Before I get started, I want to make something super clear: I have always been a big fan of River Island. I think that they make great quality clothing, have affordable sales, and all in all have varying styles to suit everyone’s tastes. It hadn’t always been this way, but within the past 5 years or so I have been impressed with their style. Even though I can’t really fit into River Island clothing, in Glasgow you have to walk through the Women’s section to get to the Men’s, where my husband shopped every so often.
So when I discovered River Island were launching a Plus Size range, I was super stoked. I thought I would finally be able to wear the things I liked from there and actually have them FIT (RI does go up to an 18 which I’ve been able to get in the past, but their sizing has been a bit all over the place in the largest straight sizes). I would even get to try them on in my local store! I was wrong.
On the initial release of the line, I found myself on the website, disappointed by what they had brought out. It was almost exclusively neutral colours, very few patterns, and I think they only released about 30 things to begin with. Not one of the things I saw struck me. Now, I saw a lot of plus size bloggers at this time wearing their range, and they did look fantastic! It’s just, nothing there was very me. Of course, this isn’t River Island’s fault, but there wasn’t a huge range to choose from, and the range they did have was very “samey”.
I also had a bit of banter with a RI representative on Twitter, because when I went back to look at their plus size stuff a couple of weeks after the launch, I couldn’t actually find it easily on the website. On their front page they were featuring straight size, men’s, girl’s, boy’s, accessories… but no plus. It was the same when you clicked on the women’s tab which takes you to a different page: straight sizes, shoes, accessories… no plus. In fact, I could only find it from one bit:
Now, you could be looking at this and thinking something perfectly logical: they offer a wide variety of products, of which Plus Size is one. It’s listed there, it’s not hidden.
But when you read that list you’re actually not reading fully what they mean. Under clothing you have a long list of types of clothing, which Plus Size is apparently one of. Let us be perfectly frank: when a clothing store decides to go from the realm of just straight sizing, to plus, they have two options:
- Size up all their clothing to the upper size they want to cater to
- Create a separate plus size range
I’m not going to go into the semantics behind the othering of plus size ranges. In fact, sometimes it’s nice to see something slightly different that the straight sizes don’t have.
But what River Island actually mean by this list is straight sized dresses, straight sized tops, straight sized t-shirts, etc. Plus Sizes are not afforded the same courtesy. We are one line on a webpage, when every other range gets its own tab.
The problem that I had, and voiced on Twitter, was that this range had only just been released, and yet I could barely see it represented on their website. This seemed counterintuitive to their marketing and being able to target that particular audience.
The person who spoke with me on Twitter attempted to placate me by telling me they had a “plus size takeover” on the website when the collection launched and was “sorry [I] missed it”. In fact, this just angered me more. Am I supposed to be happy that I was actively aimed at and represented for one day, then it’s just back to the “normal” people? Perhaps my anger seems misguided, but it tied in to another factor which I will discuss in a minute.
I will also note that despite still not being seen on the home page of their website, you can clearly see plus sizes when clicking on the Women tab and being taken to that page, which is of course, a fantastic step in the right direction:
But given that their range has been so recently released, I do still question why they wouldn’t want to give more advertising space to their plus sized buyers.
River Island is not the only high street brand with a plus size range who has this problem with lack of representation in a department they’re actively trying to sell. We see the same problem with the UK H&M website, who actually don’t even feature it on their Ladies page either; the only way you can access it is from the tiny tab.
In fact, trying to find the plus size sections on many websites is like the “Where’s Wally” of shopping.
But there are brands out there doing it right. Two of the most popular high street stores which cater to the plus size community are New Look and Forever 21. Note the difference in their home pages compared to RI and H&M:
You might also note that on New Look and H&M’s website, their plus size departments actually feature on their main top tabs.
The reason why this is important is that if you wanted to shop at RI, you would have to click the small line under the women’s tab, which would take you to their entire plus size range. You then need to try and find what you’re looking for from that point onward, whereas if you were shopping straight sizes and were looking solely for dresses, you only need to click dresses. New Look gives us that option, which makes trying to find what you may specifically be looking for much easier, and much quicker.
Now let’s talk about range.
