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The plus-size clothing market is surging thanks to more than 65 million women in the U.S. who wear size 14 and larger, generating $21 billion in clothing sales annually.

Big-name designers have jumped into the market, as have major department stores and retailers that cater specifically to a plus-size clientele.


"During the last two years, plus-size has outpaced growth in the women's apparel market as a whole," said Leslie Singer, corporate communications manager at NPD Group. "One out of every four dollars spent on women's apparel is spent on large-size items."

And the numbers show no signs of abating, according to NPD.

Many in the industry point to the aging baby boomer population, advancing not only in age but in clothing size, who demand stylish options.

"The boomer is very used to getting what she wants," said Chris Hansen, VP-marketing at 97-year-old Lane Bryant, the oldest of the retailers that specialize in plus-size fashions. "Suddenly, the customer was demanding great-looking fashion, and the industry began to react to that."

Dana Buchman, Liz Claiborne, Andrea Jovine, Anne Klein, Ellen Tracy and Emanuel Ungaro are among the designers with plus-size lines and collections. Even Ralph Lauren is said to be launching a plus-size collection by 1998.


"Every designer right now is either in the process of or has already done a line," said Nancy LeWinter, co-publication director along with Julie Lewit-Nirenberg of start-up Mode, a magazine devoted to women who wear large-size clothing.

The publication, which debuted this spring, has guaranteed a 300,000 rate base with its third issue, due in September. The magazine will go to 10 issues in 1998 and monthly by 1999.

Liz Claiborne Inc.'s Elisabeth line actually debuted in 1989 as one of the pioneer designers serving the large-size market.

"We were the first people to really recognize that the plus-size customer wants fashionable clothing," said Al Shapiro, VP-corporate marketing at Liz Claiborne Inc.

The company also has a second plus-size line of knits called Elisabeth/Liz & Co. Both collections are well-represented in the company's apparel advertising, from Gotham, New York.


In addition, belts, hosiery and jewelry have been created for the Elisabeth consumer. The special sizes division of Liz Claiborne (which includes petite) did $410 million in sales in 1996.

"We consider this a very important part of our marketing plan," Mr. Shapiro said. "We've done a lot of research on this customer. It's absolutely a growth area."

Lane Bryant, a subsidiary of The Limited, has a 4.5% share of the plus-size category; sales added up to about $950 million in 1996. Its fall 1997 ad campaign, handled in-house and budgeted at a little more than $3 million, debuts in Glamour this August, followed by Sept-ember issues of Essence, Glamour, Mode, Redbook and Vogue. The tagline, "What real women wear," returns in the fall campaign.


Other retailers, like Avenue and the Forgotten Wom-an, have sprung up in recent years specializing in plus-size clothes, and department stores also have gotten into the game.

Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney Co., Saks Fifth Avenue and Sears, Roebuck & Co. have all made strong commitments, with either entire floors or significant square footage dedicated to this market.

"Some people were enormously industrious about it," Lane Bryant's Ms. Hansen said. "Saks created a whole environment for this."

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