ailers hungry for plus-size clothing growth

One-quarter of the women's clothes sold in the UK this year will be size 18 or above, as retailers target a huge opportunity to grow profits from the fact that females in this country are getting fatter. Verdict, the retail consultancy, said the women would increase their spend on plus-size clothing by 6 per cent to £4.9bn this year.

Carly Syme, an analyst at Verdict, said: "Retailers are looking to expand their niche collections such as petites, maternity and plus size to ensure growth and increase revenue. Our research has revealed that it is the plus-size market that offers the biggest opportunities for growth." According to Verdict, plus-size clothing will account for 23.2 per cent of total womenswear sales in 2011, compared with 18.7 per cent in 2006.

The plus-size market is populated by specialists such as Evans, but the high street stalwarts Debenhams and Marks & Spencer are increasingly targeting larger women. M&S offers women's dresses up to size 26 on selected lines and bras up to 42J.

Ms Syme said: "While there is a large proportion of the plus-size market that is made up of older shoppers demanding more classic designs, there is also an increasing need for more fashionable plus-size items for younger shoppers, who are currently underserved." But the biggest opportunity remains with older shoppers. "If you compared a 50-year-old woman today with 20 years ago, they want more style in their clothing," Ms Syme said.

While the growth in the plus-size market will begin to slow – as rising obesity levels fall back with greater health awareness – the market will still grow by 28.6 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

While the weaker UK economy will hit the spending of larger women – who tend to be less affluent – this will be more than offset by obesity among a growing, ageing female population, as women typically get bigger as they get older.

The average UK woman can expect to live to 82.6 years old.

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