I’ve walked into Old Navy’s Herald Square location in New York City more times than I could count over the last several years. But when I walked into the same location on Aug. 18, 2021, things looked and felt a bit different. More inventory filled the racks that seemed to multiple the further you went into the store. Dotted throughout were mannequins with bigger busts and stomachs. The energy itself was new; I wasn’t tense, but calm. Signage posted throughout the store signaled to shoppers a long-awaited change to the Old Navy experience they may have been used to: Old Navy’s BODEQUALITY Initiative, after years of planning, is here to revolutionize the way customers shop with the brand and, hopefully, to kickstart similar initiatives for more big-box brands.
The BODEQUALITY Initiative brings a level of size-inclusivity to Old Navy’s women’s offerings that’s unprecedented for the brand. Moving forward, all Old Navy women’s offerings online will be available in sizes XS to 4X and sizes 0 to 30 for numerical sizes, all at price parity, meaning the larger sizes won’t cost more. Models showcasing merchandise fits in sizes 4, 12, and 18 will be featured across the online assortment, and shoppers can choose to default to a certain model size to display as they shop. Physical locations will carry sizes XS to 4X and numerical sizes 0 to 28, also at price parity, and feature mannequins in sizes 4, 12, and 18 throughout, too. All sizes will be displayed together in Old Navy locations, as opposed to sectioned off extended sizes. The brand attributes the choice to stop at size 28 in stores to the lack of demand for size 30 clothing, but it’s willing to reverse that choice should demand change.
When I walk into the Old Navy store to see BODEQUALITY in real life, I meet with Alison Partridge Stickney, head of women’s and maternity merchandising at Old Navy, who almost considers this project one of her children given how long she and her team have worked to bring this initiative to life. “About three years ago, [Old Navy’s] then President and current GAP Inc CEO Sonia Syngal started having conversations with me about how we can make our Women’s Plus offering better — and we knew we had a huge opportunity. More than half of women in America wear plus sizes and yet they do not have fashion choices,” Stickney tells Elite Daily over email. “So we began to ask ourselves, ‘Why haven’t we cracked the code on this? What aren’t we doing right?’ That’s where the journey began. And we knew this would be a long journey to get this right. It’s about doing things right versus doing them right now.”
To do things right, Old Navy started with the Plus customer themselves. Stickney says she and her Old Navy team engaged directly with plus-size shoppers in “their homes, their closets, and joined them for shop-a-longs at their favorite stores” to glean a deeper understanding of their concerns, challenges, frustrations, appreciations, and more. As Stickney and I tour the store, she tells me about one shop-a-long with a plus-size woman that stuck with her. With only a limited amount of stores she could shop at in the enormous mall they visited, the woman took Stickney to a store she normally felt comfortable in... only to find the brand had moved all the plus-size options to the back of the store.
Another plus-size woman, Stickney says, expressed during a separate shopping trip that she, as a mother, wanted to be able to shop with her straight-size, teenage daughter but couldn’t because of the scarcity of extended sizes. For Stickney, these experiences and more only affirmed the brand’s mission. “One of the most consistent things we heard from women is that no one wants to feel ‘other,’” she says. “She wants an equitable shopping experience where she feels safe and welcome and has choice to enjoy all fashions. She gave us the motivation to start this fashion revolution.”
Of course, plus-size shoppers know all too well the dangers of plus clothing that isn’t well researched. We’ve been burned by brands rapidly producing extended sizes but being lazy with proportions and leaving us with ill-fitting sheaths and sacks that are too long, too short, too loose in some areas, and too tight in others. For this reason, more empirical data was paramount for the brand. “We obsessed over every single measurement, evaluating over 389 3D digital models of real women to perfect our fits on real bodies,” says Stickney. “One of the biggest differences in our new fit is comfort. It seems obvious but fitting clothing on real plus-size bodies allows us to make more proportional adjustments as we size up.”
For this huge undertaking, Old Navy tapped Dr. Susan Sokolowski, a fit activist and professor at the University of Oregon, to help nail the proportions of different sizes accurately — something it seems very few brands, save for luxury plus-size fashion brand Pari Passu, have followed through with. “Many apparel companies ... are taking that fit model — typically an hourglass shape — and scaling their sizes up from those proportions. We commissioned and examined 3D digital scans of real plus-size women to better understand variations in body shapes,” says Sokolowski. “In our research, we found that the hourglass shape is actually not representative of the majority of women size 20 and above. The dominant shape is more of an oval, diamond, or triangle shape, and the industry practice of grading up from a smaller size doesn’t create the best fit.”
With the 389 body scans, the team created digital avatars and conducted fit clinics with women ranging from size 20 to size 28. Even details like pocket placements, hemline lengths, where a pant starts to taper, and other customer concerns were reexamined from top to bottom. “We paid particular attention to our customers’ feedback about adding movement and increasing comfort in our clothing,” says Janette Cox, Old Navy’s senior director of technical design and product quality, or the smaller considerations. “On our bottoms, we relaxed the waist to give the perfect amount of ease as the body fluctuates throughout the day and updated the waistband pitch so your jeans don’t gap. On our tops, we increased movement of the arms and shoulders to reduce pulling across the back of the shirt.”
Positive response from Old Navy shoppers has already begun pouring in, according to Stickney. The brand soft-launched the added sizes online prior to the official announcement, and customers certainly noticed, commenting back and forth with other customers in excitement and disbelief. Now, all Old Navy stores will integrate the full BODEQUALITY size range by Aug. 20.
Plus-size fashion has failed its own consumers many times over the years with ill-fitting silhouettes, lack of stylish options, or abandoning plus-size shoppers entirely. But Old Navy’s BODEQUALITY is a notable jump forward — a milestone and a first step all in one. “We see this BODEQUALITY launch as just the beginning,” says Stickney, “and will continue delivering on democracy of style.”