J.C. Penney is launching its first exclusive capsule collection from fashion designer and "Project Runway" winner Ashley Nell Tipton, an extension of its Boutique+ plus-size private label.
The first collection for fall, debuting Sept. 9 and aimed at millennials, takes a cue from mid-century fashion, including slash-knee jeggings, quilted pencil and box pleat skirts, cropped cape-sleeve blouses, boyfriend tees and bomber jackets, and moto-chiffon jackets at prices that range from $15.99 to $35.99 for tees and skirts, and $49.99 to $74.99 for jackets.
In June, Penney released its "#Here I Am" marketing campaign featuring Tipton and plus-size influencers Jes Baker, Gabi Fresh, Mary Lambert and Valerie Sagun, who share their stories of empowerment and body positivity — an effort that’s already garnering praise, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The plus-size category for women is a significant, yet neglected, apparel market. Women's clothing sizes 14 and up accounted for $16.2 billion in sales in 2013, up 7.2% year over year, according to the NPD Group.
But 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 frequently Photoshopped to seem skinnier, it’s not much of a surprise that marketers, designers and retailers are rarely forthright in their approach to plus-size clothing.
That’s changing thanks to social media and blogs, which have given shoppers who wear plus sizes a voice, according to Toni Box, senior director of social media and content at PMX Agency.
“Social media has provided a unique avenue for redefining ‘beautiful’ and building a community around body positivity,” Box said in an email to Retail Dive. “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.”
Upstart brands like Modcloth cater to women of all sizes, and now some mainstream retailers are coming around to the plus-size demographic, though luxury retail is still largely absent in the space, Box notes.
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 the 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, Tipton, who is choosing the campaign's models, is well positioned to understand the category’s needs. That helps the retailer address what PMX’s Box says is crucial for marketing to women seeking fashion in this category—authenticity.
“When brands are marketing 'plus size,' it’s really critical that the models be perceived as actual ‘plus size’ models, or the brand risks major backlash from their audiences for their models not being ‘plus size’ enough,” she said.
John Tighe, Penney's chief merchant, said plus-size clothing is one of the fastest growing segments in retailing today and a key growth channel for the retailer. "It is important to offer the right combination of style and value that women are seeking,” he said in a statement. “[I]ntroducing Ashley Nell Tipton for Boutique+ further reinforces our commitment to becoming a destination for this underserved market.”
Penney's #HereIAm video has garnered more than 36.5 million social media impressions and nearly 9 million views, according to the Dallas Morning News. It debuted in June at the first “Curvy Con” in New York City, which Penney helped sponsor. The second Curvy Con is in New York next week, and another in London will take place in May 2017.