Dia&Co, the online styling service for plus-size women, was born out of a personal need of its co-founder Nadia Boujarwah. In just two years, the company — which launched in 2014 — has secured four rounds of capital investment and has grown to employ more than 200 people.
That kind of growth speaks for itself; there’s clearly a demand to be met in the plus-size market.
The rise of start-up, digital-born fashion brands are increasingly catering to this market, which was worth $21.1 billion this year (up 7 percent from 2015). Comparatively, more traditional, straight-size brands are lagging behind — and many simply aren’t entering the space at all.
Nadia Boujarwah joined this week’s Glossy Podcast to discuss the challenges of entering and securing funding in the plus-size retail market, the effort needed to get brands on board and extend their size offerings, and how the conversation is evolving from discussion to action.
Boujarwah was Dia&Co’s customer, and that helped to build the brand.
A lack of plus-size options for a prom dress was a defining moment for Boujarwah, who has been sizes 22, 18 and 14, and is today a size 12. When she was growing up, almost all the plus-size options were catered to older women, and because she didn’t want to wear a pantsuit to her prom (which was all that was available in her size), she made herself a dress.
A few years ago, Boujarwah recognized there was a growing community of plus-size bloggers, which made her realize her experiences weren’t unique. That led to a year and a half of research and, finally, Dia&Co.
“It took me 10 years to fully wrap my head around what my personal experiences meant about a broader industry that needed change. My experiences were really just a symptom of a much larger problem.”
Image and investment is what’s holding brands back from the market.
According to research firm NPD, 35 percent of American women wear a plus-size top or pants, or both (plus-size is widely thought to be over a size 12). Yet plus-size only represents 15 percent of the total market. The number of customers outweigh supply, yet many brands only offer up to a size 12 or 14.
“For a majority of the traditional straight-sized brands, their aspirational customer looks pretty different from who our customer is — really understanding how to serve both can be challenging.”
Investment is also a barrier: For a brand to offer one style in a wide range of sizes, from zero up to 24, multiple fit models and patterns are required because, upwards of a size 12 and 14, different parts of the woman’s body begin to grow at different rates.
“If you’re grading clothing on a size 6 and are expecting it to fit correctly on a size 26, you’re going to be disappointed,” she said. “There are these incremental investments that need to be made that are expensive.”
Boujarwah said more education and awareness of the plus-size market’s unique needs are also needed at fashion institutions.
“2016 was a year of awareness, 2017 will be a year of action.”
Plus-size models and celebrities increasingly appeared on magazine covers and in ad campaigns in 2016, but it was often the same people. Ashley Graham, one of today’s leading plus-size models, became the first size 16 model to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated this year. She also appeared on the cover of British Vogue. While all this is a step in the right direction, some plus-size models say they’re still a “wow-factor,” while others argue that brands are only using larger models to ride the wave of body inclusivity — they aren’t following through with in-store shopping experiences.
“We’ve seen more progress in the plus-size space in the last two years than was probably true in the previous ten years. Ashley Graham being on the cover of Sports Illustrated was inconceivable probably even a couple of months before it happened. These are watershed moments in our industry.”
Next year, those moments will become more mainstream, according to Boujarwah.
“Simply paying plus-size women the compliment of acknowledging she exists is not enough.”