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San Francisco-based e-tailer ModCloth is a brand that you can be friends with. And, as they can tell you, friends come in all different shapes and sizes.
The vintage-inspired retailer is making a point to pay attention to what's commonly referred to as "plus-size fashion," a side of the industry that's often overlooked. Though the average American woman buys a size 12, many high-fashion designers top out at a size eight. American mass-market retailers, like Ann Taylor and Banana Republic are more democratic, but only slightly so. Size 14 or 16 is often the largest you'll find at a mall store. J.Crew only goes up to a size 12.
But Modcloth recently conducted a survey of more than 5,000 American women ages 15 to 65, and found that there are more women wearing a size 16 than a size 2 and 0 combined. So it's safe to say plus-size fashion is an unsatisfied market that continues to grow.
Part of the difficulty is that garment designs can't simply be continuously up-sized. The entire garment needs to be restructured to properly fit varying scales. If a dress has been designed for a size four fit model, the same pattern won't directly translate to a size 18.
Another issue is that while plus-size customers are vocal about wanting more fashion-forward styles, more revealing trends (like this seasons cut-out dresses and sheer fabrics) may not sell as well for the plus-size demographic.
ModCloth is tackling the issue by hiring a dedicated plus-size specialist for the brand. Goretti (she prefers to go by her first name only) joined ModCloth last January as the company's Product Development Manager, and she works with fit models on a daily basis to continually develop the company's approach to plus-sized fashion.
With 20 years of experience in the industry, Goretti is using her tailoring skills to focus on improving the anatomy of plus-size apparel, and she's done extensive research into understanding the relationship between fabric and a woman's body. At ModCloth, her tasks include three to four hours of model fittings each day, where she works on the specific areas posing challenges for the brand's plus-size customer—issues such as armholes, sleeve widths, and skirt lengths.
"We work on dissecting [the garment] from top to bottom," she says. "I've probably fit thousands of plus fit models over my career."
When choosing fit models, Goretti looks at their key measurements (bust, hips and waist), proportion, and weight distribution. With the help of these models, garments are worked on and patterns are created that accentuate the features of the full-figure body shape.
All that effort has paid off. ModCloth introduced a private label plus-sized line last year, and it now contributes to 8% of the brand's overall revenue.
"I think we're finally at a point where the industry is listening," says Goretti. "In my hopes that ModCloth is taking a stance, a pledge, and our commitment to the plus-size gal, we will be an industry leader in evolving and moving the plus fashions forward."
"I would hope that the fashion industry as a whole recognizes the plus woman as just an extension of regular sizes and that there isn't so much of that separation of regular versus plus," says Goretti. "I think something that we at ModCloth do really well is that we are very inclusive with how we look at product. We look at it side by side and don't separate it out."
Earlier this summer, Modcloth invited plus-size fashion bloggers to attend a roundtable discussion and share their experiences in fashion. There was an appreciative consensus amongst the crowd for Modcloth's approach. One audience member described the retailer as a "catalyst for change in the industry."
In an effort to be just that, ModCloth is taking a collaborative approach to plus-size fashion. The brand has gone from zero to 100 plus-sized vendors since launch. They also share their fit practices and training tools with their vendors, and say they are starting to see a bit more attention given to plus-size customers as a result.
"I challenge the fashion industry as a whole to take a step back and really look at it from the perspective of what looks good on the body," says Goretti. "At the end of the day, we really care."