Jezebel is reporting on plans to introduce a plus-size line at the flagship store of Saks Fifth Avenue. Now, before you get super-excited, the expansion is only to size 14 across the board, though some lines will extend to size 20. But this does involve a lot of high-end labels that have a long tradition of avoiding even the lightest of the fatties like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, and others.
This naturally sparked some questions from Jezebel on the specifics of this plan. Saks doesn't seem eager for attention, though, and only offered a boilerplate statement. Surely, someone somewhere is taking their bland endorsement as cause for the next great fat panic, but I'm a little more concerned about the reticence to promote this.
See, what's going on here is a bit of product testing. This is only being launched in one location. They see how it goes, and then decide how to expand. Its like Old Navy a few years ago when they expanded plus-sizes in their stores. Anyone remember how that turned out?
There is a fundamental flaw in the test marketing of plus-size clothes by retailers who've never offered them. See, if McDonald's wants to test market a new sandwich, they can rely on the fact that the people coming into the store are looking to buy a meal. Maybe they didn't know that the McNewwich was on the menu, but they are still there to get something to eat.
That isn't the dynamic here. It would be more like Victoria's Secret introducing a line of jeans for fat men. I might be the target audience, but at no time in my life do I find myself walking into a Victoria's Secret so it won't much matter. I'm never going to happen upon their awesome jeans, because I had no reason to be in their store. This can be combatted with a marketing campaign, but product testing often has little money for that. Word might leak out virally like this, but let's face facts. Most people aren't aware of what's being talked about on a few websites. That's what doomed Old Navy, I think. Without promotion, why would a size 24 woman have been in Old Navy to discover their plus-sizes? A few will hear about it online. Some might be shopping for others. But most of their potential customers just won't know about it and nothing can doom a product faster than ignorance in the marketplace. No matter how awesome your offering is, if no one knows about it, so what?
So, while its awesome that Saks will offer clothing in larger sizes, I worry that the intended clientele will never be stepping foot into Saks to discover this. And really, why should they?
So then the question because why these sorts of product launches are so consistently botched in this way. Is it simple incompetence or something more nefarious? I doubt anyone is trying to doom these lines to fail, but I also doubt anyone cares too much if they fail. A craven reluctance to be associated with fat people isn't an unthinkable motive. It may not be why they do it, but its an attitude which may still inform their approach.