Colossal hopes on 'bear' market

Colossal Clothing model

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: Here's a staggering figure. The percentage of American adults who are overweight -- 66 percent. Think about that. Fully two-thirds of us are in the market for bigger everything. In menswear alone the "big and tall" market is worth $5 billion and, shall we say, growing everyday.

Marketplace's Jennifer Collins takes a look at a company that's trying to tackle this big market through some unlikely characters.


JENNIFER COLLINS: Dave Friedman is your average Californian. He's got a house, a baby, a dog named Moxie, oh and one more thing -- he's put on a few pounds since college. For guys like him, stores sell Hawaiian shirts, T-shirts that could double as rain tarps and . . .

DAVE FRIEDMAN: What we call "Sopranos wear" -- the standard three vertical stripes. You know there's a reason why that makes sense, because vertical stripes do tend to be a little slimming, but the problem is the style hasn't changed since somebody figured that out forty years ago.

So Friedman teamed up with a designer to start his own line of clothing -- Colossal, and for production they contract manufacturer and retailer American Apparel. Friedman says he likes American Apparel's cache as a trendy upstart, and that helps as he's trying to find buyers for his line. Colossal has already landed a deal with the National Football League Alumni. Still, building buzz in a niche market is tough.

FRIEDMAN: Typically big guys don't necessarily hang out together. They're not easy to target. You need people who congregate, and that's when it occurred to us. You know what? Gay big men do.

May I introduce the Bears?

STEVO HARRIS: Okay guys. Say Grr.

BEARS: Grr.

The Bears are a subset of the gay community known for their flannel, their scruffy beards and the size of their waist lines. Stevo Harris is doing a photo shoot for "A Bear's Life Magazine."

HARRIS: Ok, here we go, big smiles.

The storyline for this centerfold: just three bears wearing Colossal having breakfast.

HARRIS: Being comfortable enough to be in your underwear.

Don't get too excited. "A Bear's Life" is only slight more risque than "O Magazine."

HARRIS: I call it Oprah with fur.

Stevo Harris is also the publisher of "A Bear's Life." Colossal is making the magazine a cornerstone of its marketing strategy. It's taken out ads, and images from today's shoot will appear as a spread in the March issue, but most advertisers have been slow to discover the 1.4 million bears in America.

BILL DEVINE: We're not looked at necessarily as being big purchasers.

Bill Devine is a bear in Minneapolis. He says he sometimes has trouble finding clothes that flatter a belly he calls "rotund."

DEVINE: After a while you get to the point where you just don't want to go shopping. You literally go in going, "Ok, this will fit. This will fit. I don't care."

Analysts say retailers have been banking for too long on that "I don't care" attitude. Some clothing labels have deliberately strayed from producing bigger sizes -- preferring only to have skinny people wear their clothes.

DEVINE: It's frustrating. It's frustrating to be kind of overlooked as a market, because in regards to I guess our disposable income, I would think that we would have just as much of it.

And they do. Bears have an average household income of $90,000 a year, and Devine says they're willing to pay more for quality. Marshall Cohen, a marketing analyst with the NPD group, says as Americans expand retailers ought to start thinking big. He says the bears are a good place to start.

MARSHALL COHEN: The most vocal consumer is the gay community within the male apparel industry.

In other words, bears talk, and Colossal hopes they keep on talking.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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