Plus-size women's clothing inches to inclusion

One retailer thinks it’s time to say goodbye to the plus-size clothing section.

As part of an effort to be more inclusive, Meijer said it will integrate clothing for larger shoppers into clothing racks that currently hold designs for smaller women. By early next year, all of the retailer’s 230 stores will include plus-size clothing on missy and women’s racks, it said, citing a decision to market to trends rather than size.

Aside from making plus-size shoppers feel included, Meijer’s decision represents a canny marketing strategy, given that this segment is growing faster than the overall clothing market. The retailer said it will also charge the same price for all women’s clothing, regardless of size, a merchandizing technique that landed Old Navy in hot water two years ago when some shoppers questioned its fairness. 

“Plus-size apparel is often priced higher than missy or women’s sizes,” said Annette Repasch, group vice president of softlines for Meijer, in a statement. “We believe all our customers deserve to pay the same price for the same trends, regardless of size.”

About two-thirds of American women consider themselves to be a “special size,” market research firm NPD Group said earlier this year. One demographic that’s demanding bigger-size clothing is teenagers, the group noted.

The number of teens who purchase in the junior size category, typically slightly smaller than regular women’s sizes, has dropped eight percentage points from 2012 to 2015. On the other hand, the percentage of teens buying plus-size clothing has jumped to 34 percent from 19 percent in 2012, a trend that NPD said is “reinvigorating the plus-size market.”

Yet it’s not only teens who are increasingly searching for plus-size apparel that’s affordable and stylish. The average American woman now wears a size 16 or 18, which is the same as a women’s plus size 20W, according to an April study from the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.

Still, the fashion industry has largely ignored the typical American woman, an issue that “Project Runway” co-host Tim Gunn called “a disgrace” in The Washington Post in September. While high-end designers still largely ignore women below size 8, more companies are catering to the plus-size market.

City Chic, Eloquii and eShakti are among the stores now catering to women who are looking for extended sizes. ModCloth, a retailer that offers plus-size clothing, found in a 2014 survey that two-thirds of women felt the retail industry ignores larger women.

So, Meijer’s decision might pay off for the retailer, which said the plan will allow it to offer more styles by consolidating floor space. Meijer is so far receiving positive feedback on social media: Consumers on Twitter are calling its inclusionary approach “awesome” and a “smart move.”