Old Navy is overhauling how it designs clothes. Here’s why

For many years, style manufacturers have been centered on skinny customers. That’s began to slowly shift over the previous few years, because of designers like Christian Siriano and fashions like Ashley Graham. However nonetheless, the wants of the plus-size shopper are from mainstream, and the procuring expertise is typically marginalized.

Old Navy is attempting to vary that, by radically reimagining its method to how plus-size garments are designed, manufactured, and displayed. Beginning Friday, the corporate is making it attainable for purchasers to buy sizes 0 to 30 in precisely the identical means. Which means no extra plus-size kinds or particular sections: All its choices will probably be made for all sizes and will probably be featured in the identical shows.

[Photo: Old Navy]

Whereas Old Navy isn’t the primary clothes label within the business to do that, it is maybe the largest, as a mass-market retailer that serves tens of millions of consumers yearly, producing $8 billion in income in 2020. And on condition that the ladies’s plus-size attire market alone is price $20.4 billion, this is an enormous market alternative for the model.

“This is the largest launch for the reason that model was based [in 1994],” says Nancy Inexperienced, Old Navy’s CEO. “It should contain each touchpoint on the model, from advertising to shops to how we design garments.”


The best way issues have all the time been completed

There isn’t an excellent motive that style firms have separate plus-size and straight-size divisions. It’s an accident of historical past. Old Navy, as an illustration, started making plus-size garments in 2004 and launched a wholly new enterprise unit that catered to this buyer. Throughout the market, many manufacturers have separate plus-size departments that churn out completely different kinds and work with completely different factories focusing on tailoring for plus-size our bodies. “That’s the way in which that everybody all the time did it,” says Alison Partridge Stickney, Old Navy’s head of ladies’s merchandising, who helped spearhead the corporate’s new initiative. “It’s not probably the most compelling reply, I notice.”

[Image: Old Navy]

And regardless that ladies dimension 14 and up make up greater than half the market, the business overwhelmingly focuses on serving the wants of straight-size ladies. Analysis agency NPD discovered that ladies’s plus-size clothes solely makes up 19% of attire, which suggests this buyer is profoundly underserved.

Just lately, nonetheless, there’s been a motion within the style business to create clothes collections that embody all sizes. Some of the notable gamers is Universal Standard, a premium model based in 2015 that gives sizes 00 to 40 for all clothes in its assortment. However after I spoke with the model’s founders as they had been launching, they mentioned how troublesome it was to search out designers and factories that had been expert at creating well-fitting items throughout a broad dimension vary, exactly as a result of the business has been so bifurcated for thus lengthy. Over the previous few years, a number of manufacturers have adopted Common Commonplace’s lead, however manufacturing practices within the style business have been sluggish to vary.

Excessive-end denim model Good American, which launched in 2016, makes every of its kinds in sizes 00 to 32, however when it partnered with Nordstrom in 2017, the retailer needed to separate the model’s bigger sizes right into a separate part of the shop. It was solely after the founders insisted on keeping the collection together that Nordstrom complied, and the technique labored so nicely that Nordstrom started integrating plus-size garments throughout the shop, whereas additionally maintaining its separate plus-size division.

All of those examples reveal how laborious it is to rewrite the rule of the style business. 4 years in the past, when Old Navy started surveying its clients and finishing up focus teams, it realized how horrible plus-size buyers felt once they tried to purchase clothes. They described how that they had a tiny choice in comparison with straight-size ladies and how embarrassed they had been to be relegated to a small subsection of the shop. “Each girl we talked to had a narrative,” says Stickney. “One mother in Miami informed me she had this imaginative and prescient of the fantastic expertise of procuring along with her daughter when she grew up, however when the time got here, they couldn’t store on the identical shops.”

[Photo: Old Navy]

Altering Old Navy from the within out

It was clear to the model that they needed to change the way in which they did enterprise, however it was additionally clear that integrating their straight- and plus-size departments could be an unlimited enterprise. From a design perspective, Stickney was tasked with ensuring that each garment Old Navy makes got here in a full spectrum of sizes.

Sometimes, manufacturers create a mode and match it on a dimension 8 mannequin, then incrementally shrink or develop it proportionally so it suits bigger and smaller sizes. As an illustration, to go from dimension 8 to dimension 10, you may enhance the sleeves and torso of a shirt by an inch. However this method doesn’t work as you get into bigger sizes, since our bodies don’t develop incrementally in each route. For those who stored rising the sleeve size from dimension 8 to dimension 40, the sleeves could be so lengthy, they’d find yourself on the ground. And since folks carry weight otherwise, creating items that match a variety of plus-size customers comfortably will be difficult.


[Photo: Old Navy]

Old Navy determined to vary its complete technical design course of. In 2018, it partnered with Susan Sokoloski, a professor of product design on the College of Oregon, to create software program that will correctly match every type throughout the dimensions vary. With Sokoloski, Old Navy’s design division scanned 389 ladies, then created 3D avatars that they might use to create patterns. The corporate then labored with its manufacturing unit companions to be taught this new sizing system, and minimize and stitch clothes appropriately. “This expertise gave us a extra sensible view of what the physique appears like at every dimension,” says Emily Bibick, buyer lead and merchandizing skilled at Old Navy. “It allowed us to essentially take note of issues like the position of a pocket or buttons, or the size of a zipper. This allowed us to guarantee that the product would match nicely on each single physique.”

It took two years to get this new system off the bottom. However this yr, Old Navy clients will lastly expertise the fruits of the labor. Each type within the fall assortment will are available in sizes 0 to 30, or XS to 4X. And there’s no worth distinction based mostly on dimension. Beginning tomorrow, Old Navy is additionally reworking the procuring expertise inside its fleet of 1,200 shops to get rid of the plus-size part so clients can store by type quite than dimension. And to assist buyers get a way of how an outfit appears, Old Navy may have mannequins in shops in sizes 4, 12, and 18. Inexperienced says a part of this transformation additionally concerned giving retail associates intensive coaching on how finest to assist clients of all sizes. “We would have liked to equip them with the correct physique positivity language so they might actually serve the shopper as finest as attainable,” she says.

Old Navy has invested closely in reworking itself to be extra dimension inclusive. However it additionally expects to see a serious payoff from this effort. For years, Old Navy has been the best performing brand inside the Hole, Inc. portfolio, which incorporates Hole, Banana Republic, Athleta, and Hill Metropolis. Given how sorely underserved plus-size customers are, Old Navy has a chance to win over this demographic and change into a spot the place they really feel comfy procuring. “We see a chance to higher serve the shopper and convey extra clients into the model,” says Inexperienced. “It’s a really significant enterprise alternative that we consider will translate into development.”