Sizing for the Eco market 2

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.

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10 comments

  1. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    With regard to plus sizes, I have noticed, and I’m not the only one, that almost all the stuff that’s plus-sized *and* cute/stylish (not necessarily super trendy) is really expensive. And that most of the plus-sized stuff in the lower end stores like Sears and Penneys, while more or less reasonably priced, is ugly, “old lady” (no offense to anyone old, it’s the style), and/or career/office type clothing, instead of being at least basic or cute enough for more age groups.

    I’m not plus-sized, but my sister-in-law is. She is one of the people who encouraged me to make plus-sized clothing.

  2. Karren says:

    “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.”

    I think that this is conventional mis-information, not based on fact. Boomer women are a force to be to be taken into account; they now have a disposable income to use in accordance with their values.

    “What’s fascinating about women our age is that, with the passage of time, we’re not sinking into the sunset. We’ve only become more powerful…as consumers and professionals. We spend twice as much as our teen counterparts on fashion. We are the gatekeepers of major purchases from cars to computers and are poised to command 60% of the country’s wealth in the next five years.

    FROM http://www.womensbiz.us/archives/spotlight0406.asp

    ‘For example, Boomer women are at the vanguard of ethical consumerism, so corporate values matter. They are contextual and holistic thinkers, so details matter, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They are impassioned communicators, so message integrity and corporate authenticity matter.

    Boomer women also value connecting, so the possibilities for online social networking begin with them. We can follow the evolution and development of web communities dedicated to middle-aged women to better predict the potential that networking brings to all this generation.

    June 14, 2007 | Permalink http://boomers.typepad.com/boomers/2007/06/boomergirl.html

    Your tendency to dismiss grey hairs might be tinged with ageism. Visit Time Goes By blog at http://www.timegoesby.net/ for enlightenment about ageism,the most damning by elders themselves.

  3. Carolyn J. says:

    I wonder where the young & trendy plus size woman winds up in all of this? She tends to get lost in the shuffle between those certain-aged ladies and the young & slim.

  4. Diane says:

    Last night I caught a segment on the Sundance Channel regarding Laura Loudermilk and her use of organic cotton and bamboo. Lovely designs but not plus sized, of course. Also, included was Patagonia, who recycles old polyester into new garments and since their founder is a mountain climber, it’s doubtful they offer plus sizes. Anyway, the eco consumer expects to pay more for recycled and/or organic goods regardless of size. It takes awhile for the public (skinny or not) to come around to the fact that cheap, disposable clothing is really expensive for the planet. I’ll keep plugging away because eventually more people will “get it”.

  5. Irene says:

    I just wanted to express my appreciation, Kathleen, that you are willing to tackle such a potentially controversial issue! While I would agree with the above commenters, that the markets for stylish plus & larger -sizes is growing, and with the aging boomers, will continue to grow, in order to run a successful company, one must be able to have a large enough customer base willing to buy one’s product. . .

    “I’m not saying that there are not plus size consumers willing to pay a premium, only that not enough of them are.”

    This is, still, I think an (admittedly shrinking *no pun intended*) issue.

  6. Oxanna says:

    I’m not so certain that the boomer market doesn’t have money to spend. It’s been quite drilled into my head by now that the boomer marker is growing. And they’re also eco-conscious.

    Of course, the sizing is another animal, and I’d be curious to know if eco-conscious boomers are slimmer than the average. I would assume so based on the “hippie” stereotype in my head, but I’m not sure that’s so.

    I’m not plus-sized, but it seems to me that if plus-sized women are looking for cute eco clothes (beyond just T-shirts), then that should be addressed by a specific company or a whole new line, because it’s not just a matter of “adding plus sizes”. Scale and fit have to be taken into consideration as well. It also seems to me that there’s a difference between a “plus size” and a “mature” figure, mainly in the way weight is distributed. An overweight but mature figure will put on weight differently than a plus-sized hourglass.

