One Size Fits All Is so 1999!
Armed with technology, consumers believe they can have anything they want literally immediately. This expectation is uprooting the status quo and business as usual, across all sectors of retail. A prime example is customer demand in the inclusive apparel market spanning women’s plus-size fashion to adaptive apparel for the disabled and chronically ill. In the U.S., the adaptive market is estimated at $44.5 billion, global is $278.2 billion. The women’s U.S. plus-size market opportunity is another $46 billion. These niche markets are underserved, starving for attention and great fashion. These inclusive apparel opportunities reside within long tail of the $1.8 billion global apparel market (Euromonitor estimate). Until recently, they have remained largely ignored by most retailers and brands. They are worth serving!
“One Size Does Not Fit All: Inclusive Design & the Modern Consumer,” half-day conference presented by Alvanon and Coresight Research addressed the inclusive design opportunity and its drivers, with some of the key players and trailblazers that are changing the business of retail. Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon said, “One size does not fit all – clothing needs to be made to fit for purpose. Modern consumers include plus size, differently-abled and those with physical issues. All niche markets are loyal markets. How do businesses work to accommodate these markets and win?” Deborah Weinswig, founder of Coresight added, “Inclusive design, adaptive clothing and micro-segmentation will revolutionize the way we think about the fashion consumer.”
Significant and Largely Untapped
The traditional apparel ecosystem, from designers and manufacturers to retailers have largely ignored, dismissed — and to a degree — alienated the apparel and fashion needs of larger women and the disabled. But along came millennials and the social media that gave them the power of advocacy and a platform to voice their dissatisfaction with such limited choices. Their voices changed everything.
The plus-size category has been a bright spot for innovation in an otherwise moribund apparel sector for the past few years. The entrepreneurs that are transforming the category are engaged personally, not because of so-called “white space” in a business strategy matrix, but with the personal passion to disrupt dysfunctional aspects of the apparel market.
In 2017 a few retailers and brands launched adaptive apparel products, including Target (Cat & Jack sensory friendly children’s apparel), Zappo’s, Patti & Ricky and MagnaReady (with magnetic closures).
Diversity Is the Expectation
There is nothing like having to get lost in seven floors of a New York City department store trying to find a party dress amidst the furniture offerings, with the dismal fashion options reduced to picking the best of the worst. According to Polina Veksler, co-founder and CEO of Universal Standard and speaker at the conference, that department store scenario was the plight of the plus-size customer and the impetus to founding Universal Standard, a fashion brand spanning sizes 6-32. The brand’s tenet is that size has nothing to do with fashion; style should be the only filter. Universal Standard’s goal is to break down the style barriers that separate women of different sizes, with a focus on changing the way women shop. Veksler and her co-founder Alexandra Walman started with an eight-piece collection in 2015 in Walman’s apartment. Fast Company rated Universal Standard as the 4th most innovative fashion company in 2018, behind industry stalwarts Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger with another disruptor, Diamond Foundry.
Veksler and Walman believe that industry norms, including fabric width, sizing basics, the supply chain, manufacturers, and vendors all need a significant overhaul. Other influential change agents from outside the industry are solving consumer pain points. These innovators refuse to accept traditional solutions as sacrosanct and believe there is a better way. Rick Darling, executive director of Americas Li & Fung and emcee of the event, commented, “Disruption comes from the unexpected, an idea developed in a garage, by people with no understanding of how the industry operates.”
A Zeitgeist of Inclusivity
The millennial plus-size and disabled customers want the same fashionable choices that are offered to their friends in smaller size ranges. Social media and the ability to advocate and speak out on multiple platforms have changed the game along with the growing acceptance of the body positivity movement. “There is no reason 100 million women in the U.S. should be ignored” said Jessica Kahan Dvorett, VP of Merchandising at plus-size, fast-fashion digital rental subscription service, Gwynnie Bee. Just as pregnant women no longer want clothes to hide in (thanks in part to Kate Middleton, the Kardashians and other celebrity moms), plus-size customers want stylish apparel that works for every facet of their lives, from activewear and work to nightlife.
Catherine Cole, Executive Director of MOTIF spoke to the growing urgency of the skill gap within the apparel ecosystem, citing a joint Alvanon + MOTIF 2018 state of the industry report that surveyed1 executives at apparel brands (39 percent), retailers (20 percent) sourcing companies (19 percent) and factories (33 percent). Employee learning and skill development is a key business issue for 73 percent and 62 percent are having trouble filling positions due to lack of a skilled workforce. Nearly three- quarters (70 percent) of the business leaders surveyed believe more investment needs to be put in training, with a focus on technical training rather than soft skills or management training. Talent development is a fertile field for disruptors and innovators to reinvent the apparel ecosystem.
Survey respondents could choose multiple industry segments.
Collaborating to Make a Dream Come True
Universal Standard is a great collaboration between the co-founders’ love for fashion. Parson’s Open Style Lab is a collaboration among academia, industry experts and consumers. Grace Jun, executive director at the Lab and assistant professor at Parsons said the Lab’s efforts focus on workshops to engage people with disabilities. Parson’s interdisciplinary culture allows for collaboration across fine arts, design, technology and fashion. Jun facilitates design, engineering and therapy experts to work with people with disabilities and ideate and create together. Ultimately, Jun’s goal is to tell corporate America the compelling and palpable story of the real needs of people with disabilities. For Jun, cross-collaboration is an essential tool to reveal brilliant ideas, new ways of attacking problems and finding solutions.
Xian Horn, founder and executive director at Give Beauty Wings, spoke about the difficulties of finding clothing she could put on herself that adapted to the constraints of her specific disability. Her joy of having a custom-made trench created for her needs was moving. It isn’t hard to imagine many other young women in similar situations that yearn to express their love of fashion and design through their clothing. Horn said, “We are hungry for this. Fashion is identity-making and we want to enable all of us to express ourselves more fully with fashion”.
The conference wrapped up with a competition of 14 retail tech startup pitches and three tied for first place.
- Markable is a leader in computer vision AI for fashion, helping fashion e-tailers improve conversions and increase average orders while supporting publishers’ efforts to monetize visual fashion content and improve engagement.
- Radius8 is a localization platform that creates store-centric online experiences, and in-store experiences based on local digital demand.
- Revcascade’s dropshipping technology enables retailers, marketplaces, and publishers to rapidly launch, operate, and scale dropship ecommerce programs, as exemplified by the 236 percent revenue increase (or $36.6 million) in the eight months since the dropship program was implemented at a home decor retailer.