Will Penney find its sweet spot in a plus-size brand?

Discussion
Apr 13, 2016

In a recent article on the Forbes website, Walter Loeb argues that J.C. Penney needs to up its fashion game if it hopes to go from pursuing a turnaround to achieving one. It appears as though Penney management may have already had that in mind with the creation of a new private women’s clothing brand that addresses the fashion needs of consumers in a fast growing segment of the business.

Yesterday, Penney announced the launch of Boutique+, the company’s “first-ever plus-size fashion brand designed exclusively for the full-figured woman.”

The Boutigue+ line, according to the retailer, is designed for fashion-minded Millennials looking for colors, fabrics and prints that flatter “curvy silhouettes.” The line will make its debut at 500 of the chain’s stores and be available online beginning May 1.

“There are millions of incredibly stylish full-figured women who are seeking comfortable, well-fit clothes that offer style and versatility,” said Siiri Dougherty, senior vice president of women’s apparel for the department store chain, in a statement. “J.C. Penney is committed to winning her loyalty by designing an entirely new modern brand made just for her and creating a dedicated shopping environment that respects her time and budget with a greater selection of affordable plus-size fashion that takes into account diverse body types.”

Penney has signed Ashley Nell Tipton, the winner of the fourteenth season of Project Runway, to raise the profile of Boutique+ as a designer and brand ambassador. Ms. Tipton was the first designer on the show to introduce a plus size brand.

“I look forward to infusing my signature style that is known for distinct designs in bright hues and bold patterns that appeal to young fashionistas looking for clothes that make them feel as good as they look,” said Ms. Tipton.

Penney appears committed to the effort. Nearly 200 stores will feature a new concept called “The Boutique” with a curated assortment of designs from Penney and brand labels including a.n.a, Alyx, Bisou Bisou, Boutique+, Liz Claiborne and Worthington. The shops, with footprints between 980 and 2,800 square-feet, are designed to be one-stop shopping destination for clothing and accessories.

The market for plus-size fashions among younger consumers is growing. According to an NPD Group survey, a third of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 considered buying plus-size clothing in 2015, up from 19 percent in 2002. While many brands and retailers have popped up online, shopping options in stores remain “sparse,” according to a recent Chicago Tribune article.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
Do you see an opportunity for J.C. Penney to expand its clothing sales with lines and items designed specifically for plus-size consumers? Will the addition of the Boutique+ line as well as “The Boutique” in-store shops help Penney achieve its goal?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Just two words in my answer: Of course. Oh, and "Yay Ashley." She was completely charming and creative on Project Runway."
"Unless J.C. Penney feels that the "young plus-size" business needs a blank slate, I’m not certain this is the right approach."
"I am not sure I can see "incredibly stylish women" full-figured or not doing a lot of shopping in J.C. Penney’s."

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Will Penney find its sweet spot in a plus-size brand?"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Just two words in my answer: Of course.

Oh, and “Yay Ashley.” She was completely charming and creative on Project Runway.

Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

How about great designs and styles from designers that fit most customers?

The real win here is the concept of “The Boutique” in stores focused on fashion that fits both style and budget. The Boutique’s success will not be from not just a single line, but from a curated collection.

One of the biggest challenges of shopping on the internet is apparel. People want to see and feel the clothes … and try them on to see what they look like.

J.C. Penney could have a real winner here if they focus on the consumer experience. The concept of a curated assortment is a natural segue for building out omnichannel to extend the virtual assortment and enable the customers to continue the experience online, especially for accessories.

Dick Seesel
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

The reshuffling of the J.C. Penney merchant team (and the departure of head merchant and former women’s GMM Liz Sweney) signals the new CEO’s dissatisfaction with the growth of their women’s apparel business. I’m not convinced, however, that yet another private brand is the answer — even in an opportunity category like plus-sizes. J.C. Penney already suffers from too many overlapping brands and a lack of assortment clarity or key items within some of those brands. (And J.C. Penney has plenty of company in the department store segment.) Unless J.C. Penney feels that the “young plus-size” business needs a blank slate, I’m not certain this is the right approach.

