Retailers split over curly question of curve fashion

Press/Media: Expert Comment


For fashion chain Forever New, entering the curve market was a no brainer. So when it came to deciding whether to sell the range in dedicated stores or mixed in its existing stores, it went to the best source for the answer: its customers.

To the surprise of the company, including managing director Carolyn Mackenzie, opinion was split down the middle. So it did both.

On Thursday, Forever New launched its first standalone Curve store at Highpoint, in Melbourne’s north-west, as it continues to roll out its new curve range in stores, Myer concessions and online.

The example highlights the debate around how to cater to curve women, who are generally defined as size 14 and up. Many of them love fashion but have had torturous experiences in a retail industry that, historically, has largely excluded them.

Mackenzie said the curve range took 12 months to develop, and is very clear that it’s not just an “expanded size offering” but has its own styles while still keeping with the Forever New aesthetic, which is feminine, functional and fun.

“There are a lot of [brands] who say they do curve, they’ll even use bigger models but they’re not curve. It’s a 16 or 18 off a main range style,” said Ms Mackenzie, adding that Forever New was one of the first retailers to go up to size 18 in its main line.


“It’s a mistake in the industry that people think you can just grade up a style. But our research says you can’t do that.”

Nor can retailers charge disproportionately for comparable curve or larger-sized clothing and get away with it. Last year, pyjama brand Peter Alexander came under fire after it charged more for sizes XL and above in some styles.

Ms Mackenzie promised, wherever possible, Forever New’s curve styles would be priced at or below the market, and like-for-like styles in the main range would have similar pricing.

Associate Professor Jana Bowden, a consumer engagement expert from Macquarie University, said curve fashion was “bucking” the general malaise in retail.

“The curve market is one that has thrived in 2015-19 despite a negative trend in retail sector as a whole,” she said. “[There is a] growth opportunity in inclusive sizing. Retailers who haven’t woken up, and many high end luxury retailers haven’t, are at risk of losing millions in sales.”

Market leader City Chic last month reported an increase in sales of 12.6 per cent and a plan to add to its 104-store portfolio. At last week's Myer spring launch, chief merchandising officer Allan Winstanley said curve was a key pillar in the company's turnaround strategy. "We're the fastest growing and largest business in the curve and big-and-tall products in Australia," he said.

Ms Mackenzie said Forever New was hoping to grab some of City Chic’s market share, especially in the younger, fashion-forward demographic.

“This is why [our] investment [in curve] is so big,” she said. “We want to be a curve brand. That’s been the success of City Chic – they never started as a regular brand. They do it best, they do it well.” 

Dr Bowden said there are compelling arguments in favour of both integration and segregation of curve ranges.

“The argument in the past was that the plus-size section was hidden in the back corner,” she said. “This kind of standalone store [such as Forever New's] signals a shift towards a more positive stance.”

Period7 Sep 2019

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