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Five Keys for Executive Success in Today’s Plus-Size Fashion Market

Herbert Mines Associates' Vice President Coleen Hollywood shares insights from her executive search practice.

Online retail, social media and celebrity-sponsored brands are driving plus-size products to increased visibility across the retail industry. As retailers look for growth, the plus-size customer base represents an under-penetrated demographic with significant purchasing power. Plus-size products have historically presented challenges including the need for extra selling floor space, a complex and costly product development and production process, and social stigmas within the industry and the society. But retail leaders who embrace the lifestyle orientation of this customer and give her/him the stylish, trend-focused products and shopping experiences he/she desires, have the potential to grab share of a $20 billion market.

At Herbert Mines Associates, we understand the importance of recruiting leaders who challenge the norm and have a laser focus on the customer as the epicenter of their strategies. We have a track-record of recruiting executives for companies serving the plus-size market. The following are key qualities these executives brought to their leadership roles:

1. An Understanding of the Customer’s Relationship with Fashion

Plus-size shoppers want access to high-quality, stylish merchandise at affordable prices, but the historic indifference of retailers to plus-size customers has effected many in this demographic's relationship with fashion and shopping. These consumers often require an introduction or reintroduction to trend-focused apparel and experiential retail. Leaders focused on creating personalized and customized experiences have succeeded in capturing market share.

2. An Understanding of Plus-Size Culture

Over the last decade, plus-size consumers have become increasingly organized and vocal, creating online and offline communities that share information, inspiration, and support that has historically not been provided by mainstream sources. In order to effectively connect with customers, executives in plus-size businesses must be knowledgeable of the nuances of the accepted jargon (i.e. “straight size” instead of “normal size”), the controversial debates (i.e. Should plus even be a separate category?) and the influence of social media personalities on customer behavior.

3. An Understanding of New Media Influencers

The plus customer – particularly the millennial plus customer – is very influenced by new media voices. Mainstream magazines, online fashion sources, traditional celebrity-centric media culture tends not to cater to plus-size people. Thus, these customers increasingly turn to influencers on blogs, Instagram, and Youtube for advice and endorsements. Successful leaders effectively allocate marketing spend, blending traditional and new media to reflect the tastes and habits of their brand’s target demographic.

4. An Understanding of Mission-Driven Brands

Successful executives think of the plus category as mission-driven and have a genuine passion for the customer’s cause. Many of the most visible voices in the plus-size community are involved in activism relating to body image, media culture, and feminism. Forging productive relationships with activist influencers and infusing the brand with an authentic voice is key to connecting with today’s plus-size consumer.

5. An Understanding of Technology’s Potential for Plus Customers

For many plus-size customers, shopping in-store and online is a mine field of challenges and anxieties. Innovative companies are using technology to improve fit, experience, and convenience in ways specific to the needs of the plus-size shopper. Top executives have embraced new technologies and adapt them to enhance the plus-size customer experience.

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