next week, but our 36-42 band sizes have become fairly strong. Core sizes tend to still edge out, but I think next year the stats will shift some more because of additions from Curvy Couture, Elila, Curvy Kate, Tutti Rouge, and our core brands. Speaking of which, a lot of brands *are* cutting plus-size options, but there are some which are expanding. Wacoal has more options in 40-44 bands and up to H or I cups than ever before, and Natori's new Plus Support pieces are also going up to a 44H. It is frustrating to see those issues with brands reducing their size ranges though because it feels like our plus-size customers are typically choosing from one of a handful of bands, with even less choice if they also happen to be a fuller-cup. Now with actual lingerie? Yeah, we rely mostly on bra-sized babydolls from Elomi and Parfait as well as regular pieces from iCollection and Tia Lyn at the moment. Great article, as always!

  7. Risk aversion wise, there IS a stigma attached to size, so that doesn’t really help.

  8. SO many feels for this. As a plus size buyer, I find that so many styles are terribly unacceptable and inaccessible for my size range. Quality + style seems to be greatly lacking especially in erotic plus-size lingerie. Oddly enough, I find sex almost completely divorced from plus-size lingerie and I like my lingerie with a healthy dose of erotic. There is a stigma somewhere in there. Thus, i end up buying lingerie that is slightly too small just to get the styles I want. Its a bad cycle. I think I need to start emailing some of my favourite companies and telling them I want their designs. I just need them in my size. :/ What else can I do?

    • Pique says:

      You just put exactly what I feel into words! It’s like sexy and plus size are thought to be mutually exclusive. The confident, sensual and erotic plus size woman is virtually absent from mainstream media.
      And btw. I’ve also been guilty of squeezing into smaller sizes :P But I’ve told myself ‘no more’!

  9. WideCurves says:

    I honestly think it’s a combination of retailers controlling access, and design knowledge.

    Most retailers relegate plus size clothing to a dark corner…and most of the time I don’t see *any* plus size lingerie. And when I do, it’s usually dowdy… I wouldn’t buy it.

    I think retailers need to change their plus-size strategy all-around. They need to stop forcing sales online – plus size women deserve floor space, too. They need to give plus clothing floor space *and* quality.

    We’ve heard, repeatedly, that plus-size design isn’t taught at design school. It follows that many brands don’t have the in-house knowledge to expand offerings. So, developing a plus-size collection can present considerable time and money investment from a brand, and sometimes a company-wide attitude change. Some see it as a change in brand image.

    It seems irrational that in a business where tenths of a percent are seen as progress, brands and retailers can’t cooperate to make money selling to the plus size market.

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