MBA Perspectives: 'Big Design' is an exclusive AMA series examining customer experience design.
In the year 2016, what does it mean for a woman to be sexy? U.S. women’s clothing retailer, Lane Bryant thinks they have the answer. In September of last year, the company launched their highly publicized #PlusIsEqual campaign. Not only does it aim to redefine society's traditional view of sexy, it is part of a much broader movement attempting to give women of all sizes equal representation in the media.
Lane Bryant, although established in 1904, is by no means a traditional clothing store. Its current success can be attributed to three critical factors: the plus size movement, changes in consumer preferences, and financial opportunities within this market.
1. Formation of the Plus Size Movement
The formation of the Plus Size Movement has created immense opportunity within the fashion industry. According to a recent article published in the Journal of Consumer Research by Diane Scaraboto and Eileen Fischer (2013), plus-size consumers have in the past, lacked the normative, cultural cognitive, and regulatory legitimacy needed to mobilize the mainstream fashion market in their favor. This, coupled with the lack of a formal identity, served to stunt growth within the plus size industry.
However, the Internet has provided a forum in which collective identity formation has not only become possible but has flourished (Scaraboto and Fischer 2013). The emergence of “Fatshionistas” as part of the “Fatosphere” has helped to legitimize the movement and has forced inclusion. This movement is being nudged along through Lane Bryant’s attempt to reframe the identity associated with “plus size” by reclaiming the phrase and attaching a positive identity to it. A positive identity, according to some industry analysts, will bring in more plus-size consumers who have thus far been alienated, into the fold (Potts 2015). Increasingly, women are now self-identifying as plus size through social channels, and less so because of a biological “diagnosis”. Lane Bryant has quite insightfully tapped into this consciousness of women who identify as plus size. Using emotional branding to connect with their customers has been instrumental to the brand’s success.
A video from Lane Bryant's "Plus is Equal" campaign.
2. Changing Consumer Trends
The second critical shift is linked to drastic changes within consumer preferences. Consumers today, are increasingly deciding what to buy based on a brand’s perceived social cause. #PlusIsEqual aims to redefine and broaden beauty standards, boosting the confidence of women around the world. By aligning themselves with the Plus Size movement, Lane Bryant has capitalized on this trend. The industry is poised for growth and as a result even private equity firms are taking note (Walker 2014). Following this trend, Syracuse University has started to offer the “Fashion Without Limits” program, which teaches students how to design and build clothing for this market (Schlossberg 2015).
3. Doing Good, Profitably
Finally, Lane Bryant, by being the confident voice of the plus size woman, is capitalizing on a relatively untapped market. With 67% of women in the U.S. being plus size, Lane Bryant is not only making an impact socially but also aiding their bottom line. The industry in the US is valued at $17.5 Billion and expected to grow. As a result of Lane Bryant’s efforts, they now hold a 16% market share and have seen incremental sales growth over the last three fiscal years (Rupp 2015).
What Can Other Brands Learn?
There are clear substantial benefits for companies that seek to follow Lane Bryant’s example. Companies that wish to successfully enter untapped markets could follow in Lane Bryant’s footsteps through these key steps:
Recognize the inherent benefits of aligning your company with a social cause that correlates with your brand identity.
Identify growing trends and formulate a plan that capitalizes on those trends.
Utilize emotional branding as a way to connect your customers to the social cause.
Take advantage of the profitability potential of the untapped market quickly.
Downing Peters, Lauren (2014), “You Are What You Wear: How Plus-Size Fashion Figures in Fat Identity Formation,” Fashion Theory, 18(1), 45-71.
Garcia, Tonya (2015), “Is American fashion finally embracing the plus-size woman?” Market Watch, (accessed November 15, 2015),
Potts, Emily (2015), “Targeting plus size apparel consumers: Time for a rethink?" Euromonitor International.
Rupp, Lindsey (2015), “Retailers Are Rethinking Plus-Size Fashion,” Bloomberg Business, (accessed November 15, 2015),
Scaraboto, Daiane and Eileen Fischer (2013), “Frustrated Fatshionistas: An institutional Theory Perspective on Consumer Quests for Greater Choice in Mainstream Markets,” Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (6), 1234-1257.
Schlossberg, Mallory (2015), “This common mistake is keeping retailers from a $17.5 billion industry,” (accessed November 15, 2015).
Walker, Rob (2014). Big is Beautiful: Plus Size Gathers Momentum. Euromonitor International.