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Nike has launched a plus size line offering women’s athletic gear in “extended sizes” to cater to a more diverse range of customers and body types, making it the first major commercial athletic apparel brand in the world to incorporate plus sizing into its products. This new line offers more than 200 clothing products in sizes 1X through 3X, including athletic shirts, shorts, fitness pants, leggings, and jackets. The line will also offer sports bras that go up to size 38E. Though first announced in July of 2016, the line was not launched until early March 2017.
This is a definite breakthrough for the women’s plus-size clothing market, which has long been under-served. In the US, the average woman reportedly falls between a size 16 and an 18, the lower end of plus or extended sizing, but the majority of clothing stores only carry up to size 12 or 14. To make things more confusing, there is a lot of inconsistency between what many major commercial brands consider to be ‘plus-size’ and ‘straight size’—for example, Mango’s plus-size range Violeta starts at a size 12, while Old Navy’s starts at a 16. Fast-fashion brand Forever 21 considers size XL clothing to be a part of their plus-size range while other brands, including H&M, consider size XL to be part of straight sizing. These discrepancies in clothing sizes and standards can make it difficult for brands to properly market their plus-size ranges to the right audiences, missing out on the significant cash flow that plus-size customers bring.
This can be frustrating for plus-size female shoppers, who are actually major consumers of clothing despite their limited options. In 2016, annual sales of plus-size apparel in the US rose to USD 20.4 billion, according to Bloomberg, an increase of roughly 17% from 2013. In comparison, overall apparel sales increased by 7% during the same time period. Over the past three years, the sales of plus-size women’s apparel have outpaced total women’s clothing sales. Teenagers, too, are buying plus-size clothing: according to The NDP Group, the percentage of female teenagers in the US purchasing plus-size clothing increased almost two-fold between 2013 and 2015 to roughly 35%; further growth is expected throughout 2017. These sales are limited to very few brands, many of them being plus-size specialty brands, and these statistics apply primarily to everyday and formal wear, not athletic wear. There is a market for plus-size clothing and athletic wear, but most retailers are not realizing its potential nor are they capitalizing on it. Nike’s plus-size range will, therefore, give them a serious edge over other sportswear brands and apparel brands in general as they have very, very little competition.
Embracing diversity amongst athletes is something that Nike has been at the forefront of for a while. Expanding their line to incorporate women of all shapes and sizes will attract more customers and build serious brand loyalty—not to mention the benefits of all of the publicity this innovative move has brought the company so far. In a press release regarding the new line, Nike released this statement: “Nike recognizes that women are stronger, bolder, and more outspoken than ever … In today’s world, sport is no longer something that she does, it’s who she is. The days where we have to add ‘female’ before ‘athlete’ are over. She is an athlete, period. And having helped fuel this cultural shift, we celebrate these athletes’ diversity, from ethnicity to body shape.” If more workout clothing brands and women’s clothing brands in general embrace this mentality, the women’s plus-size clothing market is sure to undergo radical change, catering to a more diverse consumer base and bringing in greater profits.
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