Frank Riso
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

In my own recent unofficial survey conducted recently by just looking around, I would think their target audience is sizeable. So I would think they will do well and quite possibly reach their goals. Serious attention to the needs of plus-size women has never really succeeded but J.C. Penney’s may just make it work where neither Target nor Walmart could make it work. I would recommend that they do not overdo the advertising and promotions but attempt to keep the category fresh and stylish. The only way to keep the customers coming back I think would be with a lot of class.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Yes. There is a market here. Ashley has helped make creative designs for plus-sizes interesting and fashionable. If the new designs strike a chord with the market Boutique+ has a lot of potential to bring in new consumers.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

If I were J.C. Penney I’d worry about becoming seen as the Lane Bryant of department stores.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the addition of fashion lines for “plus-size customers” — (and, while we are at it, could we think of a possibly more demeaning term for these folks?) — is great, but saying J.C. Penney has clothing that makes you look good, whoever you are, is even better.

Why make “plus-size folks” a special category? Why not just use a variety of integrated-sized models in your advertising from “heroin chic” to “plus-size” and let the customer figure out they can look good in your clothes, regardless of what size they wear?

Interestingly misogynistic language by the way. In fashion, larger men are “big” and “tall” — positive adjectives — while women are plus-sized, implying that they are other than “normal” sized. So, given that this is the 21st century, maybe J.C. Penney ought to try merchandising to all people, not sizes. Might work out better for them.

Just sayin’.

Zel Bianco
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

This could be an amazing opportunity for J.C. Penney to embrace a market that many stores have not successfully tapped into. Currently their clothing department lacks a cohesive vision and also seems dated. If they can create stylish clothes that fit well, they may come out ahead. The Boutique+ may also be a good way for consumers to have a new shopping experience. One they may not experience when they shop the rest of the store.

Brian Kelly
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Sure.

The plus-size market remains overlooked and under served. A smart solution can differentiate J.C. Penney and encourage plus-size women to shop with their petite sisters. A common lament among those shoppers.

Competition is heating up as the industry reacts to increasing inclusion and personalization. As always, execution will be key. J.C. Penney will need to ensure that it delivers after it engages her.

Or as we like to say, “retail ain’t for sissies.”

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Let’s hope this is the key to J.C. Penney’s turnaround. Or at least a major push. I am not sure I can see “incredibly stylish women” full-figured or not doing a lot of shopping in J.C. Penney’s. It does not seem to be the place they would be going looking for incredibly stylish clothes.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
6 years 1 month ago

A close friend’s Millennial daughter is morbidly obese. She is also a social butterfly, make-up hound and fashionista who has trouble finding clothing that satisfies her understandable desire to dress in outfits that are up to the minute trendy, yet affordable. No sweatpants, tents or muumuus for her! It will take some doing to get her to try ol’ JCP I think. But from hearing her frustration, there’s definitely a clothing market for young large women out there that is not currently being met. If JCP has interesting offerings and starts giving out the right vibe to these ladies, they will come.

I also think it’s past time for some advertising genius to come up with a better name than “plus-size” to describe larger women and the assortments created for large women. And P.S. — while that advertising genius is at it, active 60 year old Boomers don’t appreciate being marketed to as “seniors” either!

Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

If they market it right, I think they are onto something here!

For my 2 cents.

Karen McNeely
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I’m skeptical. While I agree there is a large demographic for plus size clothing and that a portion of that demographic embrace fashion, I don’t think there is enough critical mass to make an impactful difference in their business. I think they would be better served to get the basics right first (which still can have some fashion sense) before they move to the fluff.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

This seems to be a recurrent theme: JCP comes up with an idea, we’re asked if the idea going to be “the one” (that puts them back on track)? Well, no, no one idea is going to be “the” one. This is a strategy of incremental, trial-and-error attempts that — hopefully — add up to success. Given the results of their one, big attempt at fundamentally changing direction, I can hardly blame them for this piecemeal approach, but at the same time, looking at all of the attempts in isolation, makes it hard to see if they come together into something coherent. I (will continue to) wish them well.

Elizabeth Meaney
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

It seems like a great idea given the size demographics in the U.S. Targeting Millenials both with the style of clothes and a designer/ambassador who’s been on TV is smart.

Does anyone know how successful Melissa McCarthy’s Seven7 line has been at Lane Bryant? This could be a similar collaboration for a slightly younger clientele.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Just two words in my answer: Of course. Oh, and "Yay Ashley." She was completely charming and creative on Project Runway."
"Unless J.C. Penney feels that the "young plus-size" business needs a blank slate, I’m not certain this is the right approach."
"I am not sure I can see "incredibly stylish women" full-figured or not doing a lot of shopping in J.C. Penney’s."

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