The market for plus-size apparel has increased by 17 percent from $17.4 billion in 2013 to $20.4 billion in 2016, according to Bloomberg news. Comparatively, regular apparel sales only increased by 7 percent during the same time span, according to industrial consultants NPD Group, which tracks business and solutions data for over 20 industries including retail.
Despite the substantial growth within the market, that growth only accommodates a small segment of the overall plus-size market, according to Bronzeville entrepreneur, Helena Wilson. The vice president of Anelehs Atelier – a Chicago based boutique specializing in limited, ready-to-wear and customized designs for curvy women – says that off-the-rack designs for plus-size women are narrowly designed and only focus on two body shapes.
“For example,” she says “I have large hips, a little bit of a tummy, small breast and broad shoulders. And I don’t fit the sizing or the shape of the body that they [designers] make the clothes for. My challenge is my hips are double the size of my waist so at any size I’m always two sizes instead of the one that the garment is cut for. I might fall between a 1X at the top and a 3X at the bottom or a variation in between.”
Commenting on how off-the-rack clothing fits her body, Helena says “It’s never an exact fit; its either bigger at the bottom, or smaller in the bottom, or bigger in the top, or smaller in the top,” referring to how a garment that is cut for one size throughout the entire garment doesn’t fit a curvy woman with changing proportions in her body.
Despite the overall year over year growth – the plus-size market has outpaced regular women’s sales in the past three years – the fashion industry has yet to embrace the totality of all the different body shapes that encompass plus-size women.
Wilson believes that the industry neglects the plus-size market in part due to the issue of design challenges that come with designing for larger women and most notably “it doesn’t fit the perception of what they [designer brands] want to sell,” she states.
According to Helena’s mother, design partner and backer, Tawana Wilson: “The market for curvy women only caters to two body shapes, the rectangle and the hour glass figured woman. And today, the average woman is curvier – this is the new norm,” she says.
In fact, new research from Washington State University concludes that the average size for today’s American woman has increased to size 16 to 18 dispelling the notion of the average American size being a 14, which the study’s author says is based on 20-year-old data.
The mother-daughter duo views this dilemma as an opportunity to distinguish themselves in the marketplace as plus-size women abandon traditional retailers en masse looking for alternatives without sacrificing quality and fastidious style.
Anelehs Atelier has tackled this issue by “. . . taking the average shapes of all women and we’ve come up with seven different body type shapes,” says daughter Helena. “It’s not written in stone what these body shapes have to wear, but we’ve found out what looks best on all seven of them.”
Ms. Wilson says that the company’s research into the different body types better informs the design process from start to finish; helping to produce higher quality designs that offer a superior fit, comfort and above all – lots of personalized style.
The design duo which have been designing since 2006 insists that this philosophy is at the heart of every collection. “Our approach,” says Helena “is to make women look as good as they can look. We base our designs around the shape of the body first and depending on how the fabric flows, we might design a single garment or if it’s a particularly inspiring fabric, we might do a mini collection of six to seven pieces.”
“Designing for curvy women requires a thoughtful process,” says Ms. Wilson “which involves some mathematics and technical skills. You have to know something about the body and how it moves,” she shares.
Their most recent collection – Fall 2016 – included elements of “soft and hard” as Helena characterized it, and ranged from Picasso inspired printed leggings to cheetah print, long-haired chiffon blouses with faux leather weave cuffs. Their design philosophy which is evident in the various fabrications, stitching, embroidery and detailing easily translates into beautiful garments that convey a newly found sense of confidence and sophistication for their clients, the duo asserts.
Inspired by the response they’ve received from their online sales with a growing fan base in London, Toronto, West Africa as well as states side, the two are planning some bold moves in 2017 including: launching an educational component about the different body shapes, expanding their ecommerce footprint, and partnering with an eco-friendly mill to design their own exclusive fabrications among other ideas.
“Truth be told,” they say “designers have decided that people are made for them and not the other way around. That’s the problem with this industry; they’re [designers] deciding how it’s going to be, ‘You either fit in it or you don’t.’” That’s not how it’s supposed to be the two designers agree; the designer should be there to listen to you.
For more information or a consultation, visit their website at https://anelehs.com/