In most major department stores, you have to hunt for the plus-size section, which is often tucked away in a far-flung corner. And, even when you find it, you’re likely to encounter a slim, less-than-fashionable selection.
But go home, open up your computer and search for plus-size clothes online and you’ll find a slew of websites selling stylish, high-quality garments.
The plus-size industry is growing. Sales climbed by 5% last year and the industry is now valued at $17.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. But the sector has been slow to move from online to brick-and-mortar stores. Now, that’s beginning to change.
After spending time modeling and blogging, Aimee Cheshire launched HeyGorgeous.com in 2014. Her goal was to provide plus-size women with an online retailer that stocked clothes with same style and quality as those sold by any trendy “straight-size” company.
But a year after launching the online business, Cheshire realized there was more for HeyGorgeous to offer.
“We take for granted the ease of going online and forget that human touch and interacting—creating relationships—is so important,” Cheshire said. “I forgot how much I enjoy being with my customers, and talking to them on a one-on-one basis and just touching, feeling, talking about the clothes.”
So HeyGorgeous opened a showroom at the company’s midtown Manhattan office. Clients can reserve a time, pick their clothing preferences and show up to a glamorous, personalized fitting.
“If they come to the showroom and have a great experience and sip champagne and are chatting, they feel a little more comfortable trying on clothes that may be sleeveless or try a higher price-point that they’re used to,” Cheshire says.
Cheshire says she wanted to bring the human experience back to shopping for plus-size clothing. Many of her customers are used going into a store with straight-size friends and knowing that they won’t be able to wear the clothes, she said. But the HeyGorgeous showroom changes that.
“You want to experience the fun of shopping with your friends,” Cheshire says. “I want to give that opportunity to women who never had that before. It’s quite exciting when you’re finding clothes that your [non-plus-size] friends can’t fit into or doesn’t come in their size. I think there’s something to be said for that experience.”
HeyGorgeous isn’t the only plus-size ecommerce player exploring brick-and-mortar outposts. Online retailer ModCloth, which sells clothing from sizes XS to 4X, has been experimenting with in-person shops. In April, ModCloth decided to open a Los Angeles pop-up shop, called ModCloth IRL (in real life).
“Most of the folks at ModCloth had never interacted with the customer,”says CEO Matt Kaness. So they decided to do ModCloth IRL to allow the actual buyers and design team to work with customers by taking measurements, helping shoppers with fit and giving styling advice.
When the pop-up was a hit, ModCloth opened a temporary fit shop in San Francisco with the intent of staying open for three weeks. Kaness says the shop has done so well that company has renewed the lease twice and now plans to remain open until early January.
Kaness, too, says he’s witnessed the power of giving plus-size women a place to shop in the real world. He recounts a story told to him by Christine Shoptaw de Chavez, ModCloth’s tech design manager. According to Kaness, Shoptaw de Chavez was helping one of the pop-up customers, when the shopper apologized for her body shape.
“Christine said, ‘You’re exactly the size that you should be. Don’t apologize, it’s our job to make you feel beautiful,’ And the woman started crying,” says Kaness.
For Kaness, that fit shops are a way to create that type of relationship between ModCloth and more of the company’s customers.
“As we thought about the future for ModCloth offline, it was that experience in a fitting room that one customer had that I think inspired all of us to want to recreate that,” says Kaness.
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