One of two Germans is overweight, experts say. Not surprisingly, many
fashion-houses, textile manufactures and general retailers have discovered
large women as an interesting clientele, because big sizes mean big
Most department stores nowadays offer a "big and beautiful"
corner, every major town or city features at least one local retailer
that specialises in fashion for baroque beauties. Last but not least,
mail order companies cater for big ladies.
Nevertheless, the fuller woman still often feels neglected by fate
and fashion alike. "All the clothes I see are made for girls, there's
nothing for real women", grumbles Anna Bauer, a chunky shopkeeper
in her mid-forties.
Browse the Internet and you'll find nothing but complaints in forums
like "Germany's fat site", where big women lament the lack
of more becoming clothes.
| Irma Mahnel dresses up the larger woman.
Indeed, it takes some shopping around before you find fashion for the
more rounded figure. But a rich variety is revealed to those that persevere
with their search. This ranges from discount clothing to designer fashion
(Marina Rinaldi, Sallie Sahne, Irma Mahnel), including basics such as
jeans and T-shirts, business clothing, sports wear and casual gear -
and is by no means dowdy or provincial.
"We gear towards the 35-to-45-year-old woman with two or more
kids, women who grew up with rock music", explains Wolfgang Krogmann,
managing director of Ulla Popken. The company is one of Europe's leading
big size retailers, with US$175 million in annual sales derived from
over 200 shops and a mail-order business.
But not all chains find larger-sized clothes central to their business.
"It's the young woman in her twenties who wants to follow fashion
that we have mind," claims Yvonne Theis, product manager of the
Swedish textile trader H&M. She also has to admit: that H&M's
"Big and Beautiful" line is a small collection and not available
everywhere in Germany. Only some 150 out of H&M's 230 stores in
the country carry larger sizes.
Increasing size variation has tided retailers over tough times
Even with trade slumping, as it has been doing for more than a year
now, middle-market retailers specialising in women's wear for US sizes
16 to 34 (or German sizes 46 to 60) were able to increase their sales
significantly, experts say, and expectations are high.
"It's a growing market", predicts Peter Sartorius from the
Women's Outer Garment Association. "Market potentials haven't been
fully tapped yet", agrees Siegfried Jacob, assistant general manager
of the National Textile Retailers Association.
Still, with the textile business traditionally being a secretive industry,
solid figures are rare. Neither the number of big-sizes retailers is
available, nor are total market revenues.
It is not only lifestyle and diet patterns in the world's third largest
economy that contribute to the experts' market assessment. Demographic
factors are significant as well. As economists have noted, very soon
every second German will be over 50. And as every women past child-bearing
age knows, nature decrees that post-menopausal women grow by two sizes
on average. What was once a 10 is likely to become a 14, and so on.
Already more than a quarter of Germany's women take a US-sized 20 -
a hard fact, according to Ulla Ertelt, a marketing specialist in Frankfurt.
"Women who take a big size are grateful customers" says Monika
von Wrede, spokeswomen of the Steilmann Company. Steilmann appeals to
those baroque beauties who won't find clothes as easily as the dainty
elfins that most fashion designers have in mind.
Steilmann, one of Germany largest textile manufactures, not only offers
its own large-size label "Gigi" but also produces collections
for major retailers. "Grateful? Indeed," adds Friedrich Suhr,
a marketing consultant, "provided you understand and cater for
Basically, what these women need is pampering. In a society where being
slim is considered beautiful it's their self-esteem that needs to be
strengthened first of all. And this is what retailers have to bear in
mind, Suhr argues.
Retailers have to develop a list of extra services, starting with the
location and the design of the shop (it has to be spacious with bigger
dressing booths than usual) and continuing to include many services
almost defunct in retailing, such as alterations done in store, fashion
shows, snacks to keep clients in good humour and regular updated mailings.
If all these are included, customers may travel up to 200 km in order
to shop at a store. What's more, they spend about a third more than
normal sized women per purchase.
Quality and cut still at a premium in large-size stores
The business hinges on the quality of the clothes themselves and their
cuts, and that's the trickiest part. Simple enlargements - experts call
it gradation - of smaller sizes won't work, because of the very significant
variations in physique.
Not all larger-sized women are evenly so when compared with their slimmer
contemporaries with some developing big busts but retaining relatively
small hips, while others grow heavy around the hips but have small busts.
Furthermore, sleeves need to be cut differently and darts placed in
different positions. All in all, materials need to be sturdier, since
they are put under a lot more strain, and they have to stretch easily.
"Instead of a linen one would prefer a cotton elasthan mix",
Andrea Berndt, spokeswoman of the "Happy Size Company" explains.
The Internet-based retailer employs a "big sizes specialist",
who develops special cuts for their clientele in order to adopt new
seasonal trends. "We make sure that our clothes fit a woman sized
16/18 as well as a size 32", Berndt says.
Contrary to the assumption that big woman are best dressed in baggy
clothes, large size expert Dorothee Mahnel believes that "there
is no need for big, tall or overweight women to hide their bodies."
Mahnel sells classy, big-size fashion to upper middle class women,
designed and produced mostly in southern Germany. Mahnel runs two shops
where she counts business women and opera singers amongst her customers.
Depending on their figure these women should either accentuate necklines,
legs or even the waist, Mahnel argues. Waisted jackets, see-through
blouses and low necklines are no rarities in her shops, and even dramatic
floral patterns and big stripes are available.
Most important, however, are the fabrics: silk, cashmere, wool and
jersey, mostly from Italian manufacturers, constitute the basis of the
Even the prejudice that big clothes can't be fashionable is refuted
by manufacturers like Ulla Popken, Happy Size and H& M. They all
pride themselves on the variations of cargo pants they currently offer,
particularly as cargo pants are this season's hit. Instead of two or
more voluminous pockets on each leg, the giant cargos feature only one
fairly unobtrusive hint of a pocket per leg.
But that doesn't satisfy Christiane Sültemeier. "In terms
of fashion they always lag behind", the 26-year-old student complains,
particularly about the choices that manufacturers offer. "There
is nothing hip or trendy for young people like me. For us it's still
big size, big problem."
Whenever Christiane, who takes a US size 30, craves something out of
the ordinary, she either prints her own T-shirts or sews her own clothes.
Thanks to the quarterly "Burda plus" magazine she is at least
able to find some interesting patterns.