Proclaiming that “every body deserves great style,” J.C. Penney is the latest retailer to realize it’s leaving money on the table by neglecting women who wear plus-sized clothing, tapping "Project Runway" winner Ashley Nell Tipton (the reality television competition’s first plus-size designer champion) to create capsule collections for the fall and holiday seasons as well as a full collection for spring.
Tipton's designs headline the launch of J.C. Penney's new in-house plus-size brand, Boutique+, which the company said is aimed at millennial women. Teens alone spend $20 billion annually on plus-size apparel, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The Boutique+ collection also features contributions from brands such as Liz Claiborne and Bisou Bisou. J.C. Penney is additionally introducing “The Boutique,” revamped areas in 200 stores with improved fixtures and signage along with plus-size mannequins to show off outfits and accessories.
Women's clothing size 14 and up accounted for $16.2 billion in sales in 2013, up 7.2% year over year, according to the NPD Group. But while the average U.S. woman's size is 14, according to several sources, her fashion choices have traditionally been limited.
That's because when it comes to plus sizes, apparel retailers have consistently relegated the category to a back room—or failed to offer it at all. In a world where fat-shaming is still largely acceptable and where models are Photoshopped to seem even skinnier and more perfect, it’s really not much of a surprise that marketers, designers and retailers are rarely forthright in their approach to plus-size clothing.
But thanks to social media and blogging, as well as the emergence of upstart brands like Modcloth that cater to women of all sizes, shoppers who wear plus sizes have a voice and more shopping alternatives. Now some mainstream retailers are finally coming around to the plus-size demographic as well.
But while the long-neglected plus-size category is still ripe for disruption, it's still uncertain whether retailers are capable of navigating the inherent complexities of producing, pricing and selling merchandise for this enthusiastic and growing market. J.C. Penney has a critical advantage with Boutique+, however: Fit in any apparel category is increasingly important, and as a woman who herself wears plus-size clothing, Boutique+ designer partner Ashley Nell Tipton is well positioned to understand the category’s needs.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the JCPenney Boutique+ brand launch and have an opportunity to design a contemporary line that appeals to the wants and needs of plus-size women,” Tipton said in a statement. “I look forward to infusing my signature style that is known for distinct designs in bright hues and bold patterns that appeal to young fashionistas looking for clothes that make them feel as good as they look.”
J.C. Penney beat revenue expecations in Q4. Its sales increased 2.5% to $4 billion, driven by strong demand for home goods, footwear, handbags and its Sephora concessions. Same-store sales in the holiday months of November and December rose 3.9%, thanks in part to strong e-commerce and success in sales of Penney's private brands.