How the Fashion Industry Can Design a More Inclusive Future

Is fashion really becoming more size-inclusive?

How the Fashion Industry Can Design a More Inclusive Future

Using the EDITED Market Intelligence Platform, we analyze private label shop-by-fit ranges, the sizes available in the mass market and how prices align to unpack this issue.

To dive deeper into the market, reach out to one of our Retail Specialists. 

Product descriptions can be problematic

With fashion under constant scrutiny by industry watchdogs, retailers need to monitor how size-diverse products are promoted. 

2020 was a catalyst for a more inclusive future and birthed many campaigns that featured greater representation across the market. 

However, as language evolves, the description of products online need to be modernized to include more body-neutral terminology. A 2020 article argued the need to phase out the descriptor “flattering” in fashion, an argument supported by activists Billie Bhatia and Charli Howard, who explored the body-policing associated with the word. 

As the below charts will prove, plus size ranges and larger sizes make up a significantly smaller portion of products available to the masses. Yet these words with toxic or passive-aggressive undertones, suggesting women’s bodies need to change, are more prominent on apparel designed for larger sizes.  

Analyzing new arrivals over the past three months revealed “flattering” is used 22% more times to describe plus size women’s apparel than for straight sizes and “slimming” was used 19% more. 

The Gen-Z consumer‘s voice and purchasing power (a group that embraces their flaws and champions acceptance) will only grow stronger, making it more essential for retailers to underscore inclusivity. Brands will need to rethink and evolve the terminology they use to describe products to remain relevant.

  • Levi’s Email US Nov 26, 2020
  • Instagram Charli Howard
  • Simply Be Email UK Dec 31, 2020

Most shop-by-fit ranges are expanding

Plus size

While new arrivals in 2020 were compromised, investment in plus size ranges continued to blossom. Analyzing new arrivals within mass market retailers’ private labels reveals the number of new plus or curve styles increased by 11% vs. 2019.

This may appear to be progress; however, it still makes up a minimal proportion of the total offer delivered, expanding to 12% compared to 11% in 2019. Missguided expanded new arrivals by 42% YoY, while in the US, Nasty Gal grew its offering 128%.

Across both regions combined, H&M and Mango contracted their ranges by 5% and 15%, respectively.

Men’s plus

Greater investment in this category was noted in 2020 with arrivals up 24% YoY. This growth was spearheaded by Jack & Jones, increasing newness by 128% YoY and boohooMAN by 37% YoY.

Despite this upswing and the CDC reporting the average US man having a 40-inch waist, there has been less focus on the opportunities for larger apparel in menswear as the number of new plus size women’s options outstripped men’s by 545%.


The only shop-by-fit category to experience a dip in arrivals, new petite products dropped 7% across the US and UK combined.

This sector accounted for both 8% of 2020 and 2019 arrivals even with new players tapping into the market. Nasty Gal introduced a petite range, primarily stocking jeans, skirts and dresses.

Missguided grew its investment across both regions by 25%, while Dorothy Perkins pulled back arrivals by 40% and Loft by 22% YoY.


Though “plus size fashion” is more actively Googled, demand for tall apparel manifested with worldwide search terms spiking throughout the year. Also adding to the hype, Megan Thee Stallion’s Fashion Nova collaboration designed for women over 5’10 reportedly drove more than $1.2 million in sales on the first day.

New tall products rose by 9% YoY, yet this category has held at 4% of total newness at mass brands for both 2020 and 2019, highlighting the untapped opportunity for retailers to claim a stake in this growing market.

Boohoo is backing this category and growing its range 12% YoY across regions while Topshop halved its range.


Following highly-publicized rumors of a “COVID baby boom” and the maternity wear market poised to reach $24.5 billion by 2025, products designed specifically for expectant mothers grew 10% YoY.

While multi-brand retailers often stock specialist maternity labels rather than create their own, fast fashion players I Saw It First and Missguided both dipped their toes into this market, increasing the accessibility and fashionability of maternity products.

Esprit significantly invested in this area, boosting new arrivals by 219%, whereas H&M and Gap both noted a decline.

Similarly to ensuring sustainability is accessible in products across all sizes, retailers offering both straight and specialist ranges need to translate the major trends across assortments seamlessly. Dictating what different sizes can and cannot wear does not bode well with today’s consumers on top of  the outdated notion of dressing for a particular body shape.

The latest products dropping at boohooMAN consist of graphic tees, streetwear and utility-inspired trends, all products available within the straight size line. In The Style’s influencer-approved loungewear spans tall, plus and petite as well as intertwines these categories with maternity options. Topshop’s hero products are usually replicated across tall, petite and straight sizes.

With comfort driving the majority of what consumers are wearing, trends across sizes are more aligned than ever. However, this will need to carry over post-pandemic as consumers of all sizes will be looking to dress up and celebrate as lockdowns across regions end.

Check out our 2021 trends to know – do you have these key looks covered across all sizes?

  • boohooMAN
  • Forever 21
  • In The Style
  • PrettyLittleThing

Mass market sizing isn’t evolving

Instead of creating a separate brand or line to house specialist sizes, some retailers extend their existing ranges to be more inclusive.

Analyzing products available in the mass market for women, excluding shop-by-fit ranges, reveals that apparel is still geared towards smaller sizes and has shown minimal change YoY. According to the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, the average American woman wears a size 16-18.

However, the majority of products stocked online sit between a 00 and an 8. Products sitting above the average make up 22%, slightly increasing from a year ago at 20%.

