What we’ve learned trying to break into plus-size fashion retail

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We used to think that retailers that didn’t carry plus sizes were deliberately excluding a huge segment of the market, but as a small retailer that is trying hard to offer those sizes to our customers, we’ve learned so much about the extended sizing landscape in ready-to-wear fashion.

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED:

  • Many designers have exclusivity agreements with retailers for plus-sized ranges (for example, Dear Creatures will only sell up to 4x to Modcloth).
  • Many designers are unwilling to invest in the risk of grading their patterns up to plus sizes–you can’t just make everything bigger, you have to grade it differently in different places and it sometimes calls for completely different construction techniques. We think it’s worth the investment, but for a small new designer with limited startup capital I understand the reluctance to risk it.
  • Sometimes, designers who DO grade to 4x for the first time mess it up. This has happened twice with Hello Holiday designers and we ended up with a bunch of unwearable clothing. Mistakes like these don’t discourage us as retailers because we know it obviously can be done, but it’s very deterring to designers and manufacturers who are already turning a fine profit on straight sizes.
  • Cute plus sized clothing is in such high demand that sometimes showrooms oversell pieces on accident. This happens to us a LOT. “We didn’t cut enough of this style so we can’t send it to you.” That’s when we get on the phone and let the manufacturer know what a huge problem this is and how it will be very hard to do business with them again, although that SUCKS because we want to maintain good relationships with companies that are at least cutting in plus sizes.

With most of the population sized out of almost every store and size 14+ clothing unavailable from almost every brand, plus-sized women are not invited into the conversation about fashion–it’s something they have to assert themselves into. As a company founded by straight-sized women, it’s so easy to be complicit with this, not even being challenged to think about the problem. It’s invisible to me unless we look outside of ourselves.

One reason we love working in fashion is because we’ve never thought that fashion, clothing, or style were foolish or inconsequential things. How we want to look, what we choose to wear and when, what we’re ALLOWED to wear–these parameters are all heavy with social significance. The gatekeepers of the clothing industry reflect a social agenda, and one message is loud and clear: “You cannot be fashionable unless you are small.” When there’s the customer and the demand, but no product, you must conclude that designers and retailers are refusing to accommodate this customer deliberately. That is flat-out wrong and unethical. As retailers, we feel responsible for helping to change that, and we’re still working on it. We promise to do our best.


Model Rebecca Forsyth in our Sunset Dress (in size XL), Dots for Days Jumper, and Gold Star Dress.  She was photographed by our all-time lens hero Amy Lynn Straub and the graphic was put together by our employee, Payton.