Today's Women's Wear Daily (WWD), the fashion trade publication, finally
made note of this phenomenon in today's article, Those Zeros Keep Adding Up
, by Rosemary Feitelberg. My friends know I've been talking about toying with the idea of starting a petite low-sized clothing line for months. I've even been contacted by an early reader about this idea! (Alas, the funding issue was the real problem with bringing my idea from concept to well...reality.) Everyone is now finally paying attention to the expanding and undertapped fuller-figured market...but that leaves us small people in a real lurch! But the article notes how certain designers are really cashing in on the slender framed.
"Robert Duffy, president and vice chairman of Marc Jacobs International, recently said Marc Jacobs sells more zeros than any other size in its collection and, truth be told, he has never seen a cutting order for a size 14." Lela Rose started offering zeroes because her clientele was swimming in her size twos. Nicole Miller is even planning to introduce a subzero size next season! (It was bad enough trying to explain what a size double-zero
is...am I going to have to explain that I am wearing a negative two now???) What is funny is that this "sub-zero" is going to be based off of a 23.5" waist and 35" lower hip...which is what most retailers claimed their inflated zeroes to approximately be.
The article offers several explanations for the rise of the zero, including the fault of the media for focusing on the "never-too-thin mindset." The booming popularity of the zero is claimed to be a result of the overexposure of the infamous overly-skinny women of the runway. Ed Bucciarelli, CEO of Henri Bendel agrees and mentioned that "we live in a very celebrity-conscious world...[where] some are trying to emulate the girls they see on the covers." I certainly agree with Feitelberg on the unhealthy obsession of the American public on thinner and thinner models, movie stars, and socialites. (there is some counter push as well - like Madrid fashion's model ban
) Regular readers know my feelings about this from my Fashion Week New York posts here
What is interesting about this particular analysis is that it completely focuses on the high-end, expensive designers and the high-end fabulously wealthy patrons who can regularly afford such fare. It is crystal clear that the designers mentioned don't want anything to do with larger half of the female population. They are not catering to the masses - and the masses are generally heavier. It is not just an accident that Marc Jacobs doesn't sell to the average sized or higher woman. Marc Jacobs is notorious for micro-picking his sales staff for acceptable stylishness and attractiveness. No kidding that nothing was cut in a size 14...there's no such woman in the Marc Jacobs (or insert most any other high end label) universe!
Feitelberg offers several other possibilities that dovetail with the too-thin idea. Vanity sizing, the system in which a garment label indicates a numerial size smaller than what the same garment would have been in earlier seasons, is a major cause of consternation among the thin. "Some might be all too familiar with what a shopping challenge zero-ness poses.... Even that isn't small enough [for some people]." The thin are literally being sized out of existance by the clothing industry - or at least, for the mid-priced and lower ranges.
I am amused that Feitelberg mistakenly equates zeroness with petiteness, by completely misreferencing the Saks incident. She sees some designers expanding their sizes downward as a means to capture the underserved petites market. "The news caused such an uproar the retailer has since said the department will be reinstated. As things stand, zero is 'one of the sizes that sells out pretty quickly' at Saks, a company spokeswoman said. Theory, which also offers items in a double zero, and Alice + Olivia are among the popular labels with size-zero customers, she said." Both Feitelberg's (and possibly the high-end designers') reasoning is faulty, as the reason for the backlash
(and subsequent mia culpa by Saks) had nothing to do with the lack of small options. Instead, the problem was that the petite customers were alternately deemed fat and tasteless
, or expected to put up with designer labels that created smaller sized clothing (but not shorter statured
). Petite does not mean thin!
The informative parts of the article actually touch upon the mass market segment of the industry. Feiltelberg highlights Jennifer Hoppe, a zero-sized, 110-pound woman living in NY (interestingly, her height is not
mentioned - but I suspect she is taller than 5'4"). This interview actually highlights most of the problems that petite and/or thin people face. "She often finds herself shopping at Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy - sometimes in the children's department - to try to find clothes." She spends hundreds annually to alter her garments because the standard sizes just are too big. She actually mentions her dream of opening a store for small people "even though [she] knows it's so politically incorrect."
Hoppe also touched upon a topic that I've mentioned
in the past before too - size discrimination. She wrote an article about the "reverse descrimination she faces" in For Me
, where she is the lifestyle editor (the magazine is closing, as of the Oct 2006 issue). "People often think it's perfectly OK to comment about how I'm really small and the fact of the matter is they would never say that to an overweight person." Mentioning the lack of clothing options also gathers backhanded non-sympathy from sales staff. "They'll say, 'Isn't that a great problem to have?'"
I've been arguing that there's profit to be made by means of a contrarian strategy. How can you possibly get a great return on investment if everyone's jumping in on the craze along with you? (Do we need reminders of the dot-com era as an extreme example?) Early designers (or investors) have an extremely high advantage. I have long been trying to convince people that creating a tightly focused thin petite line, particularly for professional wear, would almost guarantee loyal customers. Of course, this always bumps into the problem of production costs for smaller batches. But there's no denying that if a decently designed line was offered that fit this sub-market, it would be loyally followed. Even Kristi Yamaguchi mentions that "if I find something I kind of like, I feel pressured to get it. I know if I wait, it will be gone. Stores need to carry more small sizes." The article mentions that thin shoppers therefore must buy full-priced items, before all the goods are gone. Considering the potential savings if I calculate the value of my time, I probably should do the same instead of scoping out deals.
Under-served markets, like petites or problem sizes, are generally a captive audience. You can pretty much sell them anything and they'll buy it. (look at all the people that still bemoan the original Petite Sophisticate line...uber frumpy!) Mid-priced labels like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor are just wisely cashing in on the petite opportunity. Someone should definitely get a major jump on the under-served super-short and/or small - WWD has already started wising up to it!
Labels: news, vanity sizing, WWD, zero