Women Wear Daily (February 17, 2000)
THE ASIAN BOOM by Clare McLean
"If I had to go by what I've seen in the store, I'd say about 50% or more (of Asian customers) are petites." -Manny Fernandez J.C. Penney
As manufacturers and retailers consider certain demographic groups to target, they should consider this: Asian-Americans' spending power has increased 102% in the past decade, faster than any other ethnic group, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth. In addition, the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM reports that 67% of Asian-American women like or love to shop, compared to 61% of all other women.
But the fashion industry has not stepped up to this huge marketing opportunity, say many female Asian-American consumers. The industry should play a quick game of catch- up, because this group gets bigger every year: the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the Asian-American population will nearly double to 23 million by 2020.
Asian-American women have two main complaints with the fashion industry. One, the lack of attractive, well-fitting clothing and two, a dearth of advertising and marketing messages that accurately reflect the number of Asian-American women in the U.S. population.
Although no precise industry figures are available, Manny Fernandez, manager of multicultural marketing at J.C. Penney, says, "If I had to go by what I see in the store, I'd say about 50% or more [of Asian customers] are petites." The industry standard for petites is 5' 4" and under.
Many Asians have long torsos and short legs, which spells disaster in the fitting room, remarks Lei Ann, a Japanese-American fashion writer based in Seattle. "I find that even petite items are still too long in the sleeves, but my shoulders are too big. And I more often end up buying regular size pants, and then tailor them."
Wendy, a Chinese-American intimate apparel marketer in New York City, has similar problems."The rise is never long enough and sleeves and shoulders are too small. I just donÍt buy petite jackets or pants. I'd rather buy a regular size 2 and spend the money to have it tailored."
In addition to be being petite, many Asian-Americans wear smaller sizes. Forty-nine percent of Asian-American women wear pants sized 0-6, compared to 19% of the rest of the population, reports the Monitor. Only 16% of Asian-Americans wear a size 12 or above, compared to nearly half - 43% - of all other women.
Many consumers complain that petite clothing often falls into one of two inappropriate categories: "It's either for gray-haired little old ladies or for really tiny junior people who want tight clothes," laments Lei Ann. "I don't want to look too cutesy. I just want a scaled-down version of what's out there in "normal" sizes." She likes Federated's I.N.C. petite collection because it "does a really good job of taking 'regular people' clothes and scaling them smaller. And they donÍt over embellish. The styles are fairly basic and modern. ThatÍs what IÍm looking for."
Wena Poon, a Chinese fashion and beauty writer for Jade (www.jademagazine.com), an on-line magazine aimed at English-speaking Asian women around the world, points out that 50% of women in the U.S. are 5' 4" and under, regardless of ethnic background. "So that means 50% of women are petite. Retailers haven't woken up to the fact that demographics are so skewed toward the petite direction in general."
Wena also has a bone to pick with how stores merchandise petite clothing."The selection is very limited and they use full-size mannequins lopped off at the knee. It makes me think that theyÍre not very sensitive or serious about 50% of the population."
J.C. Penney is one of the few companies that vigorously addresses both petite fit needs and the Asian population. Virtually all of the women's items in its "Big Book" catalog are available in petite sizes, and its "Primarily Petites" catalog features a number of Asian models.
J.C. Penney's advertising and marketing imagery reflect the country's cultural diversity, including the vast Asian population. "When you look at our insertions in papers, you see that we try to be as representative as possible of the [ethnic] landscape," Fernandez says.
Some Asian women are heartened by what they say is an increased number of Asian models in advertising and fashion magazines, while others still feel that advertisers and marketers have a long way to go.
They give a thumbs-up to some companies for their inclusion of Asian faces in their advertising: Banana Republic, Ellen Tracy, J.Jill, Kenneth Cole and Prada. But they are pained by the lack of Asian representation in ads for companies which have a sizable Asian-American following: Anne Taylor, Bebe and Ralph Lauren.
Wendy believes "things are absolutely different from five years ago," and cites seeing "a lot more Asian models in magazines." Lei Ann says, "I don't think that it's pandering if Asian models are used - I just think it's realistic. But if they aren't, I think, 'What's the matter? Don't they think Asian women would wear that? Do they think that we can't afford it?' It especially bothers me if there are a number of women in a spread and none of them are Asian."
The fashion industry could learn a few lessons from the beauty industry. Poon says that some cosmetics companies are on track with their marketing to Asian-American women. She cites Zhen (www.zhen.inc), a cosmetics company for women with "yellow undertones" to their skin, as a great example. She also applauds the Bobbi Brown Web site (www.bobbibrowncosmetics.com) for the ethnic diversity of its models and its "Looks & Tips" section for Asian, African-American and Latina women.
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