  7. Well, as a boomer, DE, and granola type who loves fashion, I should chime in here. We do shop for clothes and we have varying amounts of disposable income just like every other age group.

    I like fitted clothing and can wear DE sizing for the most part, but it’s not always fit that keeps me from buying clothing by young designers, it’s style. While I LOVE their clothes, really love them, I don’t try to dress as I did when I was young. I need to pick and choose clothing that’s age-appropriate which is definitely NOT old lady fashion, but it includes more body coverage than a young person would wear. And as Oxanna said, my weight is distributed differently than it was when I was young. This is NOT a criticism of young DEs and their designs, it’s really a validation of what Kathleen said–we have to design our own clothing.

    My clothing line was first designed for plus-sized women, but it’s been streamlined and is appropriate for the over 40s and those are my customer base. While some of my line appeals to the young (and I have young customers), they are not my target audience. I don’t design for them and I don’t expect any DE to design for me if I am not their target buyer. But I might find something here and there in their lines that works (I am not brand loyal, I buy what I like wherever I find it).

    I use somewhat eco-friendly fabric and am hunting for more, and I think partly the eco lines have been driven by what fabric is available. Cotton doesn’t work for my clothing. I need drape. Unfortunately, we can expect to pay more for eco friendly clothing just as we have to pay more for organic food.

    Marguerite

  8. Kathleen says:

    I think that this is conventional mis-information, not based on fact. Boomer women are a force to be to be taken into account; they now have a disposable income to use in accordance with their values.

    I’m not disputing boomer women have resources they’ll (we’ll) expend in accordance with our values. I’m in doubt as to the size of the segment of this particular eco-oriented market.

    Your tendency to dismiss grey hairs might be tinged with ageism.

    Come come, don’t you think that’d be a little obvious :)? While not without my imperfections, I think most understood my commentary as it was intended -tongue in cheek.

  9. sahara says:

    Wow Kathleen! I’m late on commenting, but you have given voice to my thoughts. Thanks!!

    I’m the big 5-0. I’m not plus-sized anymore, but a 12, for my continued health and vanity.

    In NYC, maybe because there’s just more choice, the lines have become blurred, from age appropriate dressing, to choices for plus-sized women. So, at the end of the day, as the cliche´ goes, there’s something for everyone.

    Why hate on younger eco lines for style and sizing? To me, this is like wanting to hang out with your kids. They have their own world, just like I did when I was a knitwear DE, “back in the day”. I didn’t design for folks like my mom––when you’re young, crunchy looks cool on you; and all of us, were younger once.

    As far as spending power, older hippie types and women don’t buy as much apparel; I see it at work, and I work for a major style mag. It’s not that these groups don’t have money––it’s the re-assessment of your life at that age, where clothing isn’t a priority; older hippies travel more, and older women decorate their homes. Young people are still building their networks, and you need clothing to do that. Our highest revenue producing issues with older customers, are Design and Travel; with the young, it’s men and women’s fashion. Trust me Karren, the numbers tell it.

    Young and trendy plus sizers, due to their better education, are more honest about their body-types now. They, like myself in age, are separates types, and aren’t as brand loyal as their slimmer girlfriends. If a girl has hip-fullness, but smaller up top, she’ll buy Seven jeans at the Avenue, and a eco-message tee at Uni-Glo in Soho. There are also fab plus-size boutiques here, who have adjusted for their aging customer, while keeping an eye out for crossover lines, so you don’t look “old lady.”

    Why don’t consumers press established brands such as Eileen Fisher to make the transition to eco? The styling and shaping, are there, and their price points cater to boomer women who have disposable income.

    Total transition won’t be easy. The older and plus market is notoriously price sensitive for a reason––salaries in the northeast are over-blown, but older women everywhere else make a lot less money. There are more older women working at Walmart, than Wall St.

  10. Jill Homiak says:

    Manufacturing boot-camp! Where have you gone? Kathleen, is there anyone else out there you’d recommend for it?

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