It was around two years ago that the idea of an online retail store exclusively for plus-size people came to Abhijeet H Jadhav. “It’s true when they say necessity is the mother of all invention. My wife Nanita wasn’t able to find plus-size trendy clothes for herself and after searching both offline and online, we realised that this segment is very under-served. And this prompted us to launch Larjjosa in 2015,” says Jadhav, the co-founder and chief business officer of the online fashion portal, which caters exclusively to plus-size women. Larjjosa, which delivers across India, offers a wide range of clothes like tops, tunics, jackets, dresses and bottoms for ‘curvy’ women, with prices starting from Rs 700.
Interestingly, Larjjosa isn’t the only store in India that is helping plus-size people in the country move beyond Indian-wear, the only option for most large-sized people in the country for lack of availability of western clothes in their size. There are a host of players now, including Pluss, Lurap, aLL The Plus Size Store, etc, which are making it possible for them to look and feel trendy. “Even though the demand for plus-size clothing in India is huge, big brands are reluctant to cater to the segment. Hence, plus-size people, more often than not, end up wearing ethnic clothes. At Lurap, we decided to offer them more than that. We believe everyone deserves to look beautiful and looking beautiful means you wear clothes that fit you perfectly, whether western or Indian,” says Vidit Sehgal, co-founder, Lurap, a Gurugram-based online fashion store that offers custom-size and custom-style clothing for women of all shapes and sizes. Lurap was launched in March 2015 and offers different styles like dresses, tops, bottoms, jumpsuits, skirts, etc, starting from Rs 1,000.
But one of the earliest players in the segment was Pluss, an online plus-size clothing store, which was launched in 2006. It stocks a wide range of styles like dresses, shirts, trackpants, shorts, trousers, blazers, waistcoats, denims, tunics, kurtis, leggings, jeggings, skirts, tops, etc, for both men and women, with prices starting from as low as Rs 599. “Pluss was launched 11 years back. At that time, the idea of clothing for larger-sized people was not as common as it’s today. And that’s why we launched the portal to address the lack of availability of such clothing in India,” says founder Sandeep Aggarwal, adding, “Since we launched, the plus-size fashion industry has seen major growth, especially in the past six years. It’s turned into a serious and competitive industry now.”
“The plus-size segment is estimated to account for $5-6 billion in the $40-billion Indian online fashion apparel market by 2020, that is, 10-12% of the overall market,” says Sivaram Kowta, vice-president, menswear, Myntra, which stocks over 10,000 styles in the plus-size category on its website. “We started carrying plus-size clothing around four years back owing to the huge demand and there has been great response ever since,” he says.
The segment is taking such giant strides that well-known names in the fashion industry are also being forced to stop and take notice. Lakme Fashion Week (LFW), for instance, made news in August last year when it hosted an exclusive plus-size fashion show in association with aLL The Plus Size Store. In a first, plus-size men and women sashayed down the ramp. “Internationally, too, fashion weeks are embracing the concept. The intent is to start a conversation that will hopefully take a life of its own and lead to greater focus in creating fashion for all body types,” says Jaspreet Chandok, vice-president and head, IMG Reliance, which organises the fashion week in association with Lakme.
Needless to say, the show was a great success in breaking stereotypes and a big morale booster as well. “I have always faced criticism for my body type even from family. My uncles would always smirk at me at family events. All they seemed to notice was my weight. But since the time I have walked the ramp for the LFW, their attitude towards me has changed,” says 26-year-old Mumbai-based businessman Rajiv Bhasin, who was one of the 10 models selected for the show. “The perception will take time to change, but this is a big milestone towards achieving that. People should realise that ‘fashion’ and ‘fat’ can go together.”
One of the biggest challenges in the segment is also what defines it: the different shapes and sizes that come under it, as no two plus-size people have the same measurements. So how can buyers be sure that the size they have chosen will fit them? “Our USP is our well-designed size chart, which was finalised after thorough research on the Indian plus-size body. Customers of various sizes find it really easy to understand their body structure with reference to the size chart. We also provide size customisation if customers need clothes in a specific size. As we are an online store, pre-purchase trial of clothes is not available, but we do have a flexible return/exchange policy,” says Jadhav of Larjjosa.
“There are no trials for clothes since all the garments are made exclusively after the customer has made the purchase. Our returns are less than 4%. In case a customer is not happy with the fit, we re-alter the garment for them,” says Sehgal of Lurap.
There are other challenges as well. “Plus-size fashion is hard to execute. Since all body types are different, it becomes important to understand the customer’s body before making a garment. Body parts like arms, biceps, thighs, etc, need to be given more importance than they are generally given,” says Sehgal.
Agrees Aggarwal of Pluss: “The challenge in plus-size fashion is that the garment is big, but you still have to make it look beautiful. One needs to keep in mind how the human physiology varies in people because everyone is different size-wise.” But whatever the challenges, there is no dearth of demand. “We get orders from all over India and are witnessing steady acceleration. Our average revenue per customer is between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500. We are seeing steady growth in terms of revenue, as well as customer acquisition,” says Jadhav.
Manish Aziz, business head, aLL The Plus Size Store, explains the reason behind the huge demand. “India is now the third country in the world to have the most number of fuller-bodied individuals after the USA and China. Many organised retailers have realised the huge potential and have started to cater to this category. The future, therefore, is very bright. The industry is emerging and is expected to grow at 25% per annum.”
Explaining why they decided to collaborate with the LFW for the plus-size show, Aziz says, “The fashion industry in India has been fixated on size zero for a long time now, but this has gradually been changing globally. So we thought it was the right time to initiate this revolution in India as well. We have been catering to the segment since the brand’s inception 11 years ago, but we wanted to take this one step further by hosting the first-ever plus-size fashion show in India. We also wanted to give the plus-size populace an opportunity to be part of a fashion revolution. We hope it helps to integrate the plus-size industry into the mainstream fashion industry in India,” says Aziz.
Fashion designer Little Shilpa (aka Shilpa Chavan), who styled the plus-size show for the LFW, puts things in perspective. “Fashion should not get the licence to decide what works and what doesn’t based on someone’s body type. People are now demanding individualistic acceptance, and body positivity is being celebrated versus body shaming,” she says, adding, “It’s the need of the hour for us to not to get confined by generalised notions of what is fashionable or stylish based on body size or type. India currently has more number of curvy women than those who fall in the size-zero category. And this makes the country a very large market for plus-size fashion.”