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Inclusive Sizing & Transparent Costing


In his latest post for WhichPLM, fit expert Mark Charlton explores the issues around men’s “big & tall” apparel offerings, and how behind the ranges are when compared to women’s “plus size” offerings.

I have a passion for great fitting apparel, and for over 30 years, I have been helping brands understand sizing constructs and globalize fit offerings. Most of my articles thus far have addressed the complexities of creating, perfecting and executing fit across a diverse and ever-changing consumer landscape.

In this article I would like to discuss the potential convergence of two current trends: inclusive sizing and transparent costing.

Almost every week a brand or retailer is projected to the forefront of industry news with a press release around inclusive sizing, promising apparel offered across all styles in all sizes. “Plus size” is becoming a term of the past, replaced by “inclusivity: – the term of the present. The latest brand to jump into this space is Athleta with its “bodequality” (a play on body and equality) strategy.

Reflecting back on some societal movements like as body positivity and DE&I (diversity, equality & inclusion), maybe one could have predicted this shift from “plus size” to “inclusive size”. The vast majority of press and of wider industry conversation is focused on the female consumer, however there is a smaller movement targeting the gender neutral consumer and therefore a gender neutral product offering – a direct result of the DE&I conversations, I believe.

This can only be viewed as positive. As baby steps in the right direction. However, one consumer base is being overlooked, and that’s men’s “big & tall”, otherwise known as the equivalent of women’s “plus size”.

The men’s “big & tall” business is equal to, if not larger than, women’s “plus size” fiscally and in market share. Men’s “big & tall” is, in my opinion, in need of an overhaul. The “big & tall” business is today where the women’s plus size industry was 10 or 20 years ago: a smaller selection of products, offered in the corner of a store or online only. The “Big & Tall” space is dominated by specialty retail, segregating the larger male consumer and charging more for the service.

What was the defining event or pivotal moment that demanded change, that inspired the female “plus” consumer to ask, “Why am I not being catered for the same way as my not-so-plus sisters?” And what will be the moment to inspire the male “big & tall” consumer to ask the same question? More importantly, as a brand / retailer, shouldn’t we be getting ahead of this?

The current movement toward inclusive sizing for women, I believe, will be a test case for costing and pricing. The old “plus” size and current “big & tall” costing models are based on averages. Take Womenswear as an example: sizes 0-16 are based on one cost and one retail price, and sizes 18-26 are based on a different cost and different retail price. The reasoning behind the up-charge is simple: raw material consumption. It takes more fabric and trim to manufacture a size 22 compared to a size 14, for example. Put simply, the larger the product the more raw materials are used to produce it.

The science behind the costing / pricing is based on years of sales history and perfecting the size mix.

Let’s look at a simple example. If 50% of my sales are based on a size 12, and the other 50% an even split (25% / 25% between sizes 14 & 16, then sizes 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) simple math dictates I can base my cost price, retail price and margin on a size 12, thus equating to a margin gain for the smaller sizes and margin erosion for the larger sizes. However as I have a solid sales history, the size mix equates to a blended margin of the size 12. We can apply the same concept for plus (size 18 through to 26, probably based on a size 20 or 22) and the same concept for men’s and men’s “big & tall”. This is years of tweaking and perfecting based on ensuring profitability.

Moving to inclusive sizing widens the price difference between smallest and largest size, raising questions of, “what do I base my single retail price on?” And, “how do I blend the margin to remain profitable?”

The recent trend towards transparency and transparent costing will empower the consumer to ask whether all sizes really cost the same to produce (of course not) and then ask why they are being charged the same? This is a tricky dilemma as charging more for a larger size could be perceived as punitive towards the larger consumer, however I need to point out that the old “plus” and current “big & tall” sizes do just that!

I believe of the 4 possible options, only 3 are practical:

A – Inclusive sizing and a single price, irrespective of size

B – Two size constructs or clusters (Missy & “plus” or Men’s & “big & tall”) and a price difference between each construct

C – Size-based pricing

D – Full transparency around how a single size price is derived

Option A is what Womenswear is moving towards, to send a message to the previous “plus” size consumer: we hear you and we are presenting the same range to you at the same cost.

Option B is an outdated model and the reason I state Men’s “Big & Tall” is in need of an overhaul.

Option C is a brave and somewhat provocative model, predicting forward to a place of ultimate transparency. Why not charge the actual cost to the consumer? And draw analogies to other raw materials-based industries. Jewellery, for example: more gold, more jewels, the higher the cost. Or construction: the bigger the house, the greater the cost.

Option D is an evolution of option A, with the added transparency of how the singular retail price is derived and the size mix on which the cost / price is made from.

Each option comes with complexities and its own set of pros and cons. However, my ultimate goal in writing this piece is to highlight that the opportunity is greater than women’s clothing, and that the conversation is not just about equality and inclusion – there is an opportunity to include transparency as well.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.