We have reached a point when mass-produced items have lost some of their shine. The internet is enabling consumers to purchase and discuss the “long tail” — unique, customised and exotic products and services; these “extraordinary consumers” are grabbing some of the limelight and spelling out their needs. Extraordinary consumers fall into “atypical” consumer categories regarding height, security, weight, physical ability, dominant hand, music taste and sound experience or food tolerance. These subsets are now finding a voice and calling for more buying choices and solutions-based design. Extraordinary consumers are now more outspoken when their needs are underserved, in areas like travel, hotel accommodation, furniture design and medical care as well as fashion. It transpires that these needs are also less niche and more mainstream.
Fashion sizing for “real people”
In 2017, Euromonitor International forecasts that the obese population (BMI 30 kg / m2 or more) will represent 42.7% of the population aged 15+ in North America and 19% in Western Europe. “Special sizes” for “real bodies”, both young and old, are emerging as a sales opportunity in the fashion world, which is starting to mirror the demographic picture, although largely restricted to online stores. The global plus-size market has an annual turnover of around US$18 billion, according to market-research firm Plunkett Research. In things outsized, however, one size doesn’t fit all, with budget, region, internet retailing security concerns and religion among the factors impacting purchasing choices.
Despite growing waistlines, many consumers have encountered challenges when looking for apparel and footwear in larger-than-average sizes. Writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph in mid-2016, Bethany Rutter highlights the shame that prevails among bigger consumers, which she believes isn’t helped by the squeamishness among brands around bigger clothing sizes. In her opinion, brands fear that a plus size label marginalises consumers. “As plus size women, we simply cannot assume that clothes are being made for us”, said Rutter. “Acknowledging this is more useful to us in practical terms than pushing the lie that we’re all the same”, she explains.
Lidl, European budget supermarket giant, introduced its plus-size clothing range in summer 2016, helping “curvy men and women to look and feel great” for less. Other consumers gripe about the lack of choice and trend-sensitivity in outsized clothing, as well as brand assumptions about height and body type. As one US male posted about his frustrating search, “My doctor tells me to stay fit … Macy’s tells me to gain 30 pounds”.
However, positive body confidence has recently become higher-profile. In late-2016, Yahoo Style ran a piece, “10 Plus-Size Women on the Power Pieces That Make Them Feel Unstoppable”. German blogger Anke Gröner doesn’t feel clothes need to camouflage her fuller figure, “ I want to wear things that make me joyous, things that make me look like ME … Are we really still stuck in the days of dressing to hide … I refuse to participate in that”.
“Healthwear” is an apparel niche that adapts the techniques and trends of fashion and applies them to the challenges created by illness and disability. This term was coined by Maura Horton, CEO of MagnaReady, whose shirts with magnetic closures were inspired by the challenges of her husband’s Parkinson’s disease. PVH, the largest US shirt maker, has worked with Ms Horton to incorporate her technology into its Van Heusen dress shirts. Maura Horton is part of what Vanessa Friedman, New York Times Fashion Director, calls “Fashion’s newest frontier”, or clothing for the disabled and displaced.
Meeting the needs of the displaced often involves a different type of planning. In Milan, InGalera (Italian slang for in prison) is a new restaurant located in Bollate Prison, fully staffed by inmates. It has enjoyed rave reviews and is seen as a model of rehabilitation. The enterprise is the work of Sylvia Polleri, a teacher-turned-caterer, who secured support from a local architect for the transformative venue design.
Getting from A to B made easier
The travel challenges of larger consumers, particularly for obese and taller consumers, are never out of the news for long. These frustrations take in complaints from those who feel discriminated against by airlines, especially those being asked to pay for two seats. Consumers fumed when Hawaiian Airlines won a legal battle to weigh consumers on one route in 2016, an idea since dropped. “Have you ever noticed that humans are getting taller but the seats we get into are getting smaller?” asks the Talltraveller.com blog, adding, “The TallTraveller loves seeing the world, but hates banging his head and paying for extra legroom”.
The CS100 from Bombardier Aerospace is a new aircraft with wider seats and aisles and larger luggage bins. The aircraft was developed after several commercial airlines requested a more comfortable journey for their passengers, according to Ross Mitchell, Bombardier’s vice-president of commercial operations, with the first plane delivered to SWISS in mid-2016. A “re-configurable passenger bench seat” could resolve disputes around aircraft passengers’ varying sizes. In 2016, Airbus publicised its patent adjustable bench seating in planes, aimed at families with small children and customers with restricted mobility, as well as larger passengers. Airbus’s new product is just one of a range of new personalised items which have been created to attract the growing proportion of non-standard consumers who are becoming more assertive with their needs, creating and responding to demand.
To learn more, download our 2017 Global Consumer Trends white paper: go.euromonitor.com/white-paper-2017-global-economies-consumers.html.