Style meets fit: Online retailer Curve Project launches
Fashionable Australian plus-size women now have even more opportunities to buy on-trend clothing, thanks to the entry of online retailer Curve Project, which offers styles for women sizes 10 to 22.
Launched in July, the womenswear business has former SFG and Pretty Girl group brand manager Jason Fahey at the helm. He created five brands specifically for the site to cater for the different occasions and styles, from smart casual to boho and basics.
“For the curvy customer, there are mainstream retailers offering a larger size range and then there are plus-size retailers focused on true plus-size,” Fahey explains. “There’s either the youth or the mature market, but I didn’t feel like there was anything for the midmarket customer, something focused on curves and at an affordable pricepoint, with quality. It was either discount players or the more higher-end market. I felt like there was a gap in the market for the 30-something lady who wanted to look good and buy products to suit her body, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money.”
Since launching Curve Project, Fahey’s five brands have now become available on The Iconic. Something for Olivia offers smart casual styles; Sunday in the City is an urban street brand; Poetic Gypsy is for the boho customer and perfect for weekends and holidays; Indigo Tonic is all about basics like jeans, Ts, jumpers and cardigans; and Pink Dusk offers fun, dressy pieces for a night out with the girls.
Fahey says he created the five brands to give customers more choice.
“If you think about it, who’s providing product for customers who want something for Saturday night out? There are some retailers, but there’s not a lot of choice, and the retailers that are doing it have their own handwriting. I wanted to provide something different,” he says.
“It’s the same with Poetic Gypsy – it’s a boho brand and there are a lot of brands in that space, but is anyone in it for the curvy customer? Not really, or it costs customers a fortune. I can deliver a really nice dress at $119 versus $250 for fundamentally the same item. I guess each of those brands is where I felt like there was an opportunity. Like in any retail business, there are competitors, but for us, it’s about finding our space in the market.”
The pitfalls of plus-size
According to IbisWorld’s Plus Size Clothing Stores in Australia Industry Report from last year, industry revenue growth is expected to grow at an annualised 3 per cent over the five years through 2022-23 to total $1.2 billion.
Clearly there is plenty of growth in the plus-size market and more retailers have begun offering extended size ranges lately, including Cotton On, Forever New, Pavement and Showpo.
However, not all brands get it right and some struggle with getting the fit right, says Fahey. While there are retailers that offer a wider size range now, they might not necessarily be focused on what looks best on different body shapes.
“I’ve been guilty of it before in other retailers I’ve worked in. You do a range and you go to a larger size. But you’re still catering for the mainstream, and those products do not suit a customer with curves, in some situations,” he said.
“A lot of retailers fit on a size 10 and then they grade up to whatever size. Our fit model is a size 14 – she’s an average woman, and we obviously grade up and down for our sizes, but we’re actually fitting on someone who is curvy. If you’re fitting a size 10, how do you know what it’s like to be a size 16 or 18 with big boobs or a bum?”
Several retailers have also been caught up in controversy recently for charging customers more for plus-size items compared to straight-size items. Earlier this year, Peter Alexander’s curvy customers were up in arms when they realised they would need to pay more for essentially the same styles as the smaller-sized customers.
“To ensure comfort and that the fit is right, we utilise a different pattern to our regular collection,” a Peter Alexander spokesperson told Inside Retail Weekly at the time.
“It is these different patterns – along with the size of the production run and, to a lesser extent, fabric consumption – that impacts the price of the styles. We try and limit this as much as possible – and as the category and production grows, we hope to achieve parity across our collections.”
However, Fahey says, “it’s just bad business and poor form” and retailers need to work with their manufacturers to get “an efficient and effective price” for their customers.
Understanding the curvy customer
Traditionally, many brands have made a lot of assumptions around what curvy women want to wear or not wear, often covering them up in oversized, unfashionable clothing. The reality is that just like straight-sized customers, plus-size shoppers have different tastes, bodies and personal styles.
Fahey says it’s also about retailers needing to better listen to their customers, understand them and also encourage them to sometimes get out of their comfort zone.
“That’s one thing that has always been a challenge. I talk to a lot of women, they want fashionable things, but they also want styles that suit their body shape and it’s about bringing those two things together, but encouraging people to embrace their shape and not necessarily try to hide it,” he points out.
“I was guilty of it in my previous roles in brands I managed. You start out thinking that a curvy girl wants to cover every bit of her body, but it’s not necessarily true. But also when you’re manufacturing garments, there’s a financial investment involved. You want to take a risk but you can’t necessarily do it because there might be a portion of the market that does [like] it, but the majority might not.”
Now that he’s running his own small business and dealing with smaller quantities, Fahey can now have a bit more creative freedom. If customers don’t respond to a particular style, it may be a missed opportunity, but there is less financial investment behind it.
“If you’re doing a style for a customer in one of my previous brands I might be doing anywhere from 2000 to 5000 units and if it doesn’t work, it’s a problem. But when you’re only making 100 to 200 units, it’s still a problem, but it’s not a 5000-unit problem,” he explains.
“We’re not exactly pushing the boundaries from a fashion perspective, but we want to give customers what’s on-trend and what suits their bodies.”
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