Plus size market is lacking

A recent study by WSU researchers Linda Bradley, Deborah Christel and Nicole O’Donnell highlighted a problem plaguing would-be gym-goers: plus-sized women are forced to wear men’s clothing to avoid purchasing gym clothes that were either too ill-fitting or too expensive.

Bradley, a professor of Apparel, Merchandising, Design & Textiles, said many women are forced to resort to online ordering because local stores do not stock the shelves with plus-sized clothing.

“The average women’s size is a 16-18. The standard in fashion is size 6-8. The apparel industry’s ideal is size 2-4,” Bradley said. “Large women don’t get to see how it fits.”

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 64 percent of American women are overweight or obese.

If just under two thirds of American women are overweight or obese, why aren’t they being represented?

Bradley explained that plus-sized clothing is often clothing meant for a smaller person, but simply with the proportions blown up. That leads to things like massive shoulder widths in clothes and still not enough room for the belly.

Bradley also said that it can be difficult for women to stand up and complain about their lack of representation, citing fat stigma, or prejudice against people who are overweight or obese.

Economists call markets where individuals have no decision-making power “perfectly competitive,” where each consumer has to look at the set price and decide to either take it or leave it. In this type of market, consumers simply do not have enough buying power to change the price.

One might assert that Bradley’s view of the clothing market is perfectly competitive – but is it really?

It is not outrageous to assume just under two-thirds of women have purchased plus-sized clothing.

Two-thirds is a truly massive share of the market, meaning that plus-sized women do have the buying power to shift demand and supply.

Bradley even pointed out that middle-aged women have the highest earning potential, deepening their control of the clothing market.

However, demand for an item is not simply wanting it – you must also be willing and able to pay for it.

“People who can spend the money, will,” Bradley said.

But some simply cannot afford it.

Bradley said that even though fashion giant Michael Kors has a plus-sized clothing line, the company does not want to be known as the place that clothes the overweight.

But why would a business turn down perfectly good profit just to maintain the reputation of being a skinny retailer?

Often, Bradley points out, being overweight or obese is associated with the lower class and this may turn off buyers.

However, the fact that plus-sized women are often forced to purchase men’s clothing instead of women’s could possibly be adding to the problem by signaling to producers that they are content with the options available.

Retailers read the writing on the wall as saying active plus-sized women will just buy men’s clothing, so there’s no reason to spend money in creating a line of plus-sized gym wear.

If plus-sized women want clothing retailers to hear their demands for quality, they might have to leave the men’s section and start shopping for plus-sized women’s fitness wear.

This may cost more for the individual in the short term, but would be the easiest – and likely the most effective – option to promote change in the clothing industry.

Nothing speaks to companies better than cold hard cash.

Harrison Conner is a junior economics major from Stanwood. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.