In case you haven’t been paying attention to the fashion news, The Limited’s plus size fashion line Eloquii, will be no more by the end of summer. Right now, the discounts are ridiculously steep. We’re talking 70% and 80% off the original prices, for those willing to dig through the remnants of dresses, tops and bottoms. I can’t deny it, I shopped it up and got myself some cute summer basics. And I may buy some more before these sales are totally done. Normally, I shop with joyful abandon. This time, I shopped with a tinge of sadness, some regret, and a sprinkling of anger. Another plus size retailer gets it totally wrong, and the consumer is left with a void that seems to never be filled.
It feels like such a never-ending cycle. Plus size retailer opens, and plus size fashion lovers get super excited. Retailer occasionally gets it right, but frequently doesn’t seem to be in tune with what customers are clamoring for. Customers can tell plus size retailer is doing plus size as an afterthought. Retailer changes its mind and turns tail, either selling the clothes online only, not promoting the items in the least, or demonstrating decreasing quality over time. Eventually some of these fashion lines die, and nobody wonders why. The answers are obvious. Rinse and repeat.
I’m so beyond disappointed in the cycle and I’m not alone – Jezebel wrote a stinging rebuke of the exclusion of plus sized fashion recently that said it all. To me, it seems obvious. There’s a customer base that’s looking for specific kinds of products. A customer base that is woefully underserved, and continually written about for being underserved. A customer base that deserves better, and who according to CDC statistics, is basically the average American woman.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what went wrong, regarding The Limited and Eloquii. Allow me to share my opinions on what led to this unfortunate state of affairs. Here are four areas where I think Eloquii could have done better by the brand and their customer.
#1 Price point – Eloquii is what industry insiders will call moderate-point fashion (read Marie Denee’s excellent, informed post on this topic for additional insight). Yet I found myself not drawn to purchase, based on their prices. When I looked at the fabrication and styles, I would tell myself – this is cute, but not at this price. To wit – look at the markdown on this 100% polyester striped tee, now available on Eloquii.com.
This was once $60. This makes me think of the lyrics of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop, re: $50 dollar teeshirts and the like. If it was a fancy blend, or a more sophisticated or intricately designed item, we can talk. But this is a standard issue, striped tee. 100% poly. For $60? I can’t justify that.
Besides issues like that, Eloquii pretty much always had sales going on. So I found myself sometimes regretting purchases I had made because the next week the item would be marked down significantly and I’d be like damn! Shoulda waited another week! A stable, sensible price point on clothing, with specifically timed sales that customers could look forward to, would have helped.
#2 Style – This is an issue I have not just with Eloquii, but with many moderate-price point or fast fashion retailers working in plus size. Who is the audience you’re designing for? How many dowdy cuts, matronly styles or unflattering prints can you include in a collection before you realize that there’s a reason people aren’t buying as much as you’d like them to? Why not listen to the consumer, work with bloggers to design a capsule collection (I mean, Gabi just showed us ALL how it’s done, right?), or offer a collection of super chic basics in a vast variety of colors? So often American plus sized fast fashion or mid-priced fashion, skews really youthful (as in I love neon, crop tops and wedge sneakers) or REALLY older (as in, I’m looking for a tent-shaped dress to wear to church/a wedding/a funeral). It can be so ridiculously, unnecessarily difficult at times to find what you’re looking for fashion wise, when you’re over a size 16 and you’re looking for quality items at an affordable price, that speaks to a variety of age groups.
#3 Availability- Eloquii was in stores and online, but their in-store experience was teeny tiny to say the least. Their online store had a variety of clothing items that can be hard to find in plus size stores – blazers, belts, and wear-to-work basics. When I did journey out to the retail store here in Chicago, I found the selection didn’t match what I saw online all the time, but it was helpful to touch, feel, and try on the items. Some were cuter in person than online. Others felt like they weren’t worth the price, based on the fabric or style. But I did sincerely appreciate that this was both online and in-store, because you NEED to touch and try on before buying, sometimes. That’s the part of the game that I think Old Navy doesn’t get yet.
#4 The apparent unwillingness of brands to TRY. When I visited London, I was so delighted to stroll down Oxford Street and see the variety of clothing I could buy. Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Primark – all within walking distance of my hotel. I was particularly enthralled with Dorothy Perkins, which includes a range from smaller to plus sizes, without having a separate plus section of clothes tucked away somewhere. Their items range up to a UK size 22 (which seems to be US 18/20 or 2X). In boutiques in Brighton, I discovered that unique plus size fashion wasn’t that hard to find. The style there is very self expressive and fashion forward – lots of unique prints and ways to pair things. I’m writing a longer blog on UK fashion discoveries, but in the meantime I must ask – why is America so behind in this arena? Why is there this blunt refusal by brands to take the plus size consumer seriously, by so many mainstream fashion brands that could be making money from an overlooked market? There was minimal marketing, and The Limited only gave Eloquii a shot for a year before calling it quits. And now what? Seems like such a wasted, misguided effort.
There were so many ways Eloquii could have been great, but with no advertising, minimal blogger outreach (at least in my personal experience), and the aforementioned missteps, it seemed that the brand was designed to fail. And that’s upsetting. If you’re sensing frustration in this post, it’s because that’s how I feel right now.
This past week, I headed out to Chicago’s busy downtown shopping area to get a red dress for an event next week. I went to all my usual favorite stores, only to discover that there were literally NONE to be found. Not a single red dress. Not even a cute red top you’d want to rock to such an occasion. I went to four different places before finding a suitable option at Ashley Stewart. I know for variety in plus sized shopping, online is where you need to go. But what about when you need to buy something in store, or in a hurry? That’s when you find that the item you’re dreaming about that should be easy to find, just straight up doesn’t exist for plus sized women, or if it does exist in store, it’s dowdy or matronly. Or online only.
Plus sized women are the ultimate fashionistas because we often have to make it work. But it can be extremely frustrating getting to that point. There are some moderately priced fashion brands that are getting it right – Modcloth is working hard to give trendy, chic plus size shoppers what we’re looking for, and that’s very encouraging. But what about items for the women who aren’t looking for adorable dresses or skirts in cute prints? What about women who are seeking chic work wear, or on-trend pieces for an over-30 year old’s summer wardrobe? Shopping in store still feels like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. I look forward to the days when that frustration fades into just a memory.
Additional posts on this topic that I loved:
– This Anecdote Completely Sums Up How Much Designers Hate Plus Size, via Business Insider
– An Open Letter To the Limited Brands and Eloquii, by The Curvy Fashionista
– Retailers Can’t Ignore 100 Million Plus Sized Women Forever, via Business Insider.
Whew. Now I can get off my soapbox and ask my fellow plus sized bellas – how do you feel about the state of affairs in plus size fashion? Do you feel like we’re taking two steps forward, or two steps back? What do you think led to the untimely demise of Eloquii? Do you see signs of hope that I’m missing?