As I mentioned in the first entry, sizing for the eco market is challenging mostly because it’s bridging two generations. First there’s the grey hairs like me. We’ve been doing the eco thing well before it ever became popular. In this group, you’ll find heavier and older women more comfortable -but not entirely happy- with crunchy granola. The second group are young ones, of which there are two types. The first of the second group are largely tee producers. The second of the second are producing lines of fashion forward apparel constructed of eco fabrics.
The conflict I see is a generational one. The younger DEs, most of them likely to be under 30, are designing their sizing to reflect their demography. Far from it being a crime, I think this is ideal. Younger eco consumers are thinner, better educated and more likely to prioritize their purchasing in alignment with their goals (they have fewer children as yet too). Likewise, their products are sold at venues less likely to be visited by the older types. Therefore, since there are fewer grey hairs buying their products, it’s only appropriate that the younger eco crowd address the styling and sizing considerations of their own demography. The conflict is when the older group has decided, that by virtue of these being eco products, that their unique fitting and styling needs should be addressed as well. They tend to be vocally unhappy that the newest eco lines are not available in average sizes (the median). As one woman said:
…as a size 18 woman and retail store owner whose physique more closely reflects the national average, I will *not* be asking to carry your line. I am very frustrated with most of the companies that are producing green or eco-friendly clothing as none of them seem to be interested in serving women over a size 12 – at most. Your largest Tee seems to be cut for a size 10-12. The average American woman wears a 14. The first green T-shirt company not to be dismissive of me and other women like me, will definitely get my business.
For the most part, I think the latter is an unreasonable expectation. On top of everything else, older hippie types tend to buy fewer apparel items. This is not to say that mainstream older people can’t jump on the eco bandwagon at this late date, expanding the market potentiality within that demography but I think it behooves that segment to design and produce apparel for themselves. Manufacturing is an equal opportunity business. If you don’t like what’s being offered, you can do it too.
I think the younger set has been good for the business in spite of the older consumer being dissatisfied with the range of sizing available. They’ve raised our expectations of what eco fashion can be and in some cases, manufacturers have evolved to meet the needs of new and old customers in accordance with those expectations. In that vein, I interviewed Keyna, the designer of Earth Creations. I know Martin and Joy from before they started the company (they attended one of the first manufacturing boot-camps I did, back when I was still doing those workshops). Since Earth Creations has been around awhile, I thought they’d be an ideal company to interview. Their first customers are the old granola crunchy types yet EC continues to grow, reaching the newest generation as well.
Like many lines, EC started with a limited range of sizing, mostly SML. As they’ve grown and aged, they’ve addressed the more mature segment by adding larger sizes. While this is great for them and they have the customer base to support it, this isn’t true of the younger lines. Besides, many of the younger lines are largely tee producers and I think we’ll continue to see a lot of falling out as these companies jostle for position. I think the kids wear and infant lines are doing extraordinarily well and hopefully we’ll continue to see expansion in that market. I see less activity in mens wear. Hopefully we’ll see more growth there.
While it’s true that the average size (14-16) is not the average in the eco market (8-10), I don’t think it is a good bet for the most dynamic segment of eco lines to start producing larger sizes until they can justify it. The older portion of the market just doesn’t buy many tees. Besides, even among older greenies, they’re arguably thinner than the average American being more health minded. Who knows what their average size is? They’re also shorter than the younger people so fitting becomes more of an issue as the eco product market converges.
Styling is the pivotal issue. Fewer of the older segment are pleased with the traditional unisex man’s tee and that is mostly what the younger set produces. Keyna says styling is where she’s seen the biggest growth. Before, people were fairly satisfied with boxier styles judging from when she first started designing for EC ten years ago. She says that these days, people are looking for shaping and contour. I think this is particularly true among those buying larger sizes. Younger and more slender figures can readily wear boxier styles but if you’re heavy, you just look unkempt.
Who knows how this will play out? At the very least, I think there’s some potential in eco apparel for older people. Some of us are pretty tired of crunchy granola too, mostly due, I think, to increased expectations wrought by the younger set. Still, I’d stop short of eco plus sizes because that market is notoriously price sensitive. I know many of you don’t like to hear that but it’s true. I’m not saying that there are not plus size consumers willing to pay a premium, only that not enough of them are.