Target's relationship with plus clothing over the last two years has not been a particularly smooth one. First, the whole Manatee Gray thing happened, causing plus shoppers to take to the Internet to voice their entirely justified displeasure at the line's name. Next, a dress shot on a maternity model was mislabeled as plus size. Then, the plus collections started to disappear from stores altogether, with signs promising a "Countdown to New" popping up in place of actual clothes. In August, a blogger began a boycott after Target's designer collaboration failed to include extended sizes. When it appeared the brand was finally getting with the program by offering plus sizes in its Lilly Pulitzer x Target collection, it only made pieces in an 18 and above available online. Now, its latest plus move might just incite more emotions than all of its past blunders have, and this time, it's the good kind.
You may have seen hints about the brand's forthcoming plus collection, AVA & VIV, but we've got the first look at the entire first drop of the spring selection. "This isn't pieces that have been cobbled together," explains Target spokesperson Joshua Thomas. "This is a collection that has been designed specifically for a woman who loves fashion, who is looking for stylish basics, who is looking for trend pieces that will help her stand out, and she is plus-sized. This does not start with, 'You are plus-sized so you should shop here.'"
Another main difference between AVA & VIV and Target's past plus attempts is that this one won't be hidden somewhere between the maternity section and the bathroom. "This is going to be a standalone brand in the store," says Thomas. "We feel like the in-store experience will be exponentially more compelling." Target will now have a well-defined plus area that shoppers can easily locate and peruse (and new plus mannequins!). The AVA & VIV collection will live there, as well as on Target.com, and will include the expanded sizes already offered for in-house brands like Mossimo and Merona.
Perhaps also unlike some that came before it, this line is prioritizing fit in a major way. "There are two aspects of fit when it comes to any garment," Thomas explains: "the technical fit — like, is the circumference the right size — but then there's expression of fit. How does it look on the body? How does it drape?"
"And, because we have one team now that's devoted entirely to AVA & VIV, they're not just focused on 'Is this piece sized up to a 20?' It's now, 'How do we want this garment [to] come to life?' So, I think that's something that you will notice immediately with the collection. We're honestly obsessed with [the fit]."
Target was also focused on keeping prices low; every item costs less than $80. Says blogger Gabi Gregg, who modeled for the lookbook, "[Plus women] rarely have the option to shop in person and try things on, so I'm very happy Target is dedicating more floor space to a youthful, fun, plus-size line. I'm also really excited about the price point, because I know so many women are looking for affordable, trend-driven options in their size."
For blogger Chastity Garner, who also models for the lookbook, her relationship with Target hasn't always been as collaborative. It was only in August that she penned her widely shared boycott letter about her disappointment in the Altuzarra collaboration. Though AVA & VIV had already been in the works for over a year, Garner's post still caught Target's attention. "I called her the day after she posted about her boycott," Thomas says, "and said 'Tell me more about this.' The fact of the matter is, any time you get a guest with a strong point of view, whether it is positive or negative, we want to hear that because it will make us better."
Gregg and fellow blogger Nicolette Mason (also featured in the lookbook) are both brand collaboration veterans, and this opportunity allowed all three bloggers to contribute their ideas and suggestions. "Gabi, Chastity, and myself were brought in to work on social media strategies, give feedback on the collection, and model in the AVA & VIV lookbook," Mason says. "Though we were brought in once the first season's collection was already designed and produced, the team was very eager to get our honest feedback on the styles and incorporate our likes and dislikes into future deliveries."
Although the launch of this line may feel like too little, too late to some within the plus community, Gregg doesn't see it that way. "I think I'm more understanding of what a brand goes through and how much effort they are putting in." She goes on to say, "So often, people are reactionary and assume retailers aren't trying, but when you get to meet and collaborate with the team who is working so hard and really cares so much about their customer, you know that a lot more goes into these things than people think."
The complete AVA & VIV collection will be available online on February 22, and there will be a rolling launch in stores beginning in mid-February — and then the products will stay there. Says Thomas, "These collections are designed seasonally, and they are updated in-store monthly. It is not set it and forget it, it is constant newness." We probably don't have to say this last bit at all, but keep reading to see the entire collection: It's going to be good.