Old Navy Is Redefining What Plus Size Shopping Looks Like
Alison Partridge Stickney, Head of Women’s and Maternity Merchandising at Old Navy, is beaming as she explains how the last three years have culminated in BODEQUALITY. The initiative promises that, come August 20, every garment in the Old Navy women’s section will be available online and in store in sizes 0-28 (with size 30 being available exclusively online) in the same styles, for the same price, completely integrated into the existing women’s section. “It’s simple, right? If more than half of women in America are plus size, we now have clothes for all of them,” Stickney says. That’s right —Old Navy will no longer have a plus size section, because the entire store will be integrated to make for seamless shopping, regardless of size. The feat will make Old Navy the first business of this scale to guarantee true size-inclusivity across it’s 1200 stores (and yes, that includes international stores as well).
“After intensive research where we spent time listening, learning, and walking in our customers’ shoes, it was clear there was an opportunity to do more to meet their needs and make sure that every woman saw herself in our brand,” Nancy Green, President and CEO of Old Navy, said over email. “BODEQUALITY represents a complete transformation in how we run our business—from the design and production process, to our shopping experience across stores and online, and how we engage with our customers across all brand touchpoints. This launch reinforces our brand belief in the democracy of style.”
Every part of BODEQUALITY sets out to meticulously ensure that the word ‘inclusive’ is upheld and not merely tokenized. It’s a departure from the all too common experience of brands choosing to make plus sizes only available online or at limited stores. It’s an experience both myself and Lindy West (per an Instagram story rant in June 2021) have shared in the last year—being desperate to try on a dress, only to stand in their stores and be told to go home and order it online. These emotional experiences of wanting ease of access to essential wardrobe staples and inclusion are a driving force behind rebuilding Old Navy’s approach to plus sizes, which took three years from start to finish, and goes beyond surface changes. “We saw that it was going to take more than a rack or a tab on a site and that we had to actually completely revolutionize the way we work,” Partridge Stickney says. “It was this idea of creating a most inclusive shopping experience in the retail industry and making it simple. All products, all sizes, all the same price. It doesn’t matter if you're on our site in our stores, no more guessing games, it's just that straightforward and simple.” However, the process to get there was anything, but simple.
From the product development standpoint, Old Navy has redeveloped all of their existing plus size grading with the use of 3D avatars made with 389 body scans of real women in partnership with the University of Oregon. This fit direction Alison assures will be familiar to their existing customers (their size should still be the same), however the fit will just be better and, based on early feedback, more comfortable. Next, all in-store staff will be receiving training so the in store experience matches the diversity of clientele size. “Democracy of style is so important to us, but equally important is the democracy of service, and so when you walk into an Old Navy store, you should feel included no matter what size you wear,” says Allison.
The training will cover who the plus size customer is, the backstory behind this company-wide push, how the Old Navy “fit differentiator” ensures the best fit, and how to shift their own body language to be inclusive. Finally, the icing on the proverbial, size-inclusive cake, is a marketing campaign to coincide with the in store roll-out, featuring women of all sizes alongside plus-size icon Aidy Bryant, who will be the face of the launch. A natural choice, especially as Bryant’s picture has been on the line’s inspiration board since day one, a partnership that feels like manifestation come to life.
“We keep saying this whole thing is really just a love letter to women everywhere, the women who have been with our brand and the women who hopefully will be in the future,” shares Emily Bibik, BODEQUALITY Customer Lead, who proudly showed off her adorable floral Old Navy dress that she picked up in person, the day before for our interview, at the Fourth and Market Old Navy in a size 26. A simple task that every plus size woman above 3X would have described as a near impossible feat a few weeks ago, and something Bibik had never been able to do in her four years of working at Old Navy until this week. Personally, I can’t help but gleefully imagine what it will be like to pack my suitcase knowing if I do need a garment at the last minute, I will be able to get it easily. And that joy is exactly what this overhaul was hoping to accomplish. Both Bibik and Partridge Stickney were guided by the question, “how might we include the plus-sized consumer in the joy of shopping?”
Too often, pushes for size inclusion from major brands fall short with sizes ranges that just narrowly include the average American size 16/18 consumer. This launch ushers in the new standard for those large stores. Under the buzzwords, they have created a shopping experience for friends of different sizes to try on jeans together, to remove the endless ordering online and to actually cater to a broader plus size market by offering them what we’ve been asking for for years, the same clothes, just in our size. While GAP and Banana Republic, the two other marquee brands under GAP Inc, have not committed to any upcoming changes with their stores or size inclusion, Partridge Stickney did hint that that could be possible. “I can’t speak to exactly what the brands in our portfolio are doing,” she says. “What I will say is we are sharing this information with them.”
At the risk of over exposing my wildly optimistic-self, I am hopeful that BODEQUALITY will prove to be more than just a campaign, and spark change in the fashion world to dismantle the unspoken double standard between straight sized customers and plus size customers. That “because it’s just not possible” will cease to be an acceptable excuse given by brands in regards to why plus size customers can’t shop in person, because Old Navy is proving it is possible, and moreover, Alison is confident that it is good business. “We hope it starts a revolution and we hope it makes it so that people don't have to second guess this level of inclusivity. This is a moment, obviously, on August 20th, but this is not a moment in time for us. This is the future of our brand.”