In August 2021, Old Navy announced their “Bodequality” campaign and size inclusivity initiative. In response to plus-size customers feedback that they had been getting FOR YEARS, the fast-fashion retailer announced that plus sizes would be available in stores, not just online. In May 2022, Old Navy announced that they are pulling back on the sizes that will be available in stores, and they say sizes 0-30 and XS-4XL will continue to be available online.
According to Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal, on a May 26 earnings call, “While pleased with some of the early indicators, such as the new customer acquisition and increased brand health, we overestimated demand in stores. While we believe that product quality is right for today’s consumer and delivers on Old Navy’s mission to democratize styles, we launched too broadly and too quickly. We over-planned larger sizes with customer demand under-pacing supply, leading to an excessive inventory across stores.”
The CEO is correct in part – they made mistakes. Let’s look at them a little closer.
The first mistake Old Navy made was with marketing. Plus-size shoppers are savvy, fashion-conscious, critical-thinkers who have been ignored, dismissed, and under-estimated by mainstream fashion for decades. For a brand that was well-known for not including us in stores to suddenly announce that they are welcoming us was just not enough – especially since their marketing campaign included messages like “the revolution starts now”. We rolled our eyes the first time we saw that one – the “revolution” will absolutely not start with Gap, Inc.- owned Old Navy. Brands that want to expand to plus sizes have a steep hill to climb to build trust with a group that knows they have been ignored by those same brands. You can’t just offer plus sizes all of a sudden and expect fat people to fall over themselves to buy your clothes without doing the work regarding marketing, social capital, and design.
The second mistake they made was with fit. For a detailed breakdown, check out this excellent video by @megsforfun on TikTok. Not only do they describe the fit issues and poor store conditions, but the caption also references the ineffective marketing. Old Navy needed to hire designers, pattern makers, and size graders with experience in plus-size clothing, and it doesn’t appear that they did (or if they did, they didn't listen to them).
The third mistake was regarding inventory. The creator @megsforfun touches on this in the video above as well, but clearly Old Navy did not take the time to test and do their market research (businesses can look at obesity rates, spending habits, and other market indicators) before they rolled this out. They also should have had frequent reviews of individual store inventory and other data to adjust as needed throughout the transition. In another video by @mightymurphinfash, the creator shows how Old Navy is listening to straight-size shoppers who are complaining about insufficient inventory. So, they ignore plus-size shoppers for a decade, but as soon as straight-size shoppers, who can find sizes LITERALLY ANYWHERE, complain, an entire, expensive initiative is scrapped. Cool, cool, cool.
As a response, plus-size shoppers are livid.
What are the repercussions of Old Navy’s failure? We predict that Old Navy is going to lose a significant number of plus-size online shoppers. Since that is the only way to purchase larger sizes from them, there are other fast-fashion options, including the behemoth that is Shein. The creators we link to above have hundreds of thousands of followers, and they aren’t the only ones complaining about this.
Word is spreading – quickly.
Other brands may look at Old Navy as an example without an in-depth analysis and continue to assume that plus sizes aren’t profitable. We already saw brands roll back plus sizes when the pandemic started (it was the first to go in many cases as revenue dropped).
We at dom+bomb are already doing it better than Old Navy. We started out with sizes 5XL-XS, so we don’t have to win over plus-size customers. We regularly look at market research and the data we’re already collecting. We have tons of ideas for how to make our future in-person stores welcoming, inclusive, and a joyful experience, including décor, dressing rooms, and knowledgeable staff.
As a Black-woman and queer-woman owned small fashion brand, we can offer an experience that Old Navy will never be able to. And we couldn’t be more excited about the future.
For more information and to follow developments, check out the creators we link to above - mightymurphinfash is tracking plus sizes in stores.