Opinion

The plus-size problem with the Target-Lilly Pulitzer collaboration

Plus-size customers shouldn't have to earn the ability to shop in stores

When Target first announced that its next designer collaboration would be with Lilly Pulitzer, it felt like an olive branch had been offered to plus-size shoppers. Lilly Pulitzer's sizing usually only runs from 00 to 16, but Target promised "a wider range of sizes," with up to size 18 in stores and plus sizes sold online. After a string of tone-deaf moves — from restricting sizes on last fall's Altuzarra collection to calling one of its plus-sizes items "manatee"-colored — the news was met with a round of digital applause by the internet's plus-size fashionistas. It was short-lived. 

While basking in the good PR glow, Target issued some fine print: the plus-size portion of the collection would only be sold online. For plus-size customers, the news was disheartening, if unsurprising — stores like Old Navy and J. Crew offer their plus-size clothing exclusively online, too. Practices like these create a stigma, sending the message that plus-size customers aren't worthy of being seen shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

Target didn't offer an exact rationale for its decision, but hinted that it would use onlines sales as a kind of laboratory, testing whether there's sufficient demand to sell plus-sizes in stores. "We're excited to offer a wider range of sizes for this collection, and we look forward to seeing how it performs and will continue to evaluate future programs,"a spokesperon told Glamour.

Some editors and bloggers took the bait. In a Fashionista article, Tyler McCall argues that plus-size women should "vote with their dollars" by purchasing the Lilly Pulitzer items on Target's website. At plus-size fashion blog GarnerStyle, Chastity Garner Valentine also calls it "a huge opportunity for plus size shoppers to vote with their wallets." With all due respect to McCall and  Valentine (who was one of the first to draw attention to the Altuzarra-Target controversy), these are just justifications.

Businesses shouldn't have to "test out" whether plus-size clothing is worthy of taking up floor space, especially not for designer collaborations whose bread and butter is low-inventory. The reasons typically cited for not carrying plus-size clothing in stores — i.e. insufficient demand or lack of space — just aren't applicable to a collection that's designed to be incredibly temporary and of limited-quantity. Target's most successful designer collaborations, particularly the Missoni line, sold out within seconds, with people camping out at stores for the collections' release and crashing the store's website.

But more importantly, plus-size women shouldn't be treated like second-class customers — if they're going to patronize your business, they should at least have the ability to shop in-store for the same products. The burden should be on the retailer to serve its shoppers, not on plus-size women to prove their worth.

If brands like Target choose to create plus-size clothing, they need to treat their plus-size customers the same as other customers. Otherwise, why offer plus-size clothing at all?

Update: Target has issued a statement explaining why it will only sell its plus-size options from the Lilly Pulitzer collaboration online. The last time Target offered plus-size clothing in one of its designer collaborations was in 2011 with Calypso St. Barth, but the plus sizes didn't sell well in stores, so Target is testing the waters to see how the plus-size options fare online with the new collection.

"We're offering [plus sizes] on Target.com because Target.com gives us an opportunity to try different things," Target said in a statement. "We need to take a measured approach in terms of responding to the guests, because they say this is something they want to purchase. So we're hearing the feedback, we're seeing the feedback, and, what I think is really important, we are responding to the feedback."

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