As an overseas lolita, it’s difficult to understand how or why Japanese lolita brands make certain decisions. One question asked frequently since the inception of the EGL community is “why don’t Japanese brands make plus size lolita clothing?” The larger lolita brands like Baby, the Stars Shine Bright tried producing plus size pieces in the past and failed. Smaller brands like MAXICIMAM still continue to produce plus sizing, but within a very limited quantity.
Within the last 5 years, Japanese brands Metamorphose and Atelier Pierrot both forayed into plus size production. While we don’t know much about why Metamorphose started, Atelier Pierrot’s international brand manager Connie shared his insights working for a Japanese lolita brand to Rufflechat, the main hub of English-speaking lolita’s discussion, on July 18, 2023. Connie discussed the process of producing plus size garments, purchase statistics, and differences in Japanese vs. overseas buying habits in a lengthy deep dive.
The Douceur Cutsew was released in sizes 1, 2, and 3.
The Bustle Corset JSK was released in sizes 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Japanese brands’ manufacturing processes are usually quite mysterious and I think there are lots of misconceptions overseas, especially when it comes to plus size releases.
Although there’s some points I can’t go into too much detail for, as the person leading the plus size releases for a Japanese brand (Atelier Pierrot) I have done a lot of research and have a lot of stats to facilitate the development of these releases.
General release size for lolita pieces
The first thing to understand is that Japanese lolita brands are all small businesses. They are not huge companies making 1000 of each dress. Typically, even the “big” brands are making 200-300 of each release, across all colorways. Popular releases will sometimes be larger scale.
Angelic Pretty is an exception, but their manufacturing process is very different and they’re generally an anomaly in lolita, but still a small business that is at risk if just one of their releases is enough of a flop. Angelic Pretty has also said that they have no interest in doing plus size releases, and they have a sufficiently large market in China currently that they don’t need to take the financial risk of starting plus size.
The market size of plus size lolitas
Within this general market, the plus size market is actually incredibly small, and most overseas lolitas completely overestimate the size.
For reference, in Japan Bust 100cm, Waist 80cm would be considered L/XL. Anything above this is definitely plus size. Remember that when a Japanese brand uses the term “plus size,” they are likely to be referring to Japanese plus size which makes up the majority of their market.
For releases that have a plus size version, the plus size sales make up about 15-30% of all sales. Typically, it’s 22-25%. This is the same for both Metamorphose and Atelier Pierrot, with overall sales numbers being comparative.
Say there’s 300 items across colorways for a release (Metamorphose’s “regular” size and Atelier Pierrot’s Size 1). Proportionally, it might have 75-100 items for all plus size pieces, across all sizes.
I’ve tried to show these ratios with the graph shared on this main post, but have not said the exact sales numbers. It’s worth noting that the Douceur Cutsew had a particularly good sales ratio for plus size, and the Bustle Corset JSK is currently in progress, ending 7/21. The number of plus size sales will increase a little until then, but so will the Size 1.
Doing small-size runs (less than 50 pieces per size) is incredibly costly, which I’ll go into more detail for later.
Differences in Japanese vs. overseas buying practices
Although of course they still buy some items secondhand, Japanese lolitas are far more likely to buy new and support the brands they love. However, most overseas lolitas tend to buy secondhand, or very rarely new direct from Japanese brands even for accessories.
This obviously doesn’t mesh well with the plus size manufacturing system which has to be made-to-order due to the small market and risks of production.
Generally, when Japanese customers request an item be re-released/made in a new color, etc., typically 80% of people requesting will actually purchase. When overseas lolitas make item requests, typically 30% will purchase. This obviously has a huge impact on each market’s buying power, and is something that has to be considered when releasing items.
The influence of overseas customers is much less strong/reliable. However, the plus size market is largely overseas, making up about 80-95% of plus size purchases, regardless of brand. As you can imagine, this combined with the lower amount of overseas customers buying new means that the actual demand for plus size releases is very small. Actual demand being people who actually buy the items, not just a desire to have them made.
Actual demand for plus size
As you might have noticed, Metamorphose has stopped doing their Plus Plus size releases due to insufficient demand. Atelier Pierrot plus size releases, especially size 3 and 4, are currently under review, based on previous plus size sales.
I am really pushing to find solutions to continue plus size releases, but short of putting the manufacturer or brand at risk, there’s very little extra that me or Atelier Pierrot can do.
Japanese brands absolutely should not put themselves at financial risk for any release just for the sake of it being made, especially if there’s insufficient support.
