Meanwhile, Caroline Noakes MP, who heads the All Parliamentary Group on Body Image, has called for a law banning such size zero models if a voluntary code doesn’t work
The average size of the UK woman is now a size 16, while just over half of the female population aged 25 to 34, and around 60 per cent of women aged 35 and over in the UK are considered plus-size – that is 16 to 24.
The plus-sized market in the US generated $17.5bn in 2014, which was up five per cent from the year before and is a good indication of where the UK market is heading, according to industry analysts. In fact, it is thought that the plus size fashion market in the UK will hit the £5.4bn mark in 2015, accounting for 12.4 per cent of the overall clothing market.
It’s this increase in the number of larger women that prompted Gayle Eden to set up her business. Her brand, Polly Grace, specialises in plus size clothing for women and has been highly successful by challenging the common perception of this particular section of the market as dowdy and unflattering.
“I have a number of curvy friends who were struggling to find on trend, comfortable clothes that fit properly,” explained Eden. “From what they told me, and my market research, the clothes they were being offered were standard size clothes scaled up that don’t embrace or flatter the curvier shape. I could see the plus size market was beginning to take off and thought what a great opportunity to give people what they really want.”
Although Eden herself had no experience, her husband was the key person responsible for the development of the Yours Clothing website, which was a developing plus size retailer.
However, she said: “I have a savvy business mind and the passion to succeed. I’ve always worked for other people and been very frustrated. I’m a real go-getter and complete finisher and get very impatient when I have to wait on people for decisions.”
The rest of her family have also been very supportive. “My mum, sister and children regularly help me, whether it’s in the warehouse picking and packing orders, coming to shoots – my daughter’s favourite part – or giving their opinions and feedback.”
Her belief that plus size women were underserved by the existing market was justified very early on. “The day I launched the website, within seconds I was receiving orders – it was an amazing feeling and achievement. I also work with a great team and have found some great suppliers who really understand what I’m trying to achieve.”
Investment has come from Eden herself, plus a small number of individual investors who, she says, have also seen the potential of the plus size clothing sector.
Eden was determined to build a loyal customer base by providing the best customer service that she could. “For me, customer service is the basis of any successful business. I keep a personal touch and ensure that I treat everyone the same way that I would like to be treated. We’ve also developed a strong back end processing system which enables me to focus my time on the customer.”
In one instance, a customer who placed an order for a pair of trousers contacted the company minutes later to cancel it because she realised she couldn’t afford them. “My natural reaction was to send them to her as a gift from Polly Grace and her response was heart warming,” Eden revealed. The reply came back: “I have NEVER come across customer service like this in my life. I am overwhelmed at your kindness.”
An active social media strategy has also helped the company to grow its client base. “We’ve quickly developed a strong following on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” she said. “I make it my personal business to respond immediately to all the posts and as a result we’re developing a strong following. We continuously receive positive feedback and testimonials.
“Since we launched three months ago, I’m been really pleased with the reaction,” she added.
Even without advertising, the company is already receiving orders from as far as Australia, America and across Europe. The company recently took order from a customer in the wilds of New Zealand where there wasn’t even a postal service – in fact, it was 7,000 miles from the nearest town. The order was eventually received and the remotely situated customer was, understandably, very grateful.
Eden said: “My vision is to develop distribution hubs for the brand around the world. I also see our brand growing in the UK and us becoming more mainstream as the industry opens up.”
As the plus size sector grows, Eden sees opportunities ahead for her company to expand its range and customer base. She observed: “Even though there are now around 60 plus size brands now being offered to UK consumers, it is still only a tiny percentage of the womenswear market – there’s huge potential.”
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