Rue21 Picks Up the Pace on Plus Sizes

David Moin
·4 min read

Rue21 is raising its aura of inclusivity by advancing plus sizes.

For girls and women of certain proportions, particularly the 15-to-25-year-old set that Rue21 caters to, it’s not easy to find stylish, on-trend clothes with the proper fits.

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But in the past 12 months, the 652-store Warrendale, Pa.-based specialty retailer added plus sizes to 130 stores, and to another 36 stores in the last two weeks, bringing the total number of Rue21 locations with plus sizes to 466. Rue21 plans to open 15 stores this year. Stores are primarily situated in small towns and mid-size cities.

The assortment is growing. The availability of plus screen-Ts has increased by over 20 percent compared to last year; active top assortments increased by nearly 30 percent, and active bottoms, including leggings, increased by 15 percent, according to the company.

In addition, “micro-collections” of screen graphics, tie-dyed dresses and jeans in expanded offerings have been added to Rue21’s plus-size collection. The retailer offers sizes XS-4X.

“Plus sizes represent the largest growing portion of our business, financially,” said Rue21’s chief merchandising officer Catherine Morisano. “We care about our customers and believe that our brand plays a key role in their life when it comes to promoting body positivity and inclusivity. This is part of Rue21’s DNA.

“We doubled down on the plus business segment, and recruited top talent to support our goals to give more trend-focused fashion options to our loyal customers, both in-store and online,” Morisano added.

The retailer’s plus-size business grew 50 percent in 2020 from 2019, though Morisano declined to specify the dollar volume in the business, noting the company is privately owned. In 2019, Rue21’s total volume was about $700 million.

The special-size marketplace in recent years has become increasingly competitive and vocal about inclusivity and body positivity. The days of plus sizes and petites being relegated to the far corners of department stores and a handful of mediocre specialty chains and catalogues have passed, with the rise of brands and retailers with modern, relevant images, such as Aerie, Universal Standard and Eloquii, while Target, J. Crew, Nike, and Athleta, among other fashion companies, continue to expand their size offerings. The QVC and HSN units of Qurate Retail have also advanced plus-size offerings.

At Rue21 last December, Candace Kearney, formerly with plus-size fashion retailer Torrid, joined the retailer to lead the plus-size business as well as dresses. It’s a new position whereby Kearney is also helping lead Rue21’s e-commerce teams reach more customers in those categories. Before Torrid, she worked at BeBe and Guess.

Asked if plus sizes will roll out to even more Rue21 locations, Morisano said, “Based on the metrics we feel confident with the expansion. But we may have more at the end of this year. Plus sizes has been part of our strategy over the last two years.”

She said plus sizes occupy anywhere from about 500 to 2,500 square feet of space, or 1,000 square feet on average, inside Rue21 stores, which vary in size but average 5,100 square feet. Some Rue21 stores have separate entrances right into the plus-size area. On the possibility of launching separate plus-size stores, Morisano said, “Not at this point.”

Morisano said some spring trends in plus sizes have already emerged, citing crop tops and open-back tops, indicating customers want to show some skin with the onset of spring. The tie-dye “scarf” top sold out last month.

“It’s all about the proportion play. Crop tops and wide-legged or flair bottoms are kind of the uniform,” said Morisano.

She also cited crochet dresses and maxi dresses, activewear and bucket hats as best-sellers so far this season, and said there is a consistency in the offering, from regular to plus sizes. “We do a lot of work on the fit to insure it’s appropriate for larger sizes. We try to keep the trends consistent across the two ranges.”

She’s expecting an “explosive” back-to-school season, with many students returning to the classroom this fall, for the first time in about a year and a half.

“We will be dropping some fabulous capsule collections over the summer,” said Morisano. “Definitely, there are new trends emerging for back-to-school in denim, and we’ll have some new items in activewear.”

Although on board at Rue21 for only four months, Kearney is credited with quickly ramping up the store’s product assortment architecture. “For us, it’s more than reaching our goal of having an inclusive shopping experience in every store,” said Kearney. “It’s about giving all girls the opportunity to decide what story they want to tell and be able to shop for the same on-trend fashion together.”

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