Scaling the Plus Size Industry: Is It Doing Well in Malaysia’s Fast Fashion?

Scaling the Plus Size Industry: Is It Doing Well in Malaysia’s Fast Fashion?

Written by Phung Yi JunMarch 23, 2018

Scaling the Plus Size Industry: Is It Doing Well in Malaysia’s Fast Fashion?

The plus size industry is a force to be reckoned with. A $24 billion force, to be exact.

Shunned by big names in the industry, feared by fashion designers, and described as a ‘high-risk’ investment by retailers, the once-ignored industry is now projected to be worth $24 billion by 2020. According to the NPD Group, the revenue generated for plus size apparels rose from $17.3 billion in 2013 to $21.4 billion in 2016. In fact, compared with the overall growth for fashion, the plus size industry had double the amount: a solid 14% increment.

This lucrative industry steadily gained its momentum over the years due to a strong plus size community that called for more size inclusivity. With the assistance of social media, paired with hashtags ‘#plussizewomen’ and ‘#curvy’, the conversation to promote plus sizes expands every second.

State of Fashion for 2017, a report released by McKinsey & Company, stated that “fashion brands are rapidly responding to a cultural shift towards body positivity and a growing appreciation of curvy figures, by designing specifically for a larger range of sizes rather than just expanding their size range as an afterthought”. When a retailer excludes sizes above UK14, they’re missing out on their share of a potential $24 billion.

But wait. Does it apply everywhere else, say… Southeast Asia (SEA)?

Plus Size Industry in SEA: Malaysia

The good news is that social media footprints on body positivity occur on a global scale. However, the not-so-good news is that majority of the statistics (including the $24 billion figure), industry insights and retail reports available are mostly derived from the USA or UK market. On the other side of the map, there seems to be insufficient information by key opinion leaders or market experts that manifest a similar growth for the Asian plus-size market, especially SEA. A quick Google search of both segments will show a stark difference.

Nonetheless, a market does exist here, especially in Malaysia. There is an abundance of humble blogshops that have joined the movement, as most were created due to the frustrations of not finding the right size, cutting or style when shopping in major stores. Another way to measure the market is through studying the growth of e-Commerce sites, especially fast fashion. There is an inclusion of sizes beyond UK14 and the creations of new sections for plus sizes. However, not all of them are on the right track. While some fast-fashion brands are running along this movement, others are still trying to keep up.

Topshop and Zara are two favourites amongst Malaysian working women. They have both offline and online stores in the nation, but the plus size selections have a few missing gaps.

Following Close, but Not Close Enough

There aren’t many choices beyond UK20

There isn’t exactly a universal ‘starting’ plus size mark, as each brand has their own vision of what a plus size is. The usual range is typically from sizes UK16 to UK28, but setting the mark is entirely dependent on the brand. In this case, the amount of products offered in Topshop and Zara starts decreasing after UK16 or UK18… which is equivalent to international sizes L and XL.

number of products for plus sizes for topshop and zara

The most drastic difference is Topshop Malaysia, as they confine most of their plus sizes to UK18. For size UK20 onwards, there were only 239 products available, which means there was a 90% cut-off as seen above. Zara Malaysia adopted the same pattern, but the gap was not as large. Still, the products for sizes UK20 and above decreased by half.

Of course, it all comes down to the cutting, materials and measurements of the garment, as each fashion brands have different sizing guides. Nevertheless, a plus-size woman’s options are pretty finite. It’s either she picks something from the limited selection above UK20, or she walks away empty-handed.

