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I was a retail buyer for many years, and understand that retailers can’t please everyone. Their “open to buy”, or budgets, only go so far. They need to prioritize their purchases for each seasonal range just as we do with our own personal budgets. Retailers don’t deliberately set out to annoy us. They do want to give us what we want so that we’ll buy their merchandise and make them profitable. But we can’t buy something that isn’t there.
This brings me to five retail opportunities that continue to be ignored by most of the fashion industry. For all sorts of reasons, designers and retailers don’t think these items or segments of the market are sufficiently important. I’d love to know why. I dress and shop with clients across an assortment of body types for a living, and we are constantly running into wardrobe challenges because of these holes.
It’s easy to find fluid and oversized tops, or clingy fits that are very body-con. But the less extreme tailored fit that follows the contour of the body in woven fabric is very hard to find. There are dressy options from time to time, but tailored casual tops are elusive. And most of us want them as a way of showcasing the narrowest parts of our figures, but not in a skin-tight way.
My guess is that the reasons are economic. It’s easier, faster and cheaper to manufacture tops that are fluid or oversized, and body-con styles in knitted fabrics, because they don’t have multiple darts and seams that suppress the garment into shape. The extra labour required to manufacture tailored garments is expensive.
It’s hard to find footwear in W and WW sizes full stop, but a little easier in casual styles. Wide and extra wide footwear in dressy silhouettes with a bit of heel are extremely rare, and you can forget about trendy styles. I had a client who needed a WWW size in dressy footwear because of large bunions and a business formal dress code. We had to get WW footwear — which was difficult enough — and have it stretched. These days she can fit size W footwear because of successful bunion surgery, which makes things easier.
In my experience, most people have wider feet, which means a larger assortment of wide sizes would be greatly appreciated.
Designer wear tends to stop at a size US10/12 or Large and often runs smaller than regular chain store merchandise. This is 2017, and it’s ridiculous that the size range of most designer wear is kept extremely exclusive despite the industry’s efforts to be more inclusive and diverse. That said, 11 Honoré sells sizes US10 to 20 across a range of designer merchandise, which is a step in the right direction.
There is a notable difference between the largest size in Regular and the smallest size in Plus. It’s usually a couple of sizes, and what I call the “in-between” sizes. If these are the sizes you need, you’re often in no man’s land. You would think that with 14/16 being the average size for American women, the industry would service the size in a more effective way. While things have improved slightly — a handful of retailers provide regular sizes up to a US16/18, and sites like Violeta service sizes US10 to 20 — it’s not enough to bridge the gap.
It shouldn’t be so hard to find a frock with sufficient length for an office environment that is not a maxi dress. We are in our eighth year of ultra short dress trends and it’s mind-blowing to me. All we’re asking for is a larger assortment of styles with two to six extra inches of length. It’s not rocket science. It’s simply a little more fabric that I know I will happily pay for. Just because we can show our knees and thighs doesn’t mean we want to show them. I’d like to know the percentage of frocks that are bad sellers at the end of the season because they’re too short.
It’s impossible for the fashion industry to serve everyone. I get that small segments of the market aren’t worth retailers’ and designers’ time and money because they aren’t profitable. But the way I see it, these are significant gaps in the market waiting to be filled. Buyers and merchandisers, please take these retail opportunities by the horns and fill them.