Struggling with size http://www.bakersfield.com/137/story/155424.html
For some, finding the right fit is a constant fight BY RYAN SCHUSTER, Californian staff writer
Last Updated: Friday, Jun 1 2007 9:18 PM
Shopper Tina Harbour struggles at most stores to find clothes that fit her because of her short stature.
"It's frustrating," she said while shopping at the Torrid store at Valley Plaza this week. "There needs to be more selection of clothes for people of all sizes. Americans need to realize that plus-size people are just as prevalent as (thin people). It is interesting that a size 12 is considered a plus size."
She is not alone.
An estimated two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, up from just less than half three decades ago, according to federal statistics.
Sales of plus-size clothing for adults and children in the United States reached nearly $76 billion in 2006 and are forecast to reach $107 billion by 2012, according to a study by Rockville, Md.-based market research firm Packaged Facts.
"A lot of designers are starting to be more conscious of the different sizes," said Marcella Anthony, marketing director at Valley Plaza. "Retailers have become more sensitive to the shapes of a varying sized population while still remaining profitable."
Valley Plaza has women's plus-size stores Lane Bryant and Torrid. In addition, the mall's department stores have some plus-size offerings, and Old Navy recently started selling plus-size clothing, Anthony said.
And it's not just clothing stores that have begun marketing to larger Americans.
Products ranging from larger or more sturdy wheelchairs, lawn chairs, furniture, toilet seats and even extra-large coffins have entered the market. But many of the items are difficult to find and available mostly through a handful of catalogs, online retailers and mom-and-pop stores.
A new catalog called LivingXL, launched in May by the parent company of Casual Male XL, the nation's largest chain of men's plus-size clothing and apparel stores, aims to fill some of that void. The products in the catalog range from seat belt extenders, sturdy hammocks and extra-large sleeping bags to oversized bicycle seats that can accommodate up to 500 pounds.
Some similar products are available locally, but finding a selection of the desired items in the correct size with a high enough weight rating can be difficult.
Sporting goods retailer Sports Chalet, which opened a store on Stockdale Highway in May, carries some larger sleeping bags, extra-large fishing waders, longer-shafted golf clubs and other gear.
"We offer a large range of sizes with custom fits," said Scott Hall, general manager of Sport Chalet's Bakersfield store.
Hall said Sport Chalet also has a special order program available for those wishing to order items such as a baseball jersey larger than 3XL.
Local bicycle shop Snider's Cyclery has some wider and more cushioned bicycle seats, owner Jim Snider said.
"If the person weighs over 200 pounds, the softer and wider seat will create a more comfortable ride," Snider said.
Snider's Cyclery also has sturdier frames and wheels and can set up the gears to make it easier to peddle. But Snider cautioned that riding and cornering a bicycle may be difficult for someone who weighs 400 or more pounds.
Simple tasks like driving a car, airline travel or eating at a restaurant can be a challenge for larger Americans.
Joe Shea said he has to buy two airline seats when he travels. Many car seat belts don't fit him and he struggles to fit into chairs with armrests at restaurants.
"It is frustrating being big," Shea said while shopping at the Casual Male XL store on Ming Avenue this week. "You see more and more big people around. I think stores are starting to catch on."
Department stores and discount stores also offer some clothing and products designed with larger individuals in mind, but don't cater to the demographic.
"We have extra-large sizes," said Randy Lemons, manager of the Target store on Rosedale Highway. "We try to offer to the masses. We try to have a selection for everybody."
Jason Ellis said he doesn't bother to shop for clothes at regular stores.
"They don't have it," Ellis said while shopping at Casual Male XL in Bakersfield this week. "I don't even try."
Michael Gonzales, who owns Michael's Big & Tall on Ming Avenue, said most stores don't carry much extra-large clothing because it is not cost effective.
"It's more expensive to carry big and tall merchandise because you have to carry more inventory," Gonzales said. "So normal shops may carry just a few extra sizes, maybe up to 2XL or 3XL. It's better for them to specialize on normal merchandise than to hope they get a couple big and tall customers."
Gonzales said business is booming at his shop, which has been in business for 25 years and carries sizes up to 6 tall and 8 big and accessories such as extra-long ties and belts.
Big and tall clothes have become much more fashionable recently with offerings from designers like Tommy Bahama and Sean John, Gonzales said.
He said many men are uncomfortable shopping for clothes because of their weight. Gonzales estimated as many as 70 percent of his business comes from women buying for men.
"If it wasn't for women there would be a lot of naked big and tall men in Bakersfield," he said.
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