Walmart will acquire women’s plus-size clothing retailer Eloquii in a deal reportedly worth $100 million as retailers of women’s fashion are taking steps to be more inclusive.
Walmart did not disclose how much it spent, but said the deal is expected to close this quarter.
Eloquii began as the plus-size line of mall staple The Limited in 2011, but it was shuttered in 2013. Thanks to consumer demand, it was revived as a direct-to-consumer brand in 2014—reportedly by members of the original staff as well as a private investment from a founding member of online shopping company Gilt Groupe.
Eloquii sells “trend-driven, fashion-focused” apparel for women size 14 and up, online and in five stores.
In a blog post, Andy Dunn, senior vice president of digital consumer brands at Walmart U.S. ecommerce, said Eloquii has a direct connection to customers, which helps inform how products get developed, how they’re marketed and how the brand comes to life.
“For example, they recently uncovered 80 percent of Eloquii customers work full-time and one of the most frequent requests from customers was for fashionable work wear,” he said. “Embracing the feedback, Eloquii launched [curated officewear collections] The 9-5 Kit and most recently The Premier Workwear Kit, filling an unmet need in the category and further reinforcing trust with customers in the process.”’
Eloquii CEO Mariah Chase and Eloquii’s 100 employees join Walmart’s portfolio of D2C brands, which also includes indie- and vintage-inspired retailer ModCloth, men’s clothing company Bonobos and digital home brand Allswell.
Per Walmart’s figures, the women’s plus-size market is worth $21 billion and is one of the fastest-growing segments in women’s apparel.
“Today, more than half of women age 18-65 in the U.S. wear size 14+ … This is a segment of the market that has been historically underserved and neglected. We believe she deserves better,” Dunn said. “Today we stand in solidarity with her by acquiring a brand whose sole focus is to exceed her expectations.”
The release also noted Eloquii complements ModCloth and Walmart’s own plus-size brands.
A rep said Marc Lore, president and chief executive of Walmart U.S. ecommerce, is very involved in decisions like this. Lore also came up with Walmart’s two-fold acquisition strategy: acquiring companies that strengthen Walmart.com and Jet.com by enhancing category expertise and assortment, like footwear retailer Shoes.com and outdoor recreation retailer Moosejaw; and acquiring digital brands that are unique and offer products and experiences customers can’t find elsewhere.
“What makes a digital brand great is how it converts a pain point in the market into a source of delight for the customer,” Dunn said. “It means creating real connections with people, building a spirited and interactive following and offering customers an experience they can’t get anywhere else. It means offering a broad and growing range of great products for that customer and fundamentally elevating how they are served both online and offline. Eloquii allows us to do all these things.”
The plus-size women’s fashion market has been getting more attention lately—despite upheaval in retail overall—indicating retailers are striving to be more inclusive.
Eloquii’s former parent The Limited closed all 250 locations in 2017. The brand was subsequently purchased by private equity firm Sycamore Partners and The Limited reappeared online in October, but the available inventory appears to be only sale items.
Similarly, teen fashion retailer Wet Seal shuttered its 170 locations in January 2017. Advisory, restructuring and investment firm Gordon Brothers purchased Wet Seal in March 2018 and relaunched it as an ecommerce-only play six months later. It also added a plus-size line, Wet Seal Plus & Curve, “to appeal to women and girls who don’t conform to the industry’s ‘standard’ shapes and sizes.”
And clothing retailer American Eagle’s fall 2018 jeans campaign features a diverse cast of actual customers and an employee that “reflects varied backgrounds, genders, sizes and passions.”
Just about a decade ago, it was a different story. That’s when then-Abercrombie & Fitch chief executive Mike Jeffries told Salon that the brand targets only attractive customers: “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
It was not immediately clear why it took seven years, but, in 2013, Jeffries found himself in hot water over his comment and 68,000 angry customers reportedly signed a petition. The brand issued an apology, saying, “We sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by the comments we have made in the past, which are contrary to [the values of diversity and inclusion].”
Later that year, Abercrombie began offering plus sizes. Jeffries was fired in 2014.