There’s little consistency amongst the different sizes

The limitation on choices mentioned above mainly affects the inconsistency here. Since there are varying number of products for each size, the product assortment reflects that too.

topshop product assortment for plus sizes

For the size range of UK16-18, the top 4 product categories were tops, outerwear, pants/leggings and dresses. Only skirts and intimates had less than 1000 SKUs, while the rest were stocked in higher quantities. However, after eliminating UK16-18, the results had an extreme change. None of the products for the latter size range passed the 500 mark. Even though the highest stocked items for UK20-28 were pants and leggings, the number only stood at 86 products.

zara product assortment for plus sizes

Comparing with Topshop, Zara Malaysia had more stocks for a larger size range. Even though the top product category decreased by half, it still remained number one for both size ranges. For UK16-18, both dresses and outerwear ranked second and third respectively but swapped places with larger sizes. Skirts saw the biggest drop for size UK20-28, from slightly above 200 to below 50.

The changes could be due to the fact that ‘straight’ size category includes in both UK16 and UK18. ‘Straight’ size here means the ‘usual’ sizes offered in most markets. For example, Topshop usually offers a dress in the usual size range of UK6 to UK14. The fashion brands may add on UK16 and UK18 to extend the range, but anything else after would either be separated into a different section, or excluded completely.

Up to this point, you may ask: “Will this really affect sales?”

performance for topshop and zara

For Q4 of 2017, the performance for both brands above size UK16 did not fare well. For Topshop Malaysia, while the sellout and replenishment rates were above 50%, the motivating factor could be due to discounts. Zara Malaysia, in contrast, released no discounts but saw fewer sellouts and replenishment rates.

Granted, there could be many reasons why the numbers weren’t ideal. It could be the inconsistencies, the limited range of styles, or simply because plus-size shoppers were looking at other alternatives. Whichever it may be, one thing is for sure: there are still existing gaps in the plus size industry in Malaysia.

Some Fast Fashion Retailers are Paving the Way

There’s always a wolf that leads the pack, after all. On the other end of the spectrum, some fashion retailers are moving at a faster pace towards size inclusion, and Dorothy Perkins is one of the few prime examples.

Dorothy Perkins may be based in the United Kingdom, but is a popular brand here in Malaysia. Most of their selections, such as Vero Moda and Billie Blossom, can go up to a size UK22. Additionally, the separate size label, DP Curve, carries up to a UK28.

dorothy perkins product images plus size

Image Source: Dorothy Perkins

dorothy perkins product assortment

A quick glance on the charts above and it’s clear there is a much stronger consistency here in comparison with the previous brands. While there was a decline of SKUs for size UK20 onwards, it wasn’t a massive drop. For Dorothy Perkins, the total amount was 7,764 SKUs for UK16-18. When removed, the numbers still stood strong at 6,092. In contrast with Topshop and Zara Malaysia, the choices from Dorothy Perkins were much higher. Plus size shoppers had the option to shop along the ‘straight size’ sections, or simply opt for the plus size section.

performance for dorothy perkins

According to Omnilytics, the plus size section for Dorothy Perkins did quite well for Q4 of 2017. The number of sellouts and replenishments were relatively high, with minimal discounts.

What Does This All Mean?

It simply means that there are still inconsistencies amongst the fast-fashion scene for plus sizes in Malaysia. There are brands like Topshop and Zara that de-prioritises after UK20, or simply want to focus on straight sizes. However, brands like Dorothy Perkins ensures there is an even distribution for each size, no matter what is the norm.

Of course, in order to really gauge the full market scene, analysing more brands is necessary. Nonetheless, just by studying a few brands, the pressing issue of inconsistencies and lack of plus size choices is evident. Naturally, there are other elements that may influence sellouts and replenishments, but the huge gap is hard to ignore.

The most common misconception is that “plus-size customers simply don’t want to spend on fashion”. We know by now that the statement simply isn’t true. Perhaps, it’s time to acknowledge that maybe plus size shoppers don’t shop at most fast-fashion outlets because there simply aren’t many options for them to choose from. So, the plus size industry in Malaysia isn’t worth $24 billion, but it is growing. In order to fuel the growth, fast-fashion needs to realise this: “refusing to design or sell for those consumers is essentially telling the bulk of the female population that their money is no good.”

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