In general, the solution is that customers who want to see more of certain releases should support these releases by purchasing new, especially for plus size where the Japanese market cannot be relied on to bolster the sales. This is actually how I’ve been able to propose more purple releases with Atelier Pierrot recently! Purple is relatively popular in Japan, but people really love it overseas!
If people don’t order plus size items new, they simply will not be manufactured.
It’s very unlikely to find the size that you’d need secondhand, especially in the colorway you like best, if only a small amount were ordered in the first place.
General manufacturing process and costs for lolita fashion
During the manufacturing process, the item is first designed (and print, if applicable), fabric, trim and colorways are chosen, measurements/pattern is modeled and decided. A sample is made using the real fabric, to determine how it drapes etc. Adjustments are made to the sample and if necessary another sample is made. Brands will typically try to avoid making the second sample wherever possible because it’s very expensive, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Then, the pricing is determined and if it’s a general release the number of each item to be released is decided. Colorways are released in different numbers based on demand. As a gothic brand, Atelier Pierrot produces more of the black colorway of each item.
The price is determined by the overhead manufacturing costs, material/trim costs, pattern making, shipping of materials/products, among other things.
The sample commission and pattern cutting are the most costly parts of item development. Designers really don’t make much at all and work long hours. For many of the “big” brands it still works out as approximately minimum wage, which is about 1000 yen per hour in Japan.
If the main designer is also the brand owner (e.g Atelier Pierrot, Sheglit), of course they make more money but they still aren’t millionaires by any stretch of the imagination.
Lolita is a passion project for many of the people involved, which is why brands may just stop if people get burnt out/lose that passion like what happened to Atelier Boz.
Manufacturing process and costs for plus size manufacturing
Plus size releases follow this same general process. However, multiple sizing means that multiple samples must be made. Samples must be made in all colors and all sizes to make sure that they come out as expected. For reference, the current Atelier Pierrot Bustle Corset JSK samples were:
- Size 2 – black x white, purple
- Size 3 – navy, bordeaux
- Size 4 – purple, black
These additional samples add a huge amount of cost. Usually it’s 200-300k yen for main piece samples in each size, but this varies. If an item is re-released in the same fabric, another sample wouldn’t be necessary. Items released in another fabric would need another sample.
Having small runs of less than 50 of each Plus Size sizing increases the cost per item.
Another additional cost is adjusting the patterns to fit plus size bodies. Atelier Pierrot adjusts all measurements (shoulder width, arm circumference, arm scye, bodice length, skirt circumference etc), not just bust and waist. Most Japanese brands and manufactures aren’t familiar with how to adjust patterns for plus sizing (especially Western plus size), so this stage often has to be outsourced, which is more costly. As time goes on, the measurement range would become more familiar and require less work/lower costs each time (which could be passed onto the customers). However, this could only happen with long term plus size production.
However, plus size dresses are always going to cost more than the size 1 to manufacture. I’m sure a lot of people are aware that the material cost is significantly higher. If a waist circumference is 20cm larger, to have proportional gathering it usually requires ~60cm extra fabric. Adding gathered chiffon on top means an additional 180cm of fabric. These material costs quickly add up.
A cost that many people aren’t aware of is the “pattern cutting cost.” Most Size 1 lolita releases fit on a single pattern sheet to be cut out onto fabric by the manufacturer. However, plus size releases have larger measurements and usually require two or more pattern sheets (for main pieces). This is paid by sheet, meaning that this stage of the manufacturing process costs 2-3x as much as Size 1 for every single item made.
To avoid these additional costs raising the price of plus size pieces too much, Atelier Pierrot absorbs a lot of these extra costs. However, this of course means that the profit margin is much lower despite all the extra difficulties/hard work involved, which is a strain for a small business (which all lolita brands are).
Atelier Pierrot’s Size 1 and Plus Size Blooming Rose Corsets were the same price because we just absorbed all extra costs. The Douceur Cutsew had less than 1,000 yen price difference due to much higher manufacturing costs, but most was still absorbed. The Bustle Corset JSK has a larger price difference because it’s an incredibly expensive piece to produce (difference in volume of fabric due to all the ruffles, requires 2-3 pattern sheets to be cut, more QC costs, etc.), but Atelier Pierrot is still trying to absorb as much of the costs as possible.
We absolutely will not force the plus size manufacturer to absorb these extra costs because we do not want to put them at risk of closing.
If Japanese brands were to spread these extra plus size costs to the Size 1/”Regular” size, it would alienate the Japanese market and greatly affect sales, which is really not possible when Japanese customers still make up the vast majority of customers
Quality control issues
It can be hard to find manufacturers that are capable of making lolita pieces. Lolita fashion is much harder to make than regular fashion pieces since it has lots of unique details and construction techniques. Brands really try to hold onto long term partnerships with specific manufacturers to minimize mistakes, but they still sometimes happen.
