Controversy erupted around LOFT on Sunday when the clothing brand announced on social media that it will no longer offer extended sizing come fall. The decision was one made as a result of "challenges brought on by COVID-19" according to a comment reply on LOFT's social media account. However, with no further public communication about the change, or explanation for it, members of the community it served are feeling "abandoned."
"I think the plus-size community felt truly embraced by LOFT," CeCe Olisa, the co-founder of theCURVYcon and a brand ambassador for the clothing brand, tells Yahoo Life. "And, based on the messages I’ve received from my community, I’d say that this change feels like an unexpected rejection from a new friend."
Olisa explains that she was approached by LOFT in late 2017 when the brand brought their plans to expand into plus-size to her. "I thought LOFT plus could make the 'desk to drinks' fashion moment a lot easier for plus-size women around the country," she says, noting that plus-size shoppers often struggle to find classic, soft and feminine pieces. "In 2017, I could find stretchy club clothes easily and I could find bold gorgeous statement pieces easily. Finding simple pieces that reflected my personal style proved to be a little more challenging."
What LOFT seemed to have in mind was simply an extension of the brand's signature style to include sizes ranging from 16 to 26. "Sometimes, when well-loved brands expand into plus sizes, the designs and styles are completely different from what’s offered to smaller women, which can be frustrating for plus-size consumers," Olisa explains. "But LOFT didn’t do that. ...That went a long way with me and my community."
Now, just three years after the official launch of the plus-size collection in 2018, the quiet announcement feels more hurtful as a result. In fact, many are still waiting to hear more from LOFT after the brand's initial, social-media-only responses to customers inquiring about the status of its plus-size line.
"Unfortunately, due to ongoing business challenges, we have had to make some difficult decisions, which does impact our plus collection. Come fall, our size offering will be 00-18/XXS - XXL. We sincerely apologize for any disappointment," the brand tweeted in response to someone who had asked if it was true that the line was being discontinued.
Within the brand's Instagram comment section on a photo of upcoming spring dresses, another message confirming the news was posted.
"Due to challenges brought on by COVID-19, we've had to make some difficult decisions, which will affect our plus collection," the comment read, in part, further clarifying that "we will continue to have a selection of new product up to size 26 throughout the spring and early summer."
LOFT did not respond to Yahoo Life's requests for comment. LOFT's parent company, Sycamore Partners, also did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment. The plus community at large has also attempted to communicate with the brand, with help from advocates like those at The Power of Plus, a size-inclusive digital community.
"Dear @loft: How can you expect Plus to thrive when it is never made a priority?" a post that rounds up LOFT's statement and subsequent reactions from people in the plus-size community is captioned. "Shortly after we posted Loft’s copy and paste comment about discontinuing their plus sizes on our Instagram Story, the community at large rallied around to share their frustration and anger with this decision. It is clear from the hundreds of comments left on LOFT’s feed that there is a huge disconnect between the brand and its supposed consumer."
Gianluca Russo, co-founder of The Power of Plus, tells Yahoo Life that the end of LOFT's plus-size collection is made even more frustrating by how strong the brand's entry into extended sizes was.
"Something that we've become accustomed to in the plus community is that a brand will launch extended sizes, but not do any marketing or not telling anyone. And then within a year, they'll close it because it doesn't make any sales and then they'll blame it on us for not buying it when we didn't even know about it," he shares of other brands. "This hurt even more in a sense because when LOFT launched extended sizes, they partnered with some of the biggest influencers, like CeCe Olisa, and they made a really big moment out of it."
Russo went on to say that the community "rallied around" the brand because it seemed to have a bright future in plus. "People had an expectation and they were invested in the brand whether emotionally or physically or financially. So it's discouraging to see that this is now the outcome after a few years of them really trying to advocate and push toward a more inclusive future," he said.
Olisa says that the effort that the brand initially made contributes to the disappointment, among other things. "One, the brand launched less than three years ago, which feels really fast to make a decision like this. Two, the way the news was delivered to consumers was insensitive and could have been done with a lot more care and compassion. Three, LOFT had an impressive plus-size fashion launch. They took chances that other brands didn’t, like launching in-store. Most brands launch plus sizes as an online-only test. LOFT launched plus sizes in-store from the beginning," she explains.
And while LOFT loosely cited business challenges from the pandemic as the reason for the cut, Russo says that it feels like the brand "abandoned plus-sizes in a difficult time and kind of give up on it without reevaluating their own internal structure from our point of view."
He continues, "It's so often when a brand is going through financial difficulty, the first thing they do is cut extended sizes and it's very difficult and it doesn't always make sense because when you look at the numbers. Plus-size women make up 68% of the population in the United States and the market is worth well over 20 billion dollars. So there's money there because so many of the brands that are inclusive are making so much money on their plus sizes."
If the market exists and a brand like LOFT is failing to serve it, he concludes, it's on the brand.
"It's a matter of something is going wrong internally in the brand. And why is it that the customer constantly has to be the first one to suffer?" he says. "I mean, if you look at LOFT's comments [on Instagram], even going back to before this whole scandal erupted, you can see people of all sizes commenting that they're not liking the clothes. They're not liking the prints, they're bored of it. And so the problem is more deeply rooted than just the plus customer is not shopping plus right now, right? Because if they were putting up styles that women period, regardless of size, wanted this wouldn't really be an issue."
Both Russo and Olisa point to a number of other brands that continue to find success in the plus-size market, including Hunter McGrady's All Worthy line at QVC, Lane Bryant, Dia&Co, Jibri and Eloquii. "If you look at all these other brands, even during the pandemic, they're still making money," Russo says. "So what is the real issue here? Is it that the plus customer doesn't want to shop, or is it that you're not serving her in the way that she wants and deserves to be served?"
LOFT hasn't released any further information about the decision, or what went into it. However, Olisa tells Yahoo Life that she did have a conversation with the brand after hearing the news. "When I found out about LOFT’s decision, I asked my contacts within the brand questions like, 'How long did it take for petites to catch on? Have you given the plus-size line the same shot?'" she explains, noting that retailers often don't give plus-size collections enough time to take off. "When I consult with brands who want to be more inclusive, I encourage them to remember that plus-size women need to be courted as customers. Plus-size women have a short list of places where they know they can shop with confidence. This means we have an even longer list of places where we don’t feel confident shopping, which can feel like a sort of unspoken rejection."
And while plus will no longer be offered by LOFT come fall, Olisa explains that she's decided to continue her work with the brand — where, as a size 18, she'll still be catered to — in hopes that her presence with the company will still be an indication of progress.
"Progress is never linear. I have been a plus-size consumer my whole life and involved in the plus-size fashion industry one way or another for over a decade," she says. "I do believe that the tide will change. I do believe that the economy will get better. I do believe that plus-size women will be served and that fashion will continue to move towards inclusivity. But, as much as I want it to be immediate, I know from the inside that progress takes time."
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