A decade ago, when Rachel Roth first came to New York, she liked to stand on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street and watch the shoppers. Day after day she'd see a parade of consumers stop at the Lane Bryant shop. Whe recalls, "It was the only store that carried clothes their size."
Today, women who wear large sized have more choice. And Roth is proud of her role in bringing about this major change in the fashion industry.Roth is the president of Plu
Designers Council, consortium of designers who carry a larger line. Their goal is to shatter the myth that wome who wear large sizes don't like stylish clothes.
According to Roth, over one-third of all American women wear a size 14 or arger.
One-third of all women. A market of 35 million people. Yet, in 1977, plus-size clothing was only a $2 billion a year market.
Roth says, "The reason it was such a small market is that up until recently, a woman with a fuller figure was not able to buy lovely clothing - or even better clothing."
Top design houses ignored the larger woman, Roth says. "She was forced to shop in moderate or budget areas, buy clothes too tight, or hire a dressmaker. She wasn't able to see herself as beautiful without apology."
Now, things are different. Designers like Oscar de la Renta and Givenchy make plus-size clothes. Diane Von Furstenberg's lare-size lines just hit $22 million in sales. A Massachusetts company is starting "Kids At Large."
The plus-size market now has over $10 billion in annual sales and is growing at a rate of 25 to 35 percent a year.
Initially the fashion industry changed because plus-sized women demanded change. But soon, roth says, designers for the mass market - like Liz Claiborne - began seeing brisk sales in plus sizes. Exclusive designers followed suit.
Nancy RAdmin was one woman who demanded change. She echoes the cry of women everywhere who say they dont' lose their sense of style when they gain weight.
Thirteen years ago, afater the birth of their first son, Radmin went form a size 6 to a size 16. The only slacks she could find in her size were polyester with elastic waistbands.
Radmin took off for Hong Kong with her size 6 Anne Klein tailored trousers. She had them copied. The she had more clothes, in sild and cashmere.
Eventually Radmin opened her own dress shop - The Forgotton Women. Her stock sold out in three days. Today she has more than 25 stores across country.
Meanwhile here in Utah, Pam Scarpelli felt like a forgotten woman too.
She'd amassed a beautiful size 18 wardrobe because she had a job that allowed her travel, buying clothes as she went. Also she modeled for Nordstrom when the Salt Lake store had a plus-size department. But five years ago, looking nice got harder for Scarpelli.
She wasn't traveling. Nordstrom closed the plus-size shop. "i called a designer from Chez California and asked where I could buy their dresse," Scarpelli says. "She told me Dahles or ZCMI might have one or two." That wasnt' enough for her.
So Scarpelli opened a store of her own - The Greater Salt Lake Woman.
Business has been good. "A little better than the norm in retailing," she believes. "A lot of ladies who put their life on hold, saying when I lose 20 pounds I'll buy, are deciding to look nice and feel good about themselves right now."
Roth sees the same trend on a national basis. Because they have only recently been able to buy work clothes, "These women don't have a nice navy jacket. Or two black skirts. They are buying investment clothing. Large size is holding up in our economy, better than other lines," she says.
Roth works for the Mondi fashion house; their plus-size line is called Patrizia. And one of the greatest things about that job, and her position with the Plus-Size Design Council, she says, is being of service.
"Our customers are doctors, lawyers, engineers. And they are so appreciative. I get letters from people saying thank you for caring about us."