If you’re plus size, you know the issue. You become so desperate for something that fits you that you will buy, whether it is particularly your style or not. This is why we have so many plus size ranges that cater to what they think plus size people want: floaty long tops, capped sleeves, bootcut jeans, stretchy black trousers, waterfall cardigans. But some of us don’t want that. Some of us want to wear the stuff we actually – you know – see in shops. See on other people. Stuff that’s actually in style. En Vogue, if you will. (For more excellent discussion on this topic please go listen to the wonderful Bad Fat Broads podcast).
We do have a few high street fashion stores that are trying to do this. Do I think RI is one of them? Not particularly.
I like short skirts. I like short dresses. I like crop tops. I like tight tops that show off my body. You won’t find any of this at RI Plus.
One of the problems comes with the number of items you have to offer. And if you want to start a plus size range, you better make you sure you have enough to offer or I will take my custom somewhere that does, thank you very much. Plus size girls are used to having limited items in sections of stores. This is a hard but just “way of life” truth. But when it comes to numbers, even online, RI lags behind the competition:
Forever 21 Plus: 660 items
New Look Inspire: 422 items
H&M Plus: 140 items
River Island Plus: 72 items
I will also say that that 72 isn’t comprised of different items, as RI is a retailer who separates their colours on the same item, so there are items there that comprise that number but just in a different colour. To give you an example of the disparity in RI clothing, within their straight sizes they offer 71 styles of summer dress. No, not dresses in total, which number 179, just summer dresses. You have as many choices of summer dress if you are a straight size in RI as you do total clothing if you are plus sized.
Yes, they are a new collection. Inspire and F21+ are much older and much more established. However, if you’re not going to cater to a wide audience from the outset, I’m not going to come back to you.
Now, you might be thinking “that’s just River Island’s style, maybe you don’t like River Island clothing”. False. As I already stated above I love River Island’s varied straight size collection. I have shopped there when I have been able to in the past. And in fact, since they have released much more clothing since the launch, there are some items which I like:
(Khaki swing dress, Khaki zip shirt, Blue T-shirt dress, Cream lace-up top)
This leads me onto another problem.
So, I like these items. I’m interested in buying them. However, this range is new. I’m not sure what their sizing is like. I’m not sure what the materials are like. All in all, I’m not sure if they’ll fit me. But that’s okay, I have a River Island in my local town centre, I’ll just go try them on, right?
Well, thankfully, River Island has an itemised store checker so I can see whether I’ll be able to grab these items in my local store.
This happened for every single item I was interested in purchasing.
Bath and Redditch are 50 miles from where I live, in opposite directions. So, in a 50 mile radius – a 100 mile stretch – there is not one single River Island store that carries the items I want? This got me to thinking, is the collection only available in certain stores?
I tried googling this, and couldn’t find the answer. Then I thought back to when the collection initially launched. I had walked past my local RI and did not see one bit of plus size advertising. I remember being struck by this at the time, because I knew it was such a big deal online. So, I tried googling something different: “is River Island Plus available in stores?” : every hit I had indicated their plus size collection would be available “in stores and online”.
Okay, so I’m left with purchasing online. I now have to pay for shipping and hope that the size I’m getting fits, that the item suits me, that I like the feel of it on. Let’s take the khaki dress. I’m really liking this dress. It’s great for my holiday.
But hang on, they do other colours! Even better.
I’m not into that orange, but they do a mustard yellow. One of my favourite colours! I click on it, and am taken to this:
That’s right folks. River Island offer this beautiful dress in 6 different colours if you are straight size. TWO if you are plus.
Okay, okay, okay more limited ranges in plus size, blah blah blah, but it is THE SAME dress. It is the SAME DRESS that they are obviously CAPABLE of making in sizes from 8 through 24, but a different colour confounds them?! Oh wait, no, because they do it in orange.
In case it wasn’t make clear before, I did not go to the straight sized section to find this dress in a different colour, I clicked on the colour options it shows available FROM THE PLUS SIZE SECTION, and then am left reminded, once again, that I am other.
So after this experience, I’m pretty much done with shopping on the website at all. And that’s how you lose customers and have me clicking on the F21 tab on my browser.
Of course it’s a great thing that RI are trying to increase their product line to include plus size girls. Of course it’s great that they offer some things that are more fashionable than many of the plus size options we are often left with.
But if you decide to branch into a different area – as is the case in any business – you better know your buyer/your audience, and you better know what you’re talking about. Because, I’m sorry to say, in my eyes this just ain’t good enough.