Over the past couple of years, we have taken many looks at the plus- and extended-size market, a hot and still growing space within the licensing business and the apparel industry in general. One very logical niche within that segment consists of deals between apparel marketers and curve models (who specialize in the plus-size market).
Several recent initiatives in this space illustrate some of the key characteristics of the sector:
- Curve models, who are often body-positive activists, have real relevance in this market. Ashley Graham, one of the best-known curve models—she was the first to appear on the cover of Vogue—is recognized for her messaging about body positivity. Her collaborations have included a denim line with plus-size specialist Marina Rinaldi and several collections for Canadian retailer Addition Elle. Hunter McGrady, known for her work for Sports Illustrated, also makes it a point to encourage women of all sizes to love their bodies. Among her ventures is a size-inclusive collection of 10 swimsuits with Playful Promises.
- These models know the customer, because they are the customer, and that gives them design credibility. When Torrid paired with Tara Lynn late last year for a fall lingerie collection, along with a second capsule this spring, the curve model mentioned in press interviews that she had been a longtime customer of Torrid before starting her more-than-10-year-to-date tenure as a model and then collaboration partner for the company.
- Plus size doesn’t mean out of shape. Curve models often highlight their position—an increasingly popular one with marketers as well—that people of nearly every shape and size can be healthy and fit. They also increasingly pair with marketers of athleisure and fitness apparel. Sabina Karlsson, a Swedish model, was part of a “curvy and fit” collaboration of apparel and footwear with European online retailer Zalando and Nike Women, to name just one example.
- Curve models tend to be active in social media and have side gigs beyond modeling, giving them significant exposure. Danielle Vanier is a plus-size model as well as a blogger and social media influencer who has consulted with fashion companies in the U.K. and the Nordic countries. Her collections include workwear for plus-size label Navabi and dresses for general-market retailer Marks & Spencer’s Curve label. Jordyn Woods is a curve model with the Wilhelmina agency, but is known even more for her appearances in social media and reality TV as best friend of Kylie Jenner, one of the Kardashian clan. Woods’ design activities have included collections with Addition Elle and Boohoo. Amber Rose, an actress and activist as well as a model, introduced a 25-piece collection called Simply Be Edited and a collection of sunglasses, both proprietary rather than collaborative, and has partnered with Priscilla Ono on an apparel line.
- Models’ collaborations are not limited to apparel or even plus-size ventures. Charli Howard, who started as a “straight-size” model before transitioning to curve, launched Squish Beauty last month, starting with an eye and cheek mask, jelly lip gloss, and acne patches. Advertising features a diverse set of models and no retouching. Graham launched a lip kit with Revlon, marking her second collaboration with the brand. And La’Shaunae Steward a curve model and body-positive activist, joined Jeffrey Campbell for ventures involving size-inclusive footwear.
- Collaborations with curve models must be authentic. Sustainable brand Reformation signed curve model Ali Tate Cutler to create a collection, in part as a response to receiving consumer backlash for selling some items with “fat-shaming” messaging. But the deal generated further controversy due to some of Cutler’s past comments on social media, which were also interpreted as fat-shaming.
Of course, while the participation of curve models in the plus-size and size-inclusive markets makes a lot of sense, they are competing against a diverse swath of other properties, including characters, general-market fashion designers, sports teams, and especially celebrities, from actresses and musicians to bloggers and beyond. Many of these IPs maintain greater awareness levels than individual curve models do.
But mainstream properties lack the loyal fan base within the plus-size market that curve models have, and they cannot duplicate curve models’ body-positive encouragement or real-life experience as plus-size customers. These traits represent key points of differentiation for the models as they enter into more and more collaborations and licensing deals.
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