Nordstrom’s “a-ha” moment came in 2016, when the newly launched denim brand Good American (co-founded by Khloé Kardashian) came to the table. The brand’s CEO, Emma Grede, agreed to sell its collections to Nordstrom because the retailer would pick up every size included in the range, from 00 to 24.
“They came to us and said, ‘This is really important.’ That was when we started working on this more deliberately,” said Tricia Smith, evp of women’s apparel at Nordstrom. “Our customers haven’t been satisfied with the choices on the size spectrum, and they have more choices today overall. They expect more from retailers. If we’re really, truly focused and committed to taking care of our customers, we have to change the practices that don’t allow us to do that. Sizing is one of them.”
Since then, Nordstrom has been putting pressure on its brands to add more sizes. Money, of course, is on the table: Plus-size fashion is a $22 billion industry, according to the NPD Group, and it’s growing at a rate of 6 percent per year, double the rate of the overall apparel industry. (In 2017, Nordstrom brought in $4.7 billion in revenue.) But brands have long pushed back, claiming they don’t have the demand, resources or skill to design for a customer who wears a size 14 or above.
Nordstrom has raised the stakes. Smith said the company has made it clear that it’s committed to the size-extension initiative and will be focusing marketing efforts across all of its media on including women of different sizes and body shapes. It’s also changing the way sizing is represented on the sales floor and online. In 30 stores, Nordstrom is switching out mannequins to include versions in both size 2 and size 12 (which have to be custom-made for the retailer), and adding signage to flag that more brands now carry more sizes. On its website, it’s adding a tool in its search function that equalizes sizing, an effort to eliminate “vanity sizing.” Customers who search for a size 8, for instance, will be shown what most closely resembles that measurement from different brands, even if it’s called something else.
If a brand only carries a limited range, then, they’ll be left out of size-inclusive marketing, store design and online updates, which means missing out on valuable exposure. The goal is that, two years from now, all women’s apparel brands carried by Nordstrom will offer sizes 00 to 24.
Nordstrom’s size-inclusive mannequins
“We need to show a diverse size range of models in all our materials, and where we can call out extended size ranges, we do. We want to create visibility to those brands on the website and in stores, and this is about trying to make sure our message comes through consistently on all touch points,” said Smith. “This is a new representation for us, and the more it shows up, the more the customer will have confidence in our brands and in shopping with us.”
So, if a brand only carries sizes 2 to 12, like many contemporary fashion brands do, Nordstrom will ask for a 00, 0, 12 and 14 to be added to its order, as a start. It began with the denim category: In addition to Good American, Nordstrom’s leading denim brands, including Topshop, Rag & Bone and Madewell, have added more sizes. Meanwhile, Paige, Frame and Mother now carry jeans up to a size 34. The expansion initiative has since extended to athletic apparel — Nike, Beyond Yoga and Adidas have extended by adding an XXL — as well as women’s fashion. Brands like Rebecca Taylor, Theory and ALC added sizes 14 and 16 to their ranges. For its part, Nordstrom’s private-label brands Halogen, Zella and Nordstrom Signature now sell XXS to XXL, and 0 to 18. It’s working on reaching size 24.
Beyond dollar value, according to Smith, the efforts are concentrated around filling a sizing gap in inventory: When most regular sizes stop at a 12, and plus-sized lines pick up at a size 14, cut, fit and style are inconsistent. Smith said that since extending sizes, it’s been hard to keep sizes 14, 16 and 18 in stock, signaling a lack of suitable options in that range. The size expansion is also geared around covering more fashion-forward styles. Plus-size customers have been able to find their basic clothing items in their size all along; what they need is trendy clothing, Smith said.
“We don’t dumb down design for the sake of inclusivity,” said Good American’s Grede via email.
“I think the customer has shown that dipping your toe in this industry isn’t enough,” said Marie Denee, executive producer at the plus-size fashion expo TCFStyle. “It’s not going to work if you’re just showing up with the most basic of your offering, if you don’t merchandise for her and if you don’t want make her look alluring. Retailers do this, then wonder why sales aren’t moving.”
Part of the process of getting brands on board was showing them the numbers. After early success with Good American’s line, Smith said, Nordstrom had insight into this customer to show that there was real demand.
“Historically, brands represented whatever their size range was, and if they weren’t making plus sizes, they weren’t thinking about the opportunity. We went to them and said, ‘Here’s the data around what the market is and how much we sell to this customer.’ Our 13 top markets had an engaged customer that was buying these sizes already. We just needed to show that data,” said Smith. Nordstrom doesn’t share sales figures around customers’ size demographic.
She said that most brands have been receptive to the move, while some haven’t. Nordstrom has expressed that it’s willing to give its brand partners time to scale its sizing, in realization that it’s a slow process. Smith added that it doesn’t seem to be a resources issue — brands that she’s worked with, like Nike and Theory, are established enough to account for the cost of producing more sizes.
She’s not sure that the company will be able to reach its two-year goal, she said, but she’s confident they’re making positive progress.
“Brands just have to commit themselves to doing this, and they have to make that choice,” Smith said. “We’re providing as much as we can, and we have patience, but for our brand to be truly relevant to our customer, we really want all of the brands we carry to be more size-inclusive. It may take them a while to get there, but you have to draw the line at some point and say, ‘Listen. This is what you need to be today to be an important brand to us.”