As you may have already seen, a photo of two mannequins from Swedish department store Åhléns has been circling the Interwebs. While two plastic women typically aren’t the catalyst for a surge of body-image discussions, these mannequins struck a chord across the globe due to their size — approximately a size 10 and 12.
With comments ranging from accusations of promoting obesity to sheer delight over seeing a “normal” sized mannequin in a non-plus-size-specific store (and a few trolls thrown in for good measure), it truly brings up an issue that no one seems to be discussing. Why is this such a big deal?
Don’t get it twisted; we’re all in favor of having mannequins (and models) of every size, in both department stores and on the runways, but the fact that the installation of larger mannequins in a “regular” store is so controversial seems ridiculous. Why hasn’t this happened sooner? Why aren’t more stores commonly using mannequins of varying sizes to showcase their products?
With more than one-third of U.S. adults classified as obese, according to the CDC, and the average American woman wearing a size 14 or larger, it is no surprise that, according to Business Insider, those labeled as "plus-size" account for approximately 67% of the apparel-purchasing population, bringing in a retail revenue of nearly $16 billion. Therefore, it could be financially foolish to not display mannequins of larger sizes, even within non-specialty stores.
Plus-size sales are poised to jump 5.2% annually in the next five years, while overall apparel sales will only climb a modest 2.7%, according to research firm IbisWorld. The category is expected to hit $9.7 billion by 2017, up from an estimated $7.5 billion this year and $6.6 billion in 2009. “The issues that plus-size women face in store translate into the biggest opportunity for brands and retailers to grow their businesses today,” stated Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, Inc. “There are so many consumers who wear at least one item that is plus size, and yet the market is dramatically underserved.”
With the average non-specialty clothing store offering up to at least a size 14 (some, like Old Navy, carry up to a size 18 in store) and the growth of plus-size consumers, it makes fiscal sense to provide mannequins that reflect the size of their increasing customer base. By displaying larger mannequins, not only could women see how the clothes would potentially fit their shape, they would also feel more body confident thanks to the increase of plus-size representation within the fashion industry, and therefore, be apt to purchase more.
Overall, the fashion industry needs to accept that the majority of their customers are larger than their current mannequins, and that it's about time they feel represented and included, instead of demonized for their size. Because the truth is larger mannequins aren’t promoting obesity; they’re reflecting reality.