H&M has pulled its plus-sized assortment from all of its New York City locations, according to Revelist, an online news site aimed at millennial women.
The fast-fashion retailer told a Revelist reporter that plus sizes were cleared out of all stores in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn to make room for home goods, beauty and sportswear. The process began several months ago, when employees referred customers looking for plus-size clothing to shop online.
An H&M spokesperson told the Revelist, "The assortment in the stores is evolving as we continuously assess the product mix, which is decided by each store’s specific pre-requisites when it comes to e.g. its size and the customers’ requests." It’s unknown how the New York policy will affect the retailer's plus-size merchandising in other parts of the world.
It’s not clear how H&M is thinking about the market potential of plus sizes in an analytical way at all. The NPD Group found in 2015 that the plus-size market accounted for 17% of the U.S. women’s apparel market overall. And U.S. sales of women’s plus-size apparel, which includes plus-size/full-figure, petite plus and junior plus sizes, increased 5% in the 12 months ending February 2015 to $19.8 billion, and 3% in the 12 months ending February 2016 to $20.4 billion.
In other words, the opportunities in the plus-size market are significant, and there is still an opening because so many retailers continue to neglect the space. J.C. Penney has seized on the opportunity: CEO Marvin Ellison has said that an emphasis on plus sizes will be part of its turnaround strategy. Penney also recently tapped fashion designer and "Project Runway" winner Ashley Nell Tipton for a designer collection in its new Boutique+ plus-size private label.
Some mainstream retailers are coming around to the plus-size demographic and upstart brands like ModCloth have consistently catered to women of all sizes, though luxury retail is still largely absent in the space, Toni Box, senior director of social media and content at PMX Agency, told Retail Dive earlier this year.
“Social media has provided a unique avenue for redefining ‘beautiful’ and building a community around body positivity,” Box said. “From real life imagery of women’s bodies after childbirth, Lane Bryant’s 'I’m No Angel' campaign (a timely response to Victoria’s Secret's 'perfect body' campaign), plus-size model Tess Holliday’s popular Instagram campaign #EffYourBeautyStandards, and Dove’s impactful series of ‘real beauty’ campaigns, these types of social media conversations have a direct impact on both online and offline marketing tactics, especially within the fashion/beauty space.”
H&M has done little marketing in the space, and relegating its plus-size sales could have set it up for a self-fulfilling sales decision against the category — in other words, 'Don't sell plus sizes; plus sizes don’t sell.' Its fall 2016 campaign included plus-size model Ashley Graham for a collection offered in both straight and plus sizes, but its plus size options were only available online.
A move to swap plus sizes in-store to accommodate sportswear could also be a long-term blunder if H&M isn’t keeping its eye on the end of athleisure, which even category innovator Lululemon says is inevitable.