There were some shocking headlines coming out of this year’s New York Fashion Week.
No, it wasn’t Teyana Taylor’s epic closure for Philipp Plein, Alexander Wang’s party bus shuttling his entire #WANGFEST runway to Brooklyn or even Leslie Jones cheering front row at Christian Siriano like she was at a football game, (which btw I LOVED --- YAAAASSS Leslie Jones for reminding us that fashion can be fun). It was the body inclusivity of models walking on the runway. Curve, pregnant, transgender, athletic you name it – they (finally) walked.
Chromat, Michael Kors, Christian Siriano, Tome, Prabal Gurung, Oak, Tracy Reese, Eckhaus Latta, and Calvin Klein were just a few of the designers to represent a full range on the body shape spectrum. Sure, this wasn’t the first time different body shapes were represented but it certainly was the broadest and boldest debut ever.
According to Glamour Magazine, 27 curve models walked in fashion week, more than ever before. Chromat was one of the most prominent shows featuring curve models, including It Girl Jordyn Woods. A few of the Chromat models were even given anti-chafing thigh bands to strut that runway with the utmost confidence and comfort. Other brands focused only on the curve customer. Torrid debuted their first show at NYFW and Additional Elle brought it again with the likes of curve super model Ashley Graham.
While pregnant models at NYFW may have been less prominent than the curve lot, they still made a bold statement at Eckhaus Latta. Maia Ruth Lee walked 8 months pregnant showcasing her belly via a cardigan unfastened over the baby bump. While this shouldn’t have been shocking because we all see pregnant women every day, it was non-typical for a NYFW runway.
SS18 / @lkchadwick and @maia_ruth_lee / Styling by @malcolmraeradboy / Casting by @ray.chandler for @midlandagency / Hair by @hollismithhead for @oribe / Makeup by @kanakotks for @immunocologie / Music by @Moses /Press by @mode_pr / Production by @rikiricana /// Photo by @lillieeiger for @dazedfashion
None of this should be that outrageous but in the fashion and retail industry it has been a long time coming to see this type of body diversity and actually be endorsed by the “who’s who” of NYFW. It’s also way overdue. It seems that in today’s body acceptance movement, the fashion industry is the one behind the trend.
Okay, so great - body inclusivity finally had a moment in the bright lights but why does it matter? These aren’t new customers and the retail industry caters to different segments all the time, right? Wrong.
Sure, curve and maternity apparel exist but the market is drastically different today and the market isn’t evolving with today’s customers. Many times customers with diverse bodies are afterthoughts and are being left behind. How do we get these customers to come back and provide them with the experience they deserve?
The curve movement, previously known as plus-size, has been around for awhile but are we really servicing this customer?
According to The Economist, "A frequently-cited study done a few years ago by Plunkett Research, a market-research firm, found that 67% of American women were “plus-size”, meaning size 14 or larger. That figure will not have changed much, but in 2016, only 18% of clothing sold was plus-size, according to NPD Group.”
Additionally The Economist also states, "revenue in the plus-size category increased by 14% between 2013 and 2016, compared with growth of 7% for all apparel. Takings were $21.3bn last year."
So the billion-dollar curve category is significantly outpacing the rest of the apparel category and yet again, only 18% of clothing sold was for the curve customer yet 67% of American women fit into this demographic. Something isn’t right here.
The customer seems pretty willing to spend but the offerings aren’t there. When the offerings ARE there, many times the assortment is difficult to find, isn’t well merchandised and lacks engaging advertising. Something is definitely wrong here.
Here is a customer segment that is voting with their wallets that they will buy and the industry, isn’t serving them. Unless you are a curve specialty store, the few who do provide apparel aren’t serving them with a full service experience.
MAMA NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES
So as Maia Ruth Lee walked down Eckhaus Latta’s runway, interestingly it wasn’t just the fact that she was pregnant that created waves but also what and how she was wearing it. She wore a lavender, snap front cardigan dress unfastened over her belly that definitely wouldn’t be considered maternity wear. It represented a derivation of traditional maternity wear. The cardigan she wore was an item that could be found in any woman’s closet but the designer adapted it for a proud, pregnant body.
This too is a reflection of the current state of the maternity segment. Of course the customer is there but today’s pregnant millennial generation has a changing attitude about pregnancy and shopping in a very modern way compared to their mothers.
Today’s maternity consumer is looking for new, fashionable looks and doesn’t want to trade in trendier options for motherhood. She is tired of the traditional maternity looks typically found at the mass level and is looking for styles that will proudly show off her growing baby bump. Better yet, garments that provide trend, comfort, and versatility. It should be a piece that she can transition from her pre-motherhood days through pregnancy and potentially beyond. Furthermore, soon to be moms want options at opposite ends of the pricing spectrum, both low and high price points. And when mass doesn’t offer them, the customer is looking elsewhere, mainly boutiques and online.
A NIC(H)E EXPERIENCE
The opportunity is clear. Those having success in body inclusive segments are narrowing in on niches and focusing on the customer and their experience. They are providing their customers with what they want and with the representation that they deserve. The time for a robust body inclusive customer experience and strategy is here and absolutely must include,
a full assortment with flattering styles and fabrications, and appropriate fits
a well executed merchandising strategy that is positioned front and center
an advertising campaign that features body inclusive models
regular engagement with your customers via social media
Those who are winning, like specialty and ecommerce, have got this nailed down and are aggressively bringing their vision to market and to their customers.
The real excitement coming out of NYFW is that it felt like there was finally endorsement for the average woman. Not that women need endorsement to be themselves but perhaps September’s Fashion Week is finally giving the symbolic “ok” that its time for the body acceptance movement to move forward. And in doing so, hopefully awakens retailers to the many missed opportunities and realization that ALL customers deserve the full experience from end to end. If NYFW can (finally) do it, so can you.
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