Three years ago, Alison Partridge Stickney, head of women’s and maternity merchandising at Old Navy, was approached by Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal who gave her a mission: Figure out the company’s plus-size offerings.
Partridge Stickney spent the next three years talking to customers, observing their shopping habits, workshopping new production strategies and testing out how to sell extended sizing. The result is Bodequality, Old Navy’s sweeping new initiative that revamps how it sells clothes.
Starting on Wednesday, all women’s clothes made by Old Navy are now sold in sizes from 0-30 and all at the same price. The brand no longer sells a separate plus line, and its extended-size styles are no longer designed and manufactured in a different place by different people, as it had been before.
“We decided early on that this wouldn’t be a Band-Aid fix,” Partridge Stickney said. “This had to be a complete transformation of the way we work.”
According to Partridge Stickney, the overhaul touched nearly every part of Old Navy’s business. In design, the company brought in new fit models in sizes 8 and 20 to ensure that the clothes would actually fit on women of more sizes. Most retailers, including Old Navy prior to the revamp, would scale-up pieces that were fitted on a straight-size model, wearing a size 4 or 6. Online, the brand reshot every product image with three different models, wearing sizes 4, 10 and 18. Customers can flip a switch on the online store to make one of those three sizes the default for all products they view. For now, the change will only apply to Old Navy’s women’s clothing and not to any other Gap brands. Old Navy did not confirm whether the same strategy will roll out to other brands in the future.
According to Partridge Stickney, all of the changes made were to address a near-universal concern that she learned when speaking to plus-size women: the feeling of exclusion.
“The overwhelming response we heard from women is that shopping isn’t fun, it’s dismal,” she said. “They can’t shop with their friends. They feel excluded. So our marching orders were to make the entire shopping process feel inclusive, no walls between customers. And the nice thing about hearing the same thing over and over from so many customers was that it made it very easy to pitch [this plan] to the rest of the company.”
Emily Bibik, customer lead for Bodequality at Old Navy, said that the brand ran fit clinics with women sizes 20-28. The women took part in clothing fittings and were asked about factors other plus-size clothing lines typically get wrong when making extended-size clothes.
“This is a big breakthrough,” Bibik said. “Amazing product has to look good on women, no matter her size. We also worked with the University of Oregon on a body scanning project. We scanned hundreds of women’s bodies in all shapes and sizes, and created virtual avatars to help fit all the sizes in between our fit models.”
What Old Navy is doing, eliminating the line between plus size and straight size, is an increasingly popular philosophy for how to handle sizes. Brands like Universal Standard and Parade have made the lack of distinction between the two a central part of their strategy.
But for Old Navy, as a brand that is not necessarily known for catering to plus-size women, marketing is important to bringing in new customers who would benefit from the new philosophy. The brand sold plus-size clothing online-only for more than a decade and only started selling it in select physical stores in 2018. Until now, plus styles have remained a small percentage of the brand’s overall product mix.
There will be more than 500 out-of-home ad placements around the country showcasing Bodequality, including the billboard in Times Square above the Old Navy store and a full-page ad in the New York Times. There will also be a TV campaign with “SNL” star Aidy Bryant.
“Our journey has been customer-centric from the start, focused on listening to our customers of all sizes to create the equal shopping experience she deserves,” said Jamie Gersch, CMO at Old Navy. “In our marketing, it’s critical that she sees herself represented. For this campaign, we proudly cast women in sizes 2-30. Our goal is to not only showcase size range, but also shape diversity, as we create an increasingly inclusive experience.”