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Eloquii’s Fast-Fashion Take on Plus Sizes


Fast-fashion for plus-sized women: That’s what is on a mission to deliver. While a retail format that offers runway-inspired looks for shoppers sized 14 to 24 is a no-brainer, the concept is practically radical in fast-fashion retailing.

Although plus-sized women represent an outsized percentage of the U.S. population — and the market for plus-sized women’s apparel generated $17.6 billion in dollar sales for the year ended August 2014, according to the NPD Group — they remain chronically underserved by designers and retailers alike. Eloquii is out to change that with a fast-fashion model that churns out trend-driven clothing for the full-figured woman every two weeks.

The online retailer is now in its second incarnation. The brand was launched as a division of The Limited in 2011, with a focus mainly on career wear. It was closed in 2013. But emboldened by Eloquii’s devotees, the retailer’s original team, including current CEO Mariah Chase, relaunched it as an independently owned company in February 2014, with a more runway-inspired, contemporary fashion outlook.

Chain Store Age contributing editor Barbara Thau spoke with Chase about “Eloquii 2.0,” an enhanced concept with “more sophisticated” styles that better reflect the demands of its outspoken shoppers, and how the retailer plans to become a leader in the world of plus-sized fashion.

How big a business opportunity is the plus-sized market today?

Plus-size women represent over 65% of the female population in the U.S. — we believe it’s a significant and underserved market segment.

What’s different about Eloquii post-ownership by the Limited?

Eloquii 2.0, as we like to call it, is true fast-fashion. We’re also more sophisticated and trend-focused than the original Eloquii. We design and drop new collections on the site every two weeks.

We’re also trying to listen and respond to our customers’ requests as quickly and effectively as we can. That was a big [difference] from Eloquii 1.0 — it didn’t listen or market to its existing and potential customer base. We’re trying to make good on that front.

We are also building key merchandise classifications, like our Kady pants that we believe will be long-term best-in-class fashion wardrobe staples for our customer. These key classifications will co-exist with the fast-fashion offerings.

According to Eloquii creative director Jodi Arnold, most designer, contemporary and fast-fashion brands do not offer plus sizes. Please elaborate.

If you look at the competitive retail landscape for straight-size customers, it’s overflowing with options at every price point, aesthetic, category and every channel of distribution. There are hundreds of options, but they generally stop at a size 12. A plus-size woman cannot shop the overwhelming majority of these brands or retailers. Not only is it unfair, it doesn’t make any sense.

What’s the biggest misconception retailers have of plus-size women?

That she doesn’t love fashion, that she doesn’t understand fashion and that she won’t spend on fashion. Fact is the plus-sized woman is as savvy and smart as any other fashion-loving woman. She gets it.

How has business performed since the relaunch?

It’s been amazing. We learn new things about our customer each day, and these learnings have informed our month-over-month growth.

What challenges has the company faced?

Building up our supply chain. Without an amazing manufacturing base, our value proposition as a vertically integrated brand doesn’t hold up. This takes time to develop, and we had some initial challenges finding the right manufacturing partners. It’s an ongoing process.

What do you see as the key growth opportunities for the brand?

New categories and partners. We will, over time, offer our customer everything she needs and wants for her fashion lifestyle. We’re being measured about how and when we offer these new categories. If we don’t believe the product is right, we won’t do it. We’re also looking at key partnerships with other designers and retailers.

How does Eloquii hope to achieve its goal to be a leader in plus-sized fashion when established players, such as Lane Bryant, have been in the market for decades? How will the brand grab market share?

We don’t see Eloquii’s growth as reliant upon taking market share away from existing players. We look at the opportunity as enabling plus-size women to spend more on fashion altogether. This is a key part of the shifting dynamics of this market segment.

We believe that this customer needs many more options — and better options at that. If she doesn’t have great options, how can we judge her apparel spending habits against a straight-size customer? Right now, the playing field is unequal.

Tell us about the brand’s social media strategy. I know you encourage photo sharing on your site via Instagram, for one, and feature a blog with customer profiles and style tips.

Conversation, learning, customer service and fun. The most important thing we can do is listen to and learn from our current and would-be customers. Social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, provides instant gratification in this respect. We often ask our fan base questions about what they want from us in the future. Everyone in the company reads the responses, and it helps us prioritize new initiatives and, of course, [offer better] customer service. Our head of social media is in touch with our customer service multiple times a day to address customer needs.

A lot of online retailers are opening physical stores. What about Eloquii?

We’re certainly not opposed to opening physical stores if it’s what our customer wants. It all goes back to her. If we believe that our customer would respond positively and actionably to physical Eloquii stores, then they will happen. But not for a little while yet. We still have plenty of growth online.

How do you envision the business in five years?

First and foremost, a brand synonymous with fashion, fun, community and listening. There will be new categories, new channels and new partners along the way. But we will continue to build value by remaining true to our customers and giving them the fashion they deserve.

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