Fashion branches out as curvy girls pursue style
DENVER On a wall inside a new store in Southwest Plaza near Denver hangs a fashionable assortment of women s clothes. Maxi dresses, cotton skirts and jersey tops are in bright solid colors, geometric prints and polka dots.
What makes the designs a little different from other spring offerings at the mall are that the looks from AnnaFesta are in sizes 10 24. And while jewelry and handbags are also offered at the shop, Connexions is selling sculpture, fine art and gourmet foods, too. Showcasing her line in a market like environment is a bit of an experiment for designer Anne Fanganello, a Denverite who three years ago opened her own business after spending 18 years in the swirl of the New York designer fashion industry.
Fanganello, 42, has been selling her seasonal AnnaFesta collections in boutiques and was about to go for a wholesale push when the Connexions opportunity arose.
As Fanganello has discovered, plus size fashion is challenging. Despite their growing numbers and the fact that the average American woman now wears a size 14, plus size customers don t have abundant choices in traditional stores, so they tend to do a lot of their shopping online.
Plus sized customers say they re dissatisfied with the shopping process and selection. In a September 2012 study by NPD Group Inc., 63 percent of the plus size women surveyed said that shopping for clothing for themselves is more stressful than shopping for regular size clothing and 62 percent reported having trouble finding women s plus sized clothing styles they want. Nearly as many survey respondents, 56 percent, said it was hard to find plus size clothing with the same level of quality as misses or traditional size clothing.
Pat Schuessler, 52, one of the vendors at Connexions, says shopping frustrates her. She has lost about 60 pounds in the past year or so, but is discouraged that despite the weight loss, the selection of plus size clothes that fit her new size 18 figure is still often frumpy in comparison to what her smaller size friends are offered.
It s a self perpetuating problem because if women don t buy, retailers won t expand. Sales of plus size clothing are about $14 billion annually, down from about $17 billion several years ago, according to Marshal Cohen, NPD s chief industry analyst. Growth is flat, whereas women s sportswear is up 4 percent, he says. If consumers don t respond quickly enough, retailers will expand into other areas.
Still another 2012 survey, this time from Mintel, found that plus size customers prefer to shop in a store with a plus size department but that also carries non plus size clothing, such as a department store. And that finding went across all income groups.
That s a customer like Jaye Gipson of Chicago, who was shopping in Macy s earlier this week and had good words for the retailer.
They ve gotten a much more modern selection now, with brands like Alfani and Charter Club, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren, said Gipson, 44, a bookkeeper whose Curvatude blog has thousands of followers.
Gipson, who wears a size 18 or 20, says she has worn AnnaFesta designs as well and appreciates the quality. So many of the plus size brands aren t as well made, she said.
The plus size customer is used to having to search for fashion, Gipson says. The problem is that these women have been ignored for so long, they don t even know what options exist. You go on Eloquii s site right now and you ll see that some people just found it and are upset when they find out it is closing. (In late 2011, The Limited opened its online plus size division Eloquii. Prices on the current line have been deeply discounted and the company has announced it will no longer produce the line.)
Gipson says brands from the United Kingdom are currently a hit with plus size shoppers, herself included. Brands like Asos and Simply Be have a lot of great options, she says.
The hassle of shopping online is that full figured women come in a wide variety of body types so it s challenging to locate things that fit. They have to order a lot of clothes to find a few that will suit their bodies and then have to send back the rest, Gipson says.
I m about showing off what I have, says Gipson, noting that she approaches fashion, beauty and lifestyle from a plus size perspective that encourages women to live out loud and make most of their bodies and their lives.
While Gibbons, 31, has worked with mainstream retailers such as Lands End and appreciates the company s efforts, she s not afraid to push the boundaries by doing things like posting photos of herself in plus size bikini separates on the Internet. The Huffington Post picked up the recent report, and now Good Morning America is going to air a spot on her bikini search, Gibbons says. (By the way, Gibbons found only the Old Navy and Lands End suits worked for her body type, but she s continuing to look.)
I ve been plus size since I was in elementary school, and back then, fashion was not our friend, Gibbons says. I d have to shop in the women s section with my mom.
She s now a mother of three herself and says fashion options have improved, but there s still a long way to go.
Great cuts, high quality, on trend styling are needed, Gibbons says. We re a new generation of gorgeous women who own our curves. We have money to spend. Stop designing for our mothers!
Anne Fanganello started designing clothes somewhat out of necessity. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33 and gained weight during treatment. That made wearing high fashion styles difficult given that she was a size 12 in the skinny world of New York fashion. She was able to get some of her clothes cut larger because she worked in the business, but found plus size offerings in stores lacking.
Returning to Denver in 2007 to take a break from fashion, she began working as an event planner. The job required good clothes, so she invested in a nice dress only to see another woman wearing the same thing at one of her parties. Her next step was to design her own outfits.
She drew from her experience leading the technical design and operations team at Nanette Lepore, where she oversaw fitting, patternmaking and sewing operation.
Her goal? Make clothes that fit and flatter a plus size figure, not hide it.
The lines and details draw your eye up and in, the designer says. You ll look two inches taller and two inches narrower.
Fanganello says she was happy to work behind the scenes in fashion until she saw what women needed.
I was doing it for myself, but then I noticed it was a trend, she says. Younger people want sexier clothes, no matter their size. You have to be proud of your body.