The average British woman wears a UK size 16, which is considered plus size. Products available above an 18 have remained at 14% of the total market YoY.

Proportions show sizes between a 0-10 are given the same weighting as products available in sizes 12-18 despite the larger bracket being more common – a trend that has also remained stagnant YoY. As mentioned above, products branded as plus size only make up a small percentage of the market.

Additionally, the number of consumers in the plus market is set to continue to grow at twice the rate of the rest of the market, yet in 2021 retailers are still focused on serving sizes at the smaller end of the spectrum.

Plus size prices can average 13% higher

Breaking down the average full “customer-facing” price point of core products reveals the cost discrepancies between curve ranges compared to straight-sizes. In almost all cases, products designed for larger bodies are slapped with a higher price tag, proving the existence of what is colloquially known as the “fat tax.”

Across both regions, 100% cotton T-shirts are more expensive in plus ranges with significantly fewer options available, reflecting the hesitance of brands to supply larger sizes due to additional material costs.

In the US, midi dresses across all sizes sit at the same price, while plus versions of this product in the UK average at nearly 11% higher.

This trend is reversed in skinny jeans, which have a similar average price in the UK while plus size customers could pay an average of 6% more.

EDITED’s Verdict

While it was reported more plus models appeared in magazines last year, diversity in size on the runway dropped from 46 models for Fall 2020 to only 34 for Spring 2021. 2021 kicked off with Paloma Elsesser gracing the cover of Vogue and Precious Lee securing her first Versace campaign off the back of being one of the first size-diverse models to walk in the show last year.

However, there is work to be done across all market sectors as the fashion industry is still skewed towards smaller sizes in products and advertising.

Not only does this risk alienating the next generation of consumers, average or above-average sized shoppers, which is the core demographic, are underserved.

This means retailers may be walking away from a profit to uphold a distorted and outdated image standard. 

  • Vogue Netherlands
  • Fendi Spring 2021
  • Vogue

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Inclusive Fashion – The New Frontier to Sustainable Fashion

How the Fashion Industry Can Design a More Inclusive Future

Inclusive fashion is shaping the way sustainable development is meant to be when we talk about sustainable fashion.

As readers of the Sustainable Mag fully understand, the market for sustainable fashion is growing at a record pace. Even more consequential, sustainable practices slowly are being integrated into all kinds of fashion – regardless of how the products are labeled.

A More Adaptive and Inclusive Approach to Design

For fashion to be truly sustainable it must be inclusive for people of all body types, including bodies experiencing limited mobility and a lack of flexibility.

Adaptive and inclusive fashion integrates into its design “easy solutions magnetic closures instead of buttons, concealed zips and openings for tube access, and is vital to ensuring comfort, ease when getting dressed and dignity for people with disabilities.” However, “when you add sustainability into the equation, it can seem an impossible feat to find both accessible and environmentally-friendly options.”

Taking a more adaptive and inclusive approach to fashion is the right thing to do – both as a sign of respect for people as human beings and for purely commercial purposes.

The Brands that Get it Will Win

A massive market opportunity awaits those in the fashion industry that embrace it in their design, marketing, and selling of products. According to research by Return on Disability:

Over 1.8 billion people around the world have a disability – and when combined with their friends and family members, people with disabilities have a combined spending power of $13 trillion.

And research by Coherent Market Insights found that the global adaptive clothing market will be nearly $400 billion by 2026.

Keep in mind these numbers are much smaller than the actual size of the market opportunity as people frequently do not disclose themselves as being disabled. Disabilities are “intersectional” in nature – they cut across every identifier of who we are as human beings – gender, ethnicity, age, religious views, and sexual orientation to name just a few.

If the fashion industry fails to fully embrace the adaptive clothing market it never will be completely sustainable.

A sustainable market is one that is sustainable at every level – from design and production to the number of people it reaches.

If the fashion industry does not reach the 12 percent of the world’s population with a disability it cannot be considered sustainable, no matter how responsibly or ethically its clothes and accessories are made.

Adaptive and Inclusive Fashion is Much More than Design

Just as the fashion industry must embrace the market opportunity of the disability community, so too must the retail community. It does no good to have products designed and made for people with disabilities if they cannot purchase them. As Stephanie Thomas, the founder of Cur8able, a disability fashion and lifestyle company said in a TEDx Talk:

We literally have more clothes in stores for pets than we have for people with disabilities.

Furthermore, Thomas pointed out that there are “fewer than five stores in the world that have clothes on the floor for people with a seated body type.”

Beyond not fully respecting the dignity of all people – a key consideration in the definition of sustainable – the lack of product choices available and accessible to people with disabilities is another major barrier to the fashion market becoming sustainable.

Thus, the retail industry must become more inclusive in every aspect of fashion. This means:

  • Incorporating accessibility and inclusivity considerations more widely into product specifications
  • Educating the in house buying teams responsible for purchasing the products that wind up in the stores and on the websites
  • Taking a more holistic approach to product marketing

The Value Proposition of Sustainable, Inclusive Fashion

By making more clothes and accessories that are adaptable and inclusive of all populations, the fashion and retail industries can achieve a “win-win”. They get the brand and reputational credit for recognizing that every one of us is different and we experience fashion and retail in different ways. They also tap into a massive market that will only grow in the coming years.

In other words, the path to sustainable fashion goes through the disability community.

diversityinclusionsustainable fashion


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