What's Happened to the Plus-Size Fashion Industry in the Recession? Nothing!

There have been several articles recently about the state of the plus-size fashion industry in the face of the current economic downturn.  They are the typical “Oh-woe-is-me" bologna, suddenly, the plus-size industry is in such trouble.

Only it’s the same as it’s ever was--they are singing the same old song! The corporate manufacturers only look at the plus-size clothing as a profit center to be exploited with cheap goods made with the least possible effort. At the slightest difficulty, they drop it. They have never been and never will be interested in tapping that market. Just face it, these designers don't want to see your body in their designs!

Manufacturers Abandoning Plus-Size Lines
For example, Crain’s New York recently reported that several manufacturers have canceled or eliminated their plus-size divisions. They note that Ann Taylor, Donna Karan and Ellen Tracy have either cut down sizes or are only available online. Liz Claiborne’s Elizabeth line has been abandoned by the parent company. When I went to industry market shows such as Moda and Coterie, I found that several of the major corporate manufacturers had dropped or severely limited their plus lines because they felt the pressure of the economy and did not want to take a chance on plus-size clothing. But you see this not really new.  There has always been an untapped market in plus sizes and the situation will stay the same for the foreseeable future.

The plus-size business is, first and foremost, a business. You must realize that these manufacturers operate strictly from a profit motive. Plus-size clothing simply costs more to manufacture. You need to use a whole different pattern and fit model as you cannot “simply” grade up from a straight-size pattern. It is immediately apparent when a company tries to shortcut the process because the fit is totally off.  So it is a complication that the big manufacturers don’t want unless they are assured of large profits. That is never a sure thing, so they don’t want to take a chance. It takes a lot of extra work to get the fit right and they simply want to take the easy way out and not deal with the complications of producing the same trendy style clothing in plus-sizes. You see they don’t care, and why should they? They are in it for the money and unless they see a sure return they will not take the risk.

Plus-Size Specialists Adapt to Market
Of course I am really talking about manufacturers who already have a “straight” line of clothing which, at the most, comes up to a size 12. They look at plus-sizes as a new revenue stream where they can make an additional pot of money by knocking off their styles in a quick and dirty way that doesn’t take a lot of work or complications. Now that consumers are even more price-conscious than ever, they don’t feel it is worth the risk. Thus, the only people who are truly servicing the plus-size community are those manufacturers who specialize in plus-size clothing only. These companies are usually much smaller than big manufacturers such as Ann Taylor and Liz Claiborne. They are nimble and adaptable and they have their fit down to a science so they don’t have the problems that a big company has when they try to get the fit on the cheap.

Shop Where Owner is Buyer
Another troubling issue for the consumer is the consolidation of the buyer by the big retailers. Macy’s has put all of it’s purchasing in the hands of one buyer based in the Northeast.  One buyer who is not really attuned to the needs of the plus-sized community and in any event will not make the proper adjustments to the regional requirements of the entire operation.  I mean, what is appropriate or stylish in Atlanta, might not work in Seattle or New Jersey. One style does not fit all! This is another reason why the mainstream department stores are cutting back on their plus-size departments.  So in my opinion, your best bet is a specialty store in your community that carries some of the top plus-size manufacturers. Mainly, because the OWNER is the BUYER. Some uninformed sources have pulled numbers from out of their butt to say there are 900 plus-size specialty stores. There are quite a few shops that I would call “old lady” stores that cater to the mother-of-the-bride on her once-a-year-trip to buy a dress to go to wedding.  But as far as cool and trendy stores that have clothes that a young person might want to buy, there are less than twenty(!) in the United States and Canada. They are the place you will find the look you want instead of the mainstream conservative department stores.

Where to Find the Best Clothes
When you are shopping for plus-size clothing you should stick with the manufacturers who really know what they are doing. Lines such as Svoboda Premium Jeans, Anna Scholz, Melissa Masse, Donna Ricco, and especially Olivia Harper offer a consistent quality fit and fashion-forward designs that are on trend. That is not to say that there are not some big problems with some of the other exclusively plus-size companies. Some of them try to exploit the market by getting cheap fabrics that are mass-produced in China so they can manufacturer cheaply and still charge a higher a price for plus-size clothing. A cheap polyester/blend that are poorly sewn in a sweatshop mean big profits for some of these companies. Check the quality of the fabrics and the way your garment is put together to make sure you get your money’s worth no matter how much you spend.  I feel it is always better to pay a little more to get a quality garment that will last more than one season, instead of cheap disposable clothing that you have to throw away after you wear it two or three times. Where’s the economy in that?

Picture this: You are at work sitting next to someone wearing top designer clothes and you want to look good too! The politics of the plus-sized community are very important and the needs of the community must be addressed! But we need clothes! That is what it is all about. Looking good right now! Not next week, not next month! Now!

Where will you go shopping for your plus-size clothing?

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