Torrid taps need for more plus-size fashion in Canada

Torrid, a U.S. plus-size retailer making its first foray into Canada, is seeking to help fill a void in Canadian retail for full-figured consumers.

After wooing Canadian women online, U.S. retailer plans to open 10 stores in 2016

Torrid, a U.S. plus-size retailer making its first foray into Canada, is seeking to help fill a void in Canadian retail for full-figured consumers.

After a store opened in Toronto's Eaton Centre Sept. 1, three more Torrid stores are set to open in the Toronto area this fall.

They'll be competing with homegrown plus-size retailers Addition Elle and Penningtons, both under the banner of Montreal-based Reitmans Canada Ltd.

Ashlie Callender was among the shoppers who crowded into the first Toronto Torrid store on opening day.

While some shoppers may struggle to locate garments in a specific style or colour, Callender faces an even greater obstacle: finding clothes that will fit her curvy frame.

"Regular stores, they go up to extra large sometimes, and that's really like a (size) 10 maybe. So if it's a stretchy material, I can get away with it," said the college student, 24.

"I actually would like shopping, but all of my options are either for people who are really, really old, wearing dress pants all the time — and that's pretty much it. So I wish there was more."

Wooing customers online

​The plus-size brand is already familiar to Canadians, who account for more than half of Torrid's international business online, said CEO Lisa Harper.

The retailer has more than 280 stores across the U.S. and ships to more than 150 countries. Torrid is a full-service apparel and accessories shop offering separates, denim, handbags and footwear.

Harper said the company expects to open about 10 stores in Canada in 2016, and has been eyeing British Columbia, Calgary and Edmonton as potential expansion sites.

While they don't yet have a Canadian-specific e-commerce site, Harper said they'll have an option for shoppers to ship items to stores at no additional cost.

They don't really have the wealth or array of fun, fashionable, sexy styles that plus-size women want as well as a regular-size woman- Sandy Silva, NPD Group

Canadian prices will also initially be slightly higher to offset the exchange rate, she added.

"We are very cautious about that, and it is not an across-the-board decision. It's really on an item-by-item basis....

"Obviously, we would hope that it would be for the short term," she added.

The women's fashion sector is intensely competitive, with several casualties over the last two years. Target pulled out of the Canadian market and Gap has plans to close stores.

Mexx closed up its shops,and Jacob survives online and with a handful of its 90-plus shops still open. Laura has filed for creditor protection. Meanwhile, Jones New York has a new owner for its Canadian locations.

Demand for plus-size clothing

A 2013 report from the NPD Group found that plus sizes represent 32 per cent of the "special size" clothing category, which also includes tall, petite and junior.

Two-thirds of plus-size women reported shopping for larger clothes was more stressful than shopping for traditional sizes, with limited merchandise cited among the main causes.

"Coming from the wholesale side of the fashion business, you do have to pay a premium for clothes that are either plus-sized or petite," said Sandy Silva, director of fashion and beauty at the NPD Group.

"Oftentimes you have to make a minimum order to have the garment produced, and I think that is a huge barrier to entry for this market in Canada."

Most national retailers which offer extending sizing have a "fairly basic assortment," she noted.

"They don't really have the wealth or array of fun, fashionable, sexy styles that plus-size women want as well as a regular-size woman."

Prior to launching her plus-size lifestyle blog KillerKurves.com in 2012, Karyn Johnson fielded countless inquiries about where she found clothes and boots to fit her legs.

"If you had a certain look in your mind, like 'I want a cute summer dress,' you had to go online, you had to Google it and really go on a search to find what you were looking for," said Johnson.

Breaking down taboos

"It's been difficult to find the options that you want, and not to be able to go to a mall and just shop at every single store. A lot of malls don't even have plus-sized options."

Torrid brand ambassador Georgina Burke said it's been eye-opening to observe the reaction among plus-size women when they're able to find clothes that fit.

"I would give them an outfit to put on and it's crazy how they won't show their arms, their legs, parts of their bodies they don't like," said the plus-size Australian model. "It's so exciting to break down those barriers and let them embrace their bodies."

Two of Hollywood's hottest comic actresses have made a foray into plus-size fashion.

Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson will design a limited-edition holiday line for Torrid. Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy of Mike & Molly and Bridesmaids fame recently launched her own collection, which is carried at Penningtons.

"It's great because she's including all shapes and sizes," said Diana Di Poce, editor-in-chief of Dare Magazine, a Canadian online magazine focused on plus-size fashion.

"I think that that's something I'd like to see more of."

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