Learning to Value an Undervalued Market

A full-figured woman spots a gorgeous necklace in your store window, walks in, and asks to try it on. You retrieve the necklace from the display and offer to help her. But the necklace is too small. There’s embarrassment all around.

One way to handle that situation is to offer to make the necklace longer. But custom work takes time, and shoppers are often in a hurry. A customer may also feel that a piece isn’t right for her if it doesn’t fit correctly from the start.

A better option is to show her a line that’s specially designed for the full-figured woman. The pieces complement her curves and features and promise to make her feel attractive immediately.

JR Dunn Jewelers, with stores in Lighthouse Point and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recently debuted its Luscious line of plus-size jewelry, available through its Web site (store.jrdunn.com). “We work in a store with millions of dollars of beautiful inventory,” says e-commerce director Lind deLuca. “When a full-figured customer would visit, her face would just fall because the showcased pieces were too small for her to try anything on. Of course, it takes extra effort to supply larger sizes, but we find that people are happy and relieved to find a source like ours, a company that is dedicated to working with their needs. It’s not as big of a market; however, it is a strong and loyal market. And that’s really what matters in the end.”

To create the Luscious line, JR Dunn looked at current designers and basic pieces with “a new eye.” For example, the store chose to stock pearl necklaces not only in 16- and 18-inch lengths but also 22 inches. Particular pieces from designer lines were custom ordered in sizes that flatter full- figured women.

Cynthia Sliwa, certified image consultant and president of Apprecia Fine Jewelry, a high-end line dedicated to full-figured women, notes that 68 percent of American women are a size 12 and up, and 50 percent of that group are a size 14 and up. “In light of those facts, it is important not to see the plus-size market as an exception to the rule,” Sliwa says.

Designer Miché Meizner-Onaclea is the president of Sumiché Jewelry Co., an Internet firm based in Waterville, Ore. She and her partner, Susan Onaclea, also offer a line of jewelry dedicated exclusively to the plus-size market. “Because of the reality of sizes, we come to find that many of us would fit in the category of plus-size,” Meizner-Onaclea explains. “Where did the ideal come from that we should stock rings for women in sizes 6 and 7? It’s absurd. We, as women, come in every size.”

Susan Curley, designer and president of SenSuzy Designs, operates another Internet company, from her home in Newcastle, Wash. “I’m plus-size myself, and part of my getting started was personal frustration in trying to find designs that I thought looked good—pieces that were designed correctly,” Curley says. “There are quite a number of women in my circle of friends and family who share the same frustration. I felt that there was a lot of potential for myself as a designer to cater to the market of full- figured women.”

Curley says her designs can be worn by any body type. “I start with a standard length and add a 5-inch extender,” she explains. “Other designs have a continuous loop. However, to specifically design for plus-size women, I try to use larger stones that create a bolder design, which seems to better flatter a full-figured woman.”

Sliwa, also a full-figured woman, says American marketing professionals have neglected plus-size women. “Today’s marketers want to take the approach of what is glamorous and sexy,” she says. “Way too often the campaigns involve a 20-year-old woman who seems like she doesn’t have a care in the world. My mantra is that it’s time to get away from this kind of aspirational marketing—women who are trying to look like these impossibly beautiful creatures. As we come into our age, we are coming to say that we are worth it too. I only urge the jewelers to start honoring these women.” Sliwa notes that some companies—she cites Dove, Gap, and Revlon—have begun to acknowledge what she calls “real female markets.”

Sliwa introduced her Apprecia line in 2003. It received coverage in InStyle magazine, The Bridal Guide, and Good Housekeeping and was introduced on The View by an editor from Glamour magazine.

Sliwa didn’t just assume the market was ready—she tested it first. “I had a friend mystery-shop, his alias being that he was looking to purchase a bracelet as a gift for his mother,” she explains. “He stipulated, however, that the bracelet must be longer than 7 inches, probably 7½ or 8. Most sales associates looked at him like a deer caught in headlights. One clever salesperson ushered him to the men’s section where there were larger sizes, but he still was striking out on his assignment. This is a statement that this market is ready.”

Sliwa worked with Couture marketing to assess demographic factors before deciding to launch Apprecia. “We found that in 2003, the plus-size niche included 20 percent of the total apparel industry, which steadily rose by 13 percent in 2004,” she says. “In that same year, the plus-size industry generated over $22 billion in annual sales, which is projected to rise by 15 percent annually for the next five years. The market is growing. When I was looking at the statistics for both the jewelry consumers in the over-40 age group as well as the plus-size target group, I determined that there was ample room for plus-size fine-jewelry lines.”

The fine-jewelry industry has seen a large growth in the ranks of female self-purchasers. The Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council reported in its “2005 Year in Review: Trends Analysis and Projections Summary Report” that more than 70 percent of consumers it surveyed (over 80 percent of whom are female) have purchased fine jewelry for themselves, and 15 percent plan to buy more in the near future. It also reported that 80 percent of its female panelists are “likely to purchase jewelry for themselves any time they see something they like.” Assuming the millions of women who buy jewelry don’t all look like runway models—a safe assumption—jewelers could be missing an opportunity.

“The plus-size woman wants to enjoy the shopping experience the same way everyone else does,” says Amanda Gizzi, of the Jewelry Information Center. “When they walk into the store, they want the comfort of trying on a piece of jewelry without the humiliation of the piece not fitting. It’s like all other markets that are undervalued. When customers find a product that works for them, they will remain customers for life.”