From pencil skirts to skinny jeans, size has always mattered when it comes to clothing trends. But as full-figured women’s shoppers gain presence—and spending power—they are demanding fashion apparel in sizes that fit their varied body types.
The plus-size market is benefiting from stronger global disposable income levels and a rise in obesity. In the U.S. alone, the market is worth an estimated $17.5 billion annually, or about 16% of the women’s apparel market, according to The NPD Group.
In Borderfree’s Plus-Size Apparel analysis, we compiled the top 10 overseas markets whose consumers are shopping for plus-size apparel with U.S. ecommerce retailers—and reveal what items they’re most likely to purchase. Plus size for women is generally considered size 14 and up.
Comparing global markets
Canada is Borderfree’s No. 1 market in the category, with 54% of total sales in 2013. In Canada, nearly 10 million women have difficulty finding the right clothing size for their figure.
Furthermore, the special size women’s market in Canada (a combination of plus size/full figure, petite/plus, and junior/plus) is around 15% of the total women’s market, says The NPD Group. As a result, roughly two in five special-size shoppers are taking their business to U.S. online and offline retailers.
After Canada, the top Borderfree plus-size markets are Australia and the United Kingdom. Borderfree also saw more than 100% year-over-year same-store-sales growth in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
The top-selling plus-size product categories were Shirts & Tops and Dresses, each representing about a fifth of total Borderfree plus-size sales.
Across Borderfree’s top markets for plus size shopping, the average unit retail price is about the same with a median price of $42. Coats had the highest average unit retail price, $101, followed by dresses, $65, and jeans, $53. The coats category saw 256% sales growth from 2012 to 2013.
Obesity is going up
Nearly 30 percent of the global population is obese. The average dress size in the U.S. has increased since 1960, from size 8 to 14 and about one-third of Americans are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Higher obesity in the U.S. has, however, created a blossoming market for plus-size clothing from which consumers in other countries are keen to shop.
In the United Kingdom (Borderfree’s No. 4 market), the average size for a British woman today is 16, which is equivalent to a U.S. size 12. Around 45% of women in the U.K. are size 16 or higher. Year-over-year same-store-sales growth was 25 % in the U.K. for this category.
In Bermuda (Borderfree’s No. 7 market), seven out of ten adults are overweight or obese, and one in three are classed as obese. Year-over-year growth was 90% in Bermuda for this category.
Surprisingly, Kuwait (Borderfree’s No. 8 market) has the highest body mass index rates worldwide, with an average BMI of 27.5 for men and 31.4 for women. The BMI for normal-weight men and women is between 18.5 and 24.9. In Kuwait, year-over-year growth was 65%.
Embracing the plus-size trend
U.S. ecommerce retailers are responding to these dynamics to improve revenue and gain new customers. The Gap offers a line in sizes 16 to 30, or up to 4X. Sears sells plus-size collections across six brands, including Land’s End.
Online retailer Asos operates a plus-size category called Asos Curve with sizes 14 to 24, and has more than 1,000 items for sale. Bloomingdales and Nordstrom have plus-size sections featuring ready-to-wear designers like Eileen Fisher, Michael Kors, NYDJ, Ralph Lauren and Vince Camuto.
H&M has added higher sizes into their online and offline assortments and recently featured a plus-size model in its swimsuit ads. The Forever21+ Plus Size line sells products up to a size 20 online and in stores.
Lane Bryant is expanding into higher-end designer clothing. Last year, the plus-size retailer debuted its first designer collaboration with Isabel and Ruben Toledo on a collection of clothing, outerwear and accessories.
While some ecommerce retailers sell just a smattering of plus-size items, others like Asos continue to add SKUs at a rapid pace. It's clear that whatever a retailer can offer in terms of size variety to enhance a woman’s look and improve her wardrobe is likely to move the needle on sales.