Sweta Singh knows personally that shopping for plus-size clothes can be a daunting experience. Singh, a Bengaluru-based media professional, spent the entire last month at malls and standalone stores across the city looking to buy a lehenga choli to wear at her brother’s wedding ceremony. Singh, 37, realised that getting the right fit, cut and silhouette in large sizes can be difficult and she decided to wear a saree for the occasion to avoid ill-fitting lehengas.
“I struggle to find clothes in my size. A dedicated plus size brand is a godsend—that can give more choices to people who need bigger sizes. Many brands now have large sizes, but the choices are very limited. A brand which offers variety and options for various occasions would really be welcome,” says Singh, who mostly shops from online retailers such as Myntra, Jabong, Bunaai, and online plus-size clothing store Last Inch.
Singh is not alone in her struggle. Most men and women in India shopping for plus-size clothing have to compromise between accessibility and what they want to buy. Sensing immense potential in the scarcity of larger sizes, online fashion retailer Myntra earlier this week launched Sztori, its in-house plus size western wear apparel brand, especially designed to suit a larger range of body shapes and sizes.
However, Singh feels it is not enough to have just bigger sizes. The problem is with the fit. “Plus-size people have a very different body structure and they need clothes that are made with that structure in mind and not just an extension in size from the existing range that also caters to small and medium sizes.”
Ananth Narayanan, chief executive, Myntra-Jabong understands that need. It took the online fashion major almost a year to get the right design and fit in plus-size range. “We went through multiple alteration and fitting trials to get the right collection,” he says. Sztori’s range for men and women includes T-shirt, denims, tops, dresses in sizes L to 4XL in over 225 designs at prices ranging between Rs 799 and Rs 1,999.
According to Myntra, the plus-size clothing segment will account for $5-6 billion in the $40 billion Indian online fashion apparel market by 2020, which is approximately 10-12% of the overall market. Some of the existing players in the plus-size segment are Pantaloons’ All brand; Mustard Clothing Company’s Mustard brand—which has plus-size apparel only for women; Westside’s Sassy Soda brand among others. All these brands have both online and offline presence.
“Over the last six-seven months we did some deep research around fittings, cuts and designs. Our search data showed that many customers were looking for sizes between large and 4XL and often there were no collection in that size range because there are very few brands in India that keep such sizes. And our customer survey showed that plus-size people are looking for fashionable and comfortable-fitting clothes,” says Narayanan.
Harminder Sahni, founder and managing director, Wazir Advisors, a retail consultancy, however, thinks differently. “I am not so sure about consumer response. Consumer like to associate with popular brands to belong and not necessarily are excited about the idea of being segmented over size.”
Mario D’Souza, a Bengaluru-based fashion-retail professional has a differing viewpoint. “Society is rapidly changing its age old notions of a svelte, fit figure being the physical ideal. We’ve seen athleisure grow into a viable, profitable market segment, riding on the new consumer mantra of feeling fit and looking good. But, just as importantly, body positivity is a very strong societal sentiment that is here to stay.”
“Customers are rejecting the notion of there being one ideal body type and looking to love themselves as they are—curves et al. And with this reinforced sense of self comes the need for brands that celebrate fuller figures, with designs, silhouettes and cuts made specifically for this market segment, as opposed to adding on sizes to existing design lines as an afterthought,” D’Souza opines.
Globally, plus-size clothing offers a huge opportunity. Los Angeles-based fast fashion company Fashion Nova is one of the most well-known online American brands which have a dedicated collection for plus-size shoppers under its ‘Curve’ brand. Fashion Nova is endorsed by the celebrities such as rapper Cardi B and model Kylie Jenner. Fashion Nova also featured on Google’s top 10 most searched fashion brands of the year list in 2017. There’s also Eloquii, an e-commerce site dedicated to plus sizes. American model Ashley Graham who is seen as a champion of the body positive movement was the face of New York-based fashion designer Prabal Gurung’s collection for U.S.’s Lane Bryant, a plus-size retailer for women’s clothing.
Ashish Jhalani, founder of e-commerce consultancy eTailing India feels plus size is a unique offering that can yield huge returns for Myntra. “There are very limited plus-size brands in India and a private brand from Myntra would perfectly fit to cater to that market. As an online player it has the ability to reach a more geographically diverse customer base whereas the offline players are limited by their reach,” says Jhalani.
Globally, online fashion retail is one of the largest categories in e-commerce, and things are not much different in India. Analysts point out that gross margins in the online fashion business tend to be very high, sometimes about 40% for branded products and 50-60% for private brands. This is very important to the Indian e-commerce industry, which continues to grapple with losses.
“One of the major purposes of private labels is to fill the gaps in offering for certain consumer segments and needs that are not being served by mainstream brands. So it is theoretically the right approach. And Myntra’s key advantage is their far and wide reach due to the nature of their online business, access to enormous data and the competence to analyse it,” says Sahni.
Currently, Myntra has a portfolio of about 17 private or in-house brands that accounts for about 25-26% of the company’s total revenue. In the last two months alone, the online retailer has launched three private brands—Sztori; Crew Street, a sports fashion footwear; and House of Pataudi along with Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan, and Exceed Entertainment. Myntra co-owns majority of the ethnic wear brand. Besides, it has also launched a formal wear range for women, Her by Invictus, for its already existing brand Invictus.
“We are not randomly launching brands. We launch brands because we see search terms, customer and market data both in metros and tier II and III markets and based on this information and data, we plan our brands. It takes about 8-10 months of research, market analysis, surveys, getting the right design ethos and sourcing before we launch a brand. We have a few more private brands in the pipeline including home and soft furnishing to be launched during the January-March period,” says Narayanan.
India’s e-commerce industry is overcrowded and highly commoditised where companies clone each other’s offerings in no time. For online retailers, private brands provide the push to help them build a differentiated offering and profit margins. Myntra in an earlier interaction with Fortune India pointed out the local brands will be a key growth driver in the online fashion business over the next several years. The numbers tell the story. Myntra’s top private brand Roadster is a $100 million brand (in terms of sales), while fitness and active wear brand HRX is $40 million.
Clearly, size matters for Myntra.