As back-to-school season approaches, mall brands like American Eagle and Express are hoping to stand out to one group of shoppers in particular, Gen Z. For American Eagle, that means leaning into extended sizing and limited-edition collections.
American Eagle announced on Monday a limited-edition line with rapper Lil Wayne, which is set to hit stores and online on Aug. 10. At the same time, the brand is launching extended sizing for its denim, from sizes 00 to 24, in all of its 1,000-plus stores. In June, the brand reported its net revenue increased 8%, to $886 million, in the first quarter of 2019.
American Eagle is counting on the brand’s extended sizing to be a big draw around back-to-school time and a way to make the brand more enticing than the other stores that shoppers will find at their local malls. According to research firm Coresight Research, women’s plus-size clothing in the U.S. is roughly a $30.7 billion market. The move to be more inclusive is one that sister brand Aerie has been promoting in its marketing and product selection for the last few years.
“It’s an incredibly competitive opportunity for AE to pick up a market share that the other mall brands have simply written off. [Gen Z] is a powerful group, and they are ready to spend on brands that support their needs,” said Sandy Rubinstein, CEO of creative agency DXagency. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to expand its customer size and therefore its sales.”
Among other mall brands, The Limited goes up to size 16 in standard sizing, with a plus-size collection that runs to 24W, or 3X. Abercrombie & Fitch denim runs up to size 16. Express stocks up to a size 18 online and in select stores, but the svp of creative for the brand, Joe Berean, said the brand is still working hard to meet the needs of more customers in the future.
“We recognize that there are still some customers who are not able to wear our styles. We’re taking our time to make sure our approach toward an all-inclusive assortment is thorough so that we can cater to our shoppers and provide the best style and trend-forward pieces possible,” Berean said.
For major brands like Express and American Eagle, a shift to add a wider size range might be a priority, but it takes time. American Eagle previously sold extended sizes online, from 00 to 20, but the move to get it in all of its stores is new and something that’s taken the brand over a year to figure out.
“It’s an undertaking, but it was important to us because inclusivity is something we care deeply about. We want all our customers to be able to participate and buy the brand,” said Kyle Andrew, CMO at American Eagle.
American Eagle debuted its curvy jeans in February in three styles: the high-waisted jegging, the super high-waisted jegging and the highest-waist jegging. At the time, the sizes ran from 00 to 20 and were designed with a too-slim waistband compared to the sizing in the hips and thighs. Andrew said the merchants and design team spent a long time working on the cut of the jeans so that curvier women wouldn’t need to size-up when buying denim.
“Eliminating the need to size-up means curvier women will no longer experience that gapping in the waistband at the back with these jeans,” said Michael Goldberg, creative director at American Eagle.
While the curvy jeans are not part of Lil Wayne’s AE x Young Money Collection, the product is heavily featured in AE’s new campaign starring the rapper. Alongside the curvy jeans, the campaign includes previews of Wayne’s 25-piece collection which includes hoodies, T-shirts, boxers and American Eagle’s stacked jeans — a skinny jean with scrunched material at the ankle. American Eagle plans to promote the collection on its social channels, and Lil Wayne will also post about the collection to his own social accounts to build buzz before the Aug. 10 drop date.
While American Eagle has worked with emerging artists and partnered with music festivals like The Governors Ball Music Festival, the capsule collection with Lil Wayne is the biggest venture into music partnerships for the brand — and a big move to attract Gen Z. It follows the brand’s previous move into streetwear, another play to win over Gen Z, with a pop-up sneaker resale shop opened in March.
“As Gen-Z consumers flex their purchasing power through high-end street style, mass-market brands are taking note and partnering with music artists for capsule collections,” said Krista Corrigan, retail analyst at analytics firm Edited. “American Eagle is certainly not the first retailer to use this lens to attract a new wave of customers, but it ensures they are staying competitive.”