How can the apparel market take steps towards more inclusivity?

An important topic for Europe's fashion market is the shift in gender diversity and body positivity. How do players in the fashion industry plan to address specific customers? For example, plus-size customers, trans, queer and non-binary people, and people with disabilities; these customers are worth fashion brands' attention. This shift also offers new business opportunities.  

Increasing demand for diverse sizes

Plus-size customers represent up to 60% of all US shoppers. Still, they have difficulty finding clothes in their preferred size for a reasonable price. America's Walmart has been offering plus-sized labels for a long time. And in recent years, many European companies have started offering plus-sized clothing. Examples include H&M, Zalando, Carma Koma from Denmark and Elena Mirò from Italy. Still, the market is not inclusive and diverse enough to meet the demand. In 2017, The Fashion Structure Journal reported that 62% of consumers could not find clothes that fit them in retail shops. A 2020 Statista forecast expects the plus-size women's apparel market to grow by 4.3% per year between 2019 and 2028. Kantar reports that internet searches related to plus-sized fast fashion have increased as plus-size consumers struggle to find fitting clothes at high street stores.

Inclusivity increases demand for unisex clothing

Fashion brands have divided collections into women- and menswear for a long time. Womenswear is now more often available in larger sizes. The interest in gender-inclusive unisex lines is also growing. For example, ‘men's skirt’ was one of the most-searched fashion items of 2021. Still, the unisex clothing market is underserved. A Stonewall report found that 31% of non-binary people and 18% of trans people could not find work clothes that represented them. So, unisex collections still need more exploration.

Some fashion brands already offer unisex collections. Nicopanda, Gypsy Sport and Charles Jeffrey Loverboy define their brands as genderless and promote inclusivity. H&M and Zara have taken their first steps into unisex fashion with the launch of the Denim United line and the Ungendered collection. Similar collections and stores have appeared elsewhere in Europe, especially in France, Spain and Germany.

How social media and technology contribute

People on social media use hashtags such as #HonorMyCurves or #BeautyBeyondSize. These help promote inclusivity and diversity. Social media also encourages fashion brands to work with plus-size influencers and models, helping promote their brand as inclusive and diverse. For example, Victoria's Secret and Resolve worked with TikTok influencer Remi Bader to create plus-size lines.

Retailers can use tools to better understand customers and their search for the right fit. For example, retailers can use:

  • body shape analysis tools;
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI); and
  • try-on platforms through Virtual Reality (VR).

Via digital tools, customers can see the clothes on their bodies and determine whether they will fit in real life. AI-based sizing software, such as 3DLook's Mobile Tailor:

  • allows customers to know their actual size;
  • helps retailers collect data about their customers; and
  • helps retailers to better personalise their clothing offer.

Inclusive fashion starts with strategy

On 30 June 2022, the MBS Group and The British Fashion Council released their report: Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry. Consumers consistently rank diversity and inclusion high on their concern lists. Still, the study highlights that only 51% of businesses had a diversity and inclusion strategy.

Europe's fashion industry has a long way to go before it is diverse. On average, only 9% of those in top management positions in the fashion industry have ethnic minority backgrounds, and women are still underrepresented. Fashion companies need a higher diversity in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and size at different levels in their company. Higher diversity helps companies better understand and respond to consumers' needs. Strategy is not only about hiring a creative team that will work with people of diverse sizes, skin tones, and genders. But also about making sure that company leaders and product developers make decisions that take into account diverse and inclusive points of view.

M-Brain wrote this news article for CBI.

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