Sweat Rewards

Plus-Size Clothes

You dream of having a slim supermodel show off your clothing designs. But did you know that the retail clothes market for plus-sized women is $26 billion?

"[Plus-size] is a great market," says Phyllis Borcherding, assistant professor of fashion design at the University of Cincinnati. "There are all sorts of niche markets in the plus-size industry, [such as] high-end [clothes]. I think the retail world is starting to realize that just because you're larger doesn't mean you [can't afford nice clothes]." Think plus-size businesswomen's clothes as well as loungewear and activewear, says Borcherding.

Susan Weber applauds that sort of thinking. But the president of Grand Style Women's Club, an online club for women who wear size 14 and up, offers an interesting conundrum: She thinks entrepreneurs should be wary of selling exclusively to the plus-size market. Most plus-sized women don't think of themselves as plus-sized, says Weber. She believes entrepreneurs would be wiser to offer clothing to everybody, from the smallest size to the largest.

Borcherding, however, contends the plus-size stigma is waning: "Plus-size doesn't mean you're necessarily overweight," she says. "Sometimes you're just larger." She notes that some brands offer what they call "alternative sizing," or don't bill themselves as plus-size lines-they just offer outfits in sizes 12 to 20, "which gets the point across," she says.

In any case, ignore the market at your own peril: Weber says 50 percent of American women are size 14 or larger.

-Geoff Williams

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This article was originally published in the December 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sweat Rewards.

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