When Aimee Cheshire launched Madison Plus Select, one of the most successful brands the plus-size retail site carried was model Robyn Lawley's line of swimwear. At a size 12, Lawley is just barely plus-size in the modeling world, and she marketed her swimwear to the "average" woman — that is, sizes 8 through 18.
"This whole 'plus-sized' term has really had a negative effect on women," Lawley told us in a July 2013 interview about her line. "It’s okay in the fashion world referring to us booking models, but in the regular world I shouldn't be called a 'plus-size' at all."
After observing the success of Robyn Lawley Swim, Chesire decided to rebrand her business last May, relaunching it as Hey Gorgeous. While Madison Plus Select still exists, it now serves as a sort of outlet to Hey Gorgeous. The key change was in the name — "Plus" is nowhere to be found in Hey Gorgeous's branding.
"What we found when we launched Robyn Swim was that it was this amazing business with size 8, 10, 12 and 14 women, because they were shopping for Robyn and then they were shopping for other things," Cheshire explains. By rebranding the site without "plus" associated, Cheshire is able to capture a customer who doesn't necessarily identify as plus-size — one of the biggest hurdles to winning over the plus-size customer.
"We did find that a lot of women, especially the size 14/16, do not identify themselves as plus-sized, so they are just living life as they are and they can fit into some clothes, or can't," Cheshire says. "We also found that customers do not necessarily want the term 'plus' in the name of the brand because then it will be calling them out to what they are and not everyone has embraced their size."
Cheshire has also created a space where friends can shop together, regardless of size. "I think it makes people feel like that they are not shopping exclusively plus sizes, and that there's a way they can share this more with their friends without saying, 'Hey look at this great plus site that I think would be great for you!'"
At least for Hey Gorgeous, that methodology seems to be paying off. "I've seen orders [from people living] on the same street which is neat, because this woman must have told that woman," Cheshire says.
Not only has this expanded Cheshire's customer reach, it's also enabled her to entice more designers to sell their goods on her site. Asking a designer to extend a size range by one or two numbers is not as big of a challenge as asking for a full plus-size line. "It is not as romantic a word, 'average,' but it is more understandable for designers to grab on to. More designers are willing to sit down and talk — it is easier to get their ear," Cheshire says. "Some people may not like the fact that some brands or designers will only go so far and not completely jump into 'plus,' but it is a start."
It's a trend that shows promise of growing. When plus-size blogger and fashion editor Nicolette Mason collaborated on a line with ModCloth, she was adamant it come in sizes XS through 4X. Likewise, celebrities Kelly Osbourne and Melissa McCarthy have both ventured into the fashion industry with lines that start at 0 and go up to 24. Mango's plus-size line Violetta aims at the average-size customer. Even Target is finally getting in on the act, offering its latest collaboration with Lilly Pulitzer in extended sizes (albeit online-only).
When the average customer hovers around a size 14, and the plus-size market is growing in numbers, casting a net towards the so-called "in-betweenies" might be the way to bridge the gap for plus retailers. Hey Gorgeous is one of the first online retailers to enter this specific space, but as interest in the market grows, it might not be the last.
"I remember someone telling me once that you should offer sizes 10s and 12s not to sell 10s and 12s, but to sell 14s, and that when you when you start at a 14 you don't sell as many 14s," Cheshire says. "And it's true, it's something we have found," Cheshire says. "For so long fashion has been focused on 0s to 8s but I don't know that many women who live in that world."