Rising incidence of obesity and overweight across the world is acting as a catalyst for growth of plus-size fashion. Historically dismissed, plus-size fashion is gaining momentum with the rapid deployment of high street retailers and mainstream brands given this expanding customer base. The naivety of non-specialists has already caused serious marketing backlashes, highlighting the importance of well thought out strategies balancing effectively inclusivity and aspirational messages.
Overweight and obesity - especially among children - have surged over the last decade, driven by over-consumption of high-calorie processed foods, and reduced physical activity. BMIs are highest in Qatar, Kuwait and the US in 2019. Governments are responding to the obesity crisis by implementing public health campaigns, sugar taxes, clearer food labelling and restrictions on the advertising of junk food. Yet, by 2030 it is expected that 28% of the world’s population will be overweight and 17% of these, obese.
Significantly higher than average disposable income, obesity and overweight prevalence and per capita expenditure on fashion levels overlay in North America and in some of the more affluent markets in the Gulf region (eg Qatar, Kuwait and UAE). Despite maturity, these markets hold great potential over the forecast period for plus-size fashion given the strong appeal for trend-led (and high-end) fashion and the relatively underdeveloped plus-size retail offering available.
Over the last couple of years, several high-profile retailers (especially in the US) have expanded their offerings and adapted their retail operations to better cater for plus-size consumers. Either launching new private label lines (EVRI by Kohl’s), via partnerships (adidas x Universal Standard) or through acquisitions (Eloquii by Walmart) size-inclusive initiatives are booming with the notable exception of luxury powerhouses, who still remain fairly dismissive in comparison.
After several marketing backlashes, fashion companies are gradually fine-tuning their approach to plus-size marketing, gradually moving towards body-positive and empowering territory. Despite the controversy around the role of fashion to tackle obesity, growing availability, visibility and normalisation should be further encouraged.
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