A common mistake is the skirt circumference, especially the lining. Often times, the manufacturer can’t believe that there would be so much volume to the skirt and make a mistake with the measurement. This is often at the initial sampling stage, but sometimes it’s the occasional stock item and caught during the Quality Control stage.
Whenever possible, these are returned and corrected to minimize waste. If it’s not possible to correct something, they may be sold as B-grade items.
Atelier Pierrot works with a few different manufacturers for different types of items. For the one of the main manufacturers, we’ve been working with them for more than 30 years and they have a very good understanding of our designs, but mistakes are occasionally made still.
Manufacture in China usually has a much higher number of mistakes/QC issues, so although it’s cheaper than Japanese manufacture it involves a lot more QC, and sometimes expensive/time consuming shipping back to be fixed.
These problems are all exacerbated by adding plus size releases. Manufacturers are unfamiliar with the larger measurements and more likely to get confused/make mistakes. It’s more common to have mixed measurements (e.g. the bust is Size 3 but the hem circumference is Size 2). This adds a much longer QC period to make sure defective items aren’t sent to customers, which is also costly in terms of labor.
This is why it’s so vital that Atelier Pierrot works to support the manufacturer capable of doing plus size releases without adding additional financial strain to them. We really really want the manufacturer to be able to continue making plus size pieces.
Financial risks for brands and manufacturers
Metamorphose almost became bankrupt when they started doing plus size releases and their current manufacturing system is not really sustainable or ideal for the future of plus size releases. Often doing plus size releases is a huge financial risk both for manufacturers and the brand involved.
As mentioned before, manufacturers that can do plus size are very rare in Japan. If one of the very few places that can do plus size closes down, it is highly unlikely it reopen. The current manufacturer in Japan that can do plus size pieces is currently in a very weak financial position due to a former contract with a non-lolita brand doing plus size. If it is forced to close, it’ll be a huge blow to plus size availability in Japan (again, not just lolita).
I hope it was helpful and informs why Japanese brands make some of the decisions they do.
This was not intended to be a depressing post. Recently, I’d just had lots of people asking questions about the plus size release that really surprised me and made me aware of the number of misconceptions regarding Japanese brand manufacturing. I think it’s very easy to forget how small Japanese brands are, and how dependent they are on direct customer support.
It’s absolutely a frustrating situation, both for Japanese brands and plus sized individuals. I’m sure it must be very upsetting to hear a list of reasons why catering to plus size bodies is difficult.
This is something that will take time to change with the current infrastructure in Japan. But! It’s something that CAN change with proper investment!
I’m still hoping to be able to continue plus size pieces at least at the pace that we’re doing them, if not more! I’m looking for solutions that’ll help facilitate that without putting strain on Atelier Pierrot or on the manufacturer, though I’m not sure what these could be.
Maybe it’s overly simplistic, but almost ten years ago a plus size friend dejectedly commented that she wished she could fit lolita pieces, and that really saddened me and stayed in my mind.
I love Atelier Pierrot, and I really want all the people I care about to be able to share that love. In my job, I have the ability to make those changes within Atelier Pierrot and potentially other brands stocked by Atelier Pierrot (as long as I’m not encouraging them to do anything financially risky, which unfortunately it still is).
I absolutely don’t want people to put themselves in a risky financial situation for the sake of a dress – this goes equally for both customers and for Atelier Pierrot, so I have to be careful when advising them. Even more, I don’t want people feeling pressured into buying an item they don’t love, and anyone who has done the Atelier Pierrot Private Shopping sessions with me knows that. Remember, I’m also one of the people working out of passion for a Japanese brand, making less than minimum wage when all the extra hours I put in are calculated (officially working 9-6pm, though usually working until after midnight in the last few months for this plus size release). I know not everyone has the money to spare, but I do urge people to support a Japanese brand release they want to see more of whenever it is financially possible to do so.
I understand how important it is to be able to see the fit of an item before committing to a purchase, especially when it comes to plus size items, which is why I’ve worked hard towards having Bia (the Atelier Pierrot plus size model) as well as showcasing items at overseas events/fashion shows.
Based on the current number of orders for the Plus Size Bustle Corset JSK, I have submitted the request for the ready stock for this release to the manufacturer.
To try to allow people more time to see the work put into making sure this release is flattering on plus size bodies when the pre-order items are received, I’ve encouraged Atelier Pierrot to produce a higher percentage of extras than usual. I really really hope that people will support these extras and allow us to do this more often!
Just as a separate point of interest, here’s the current spread of color orders. There’s two hours left so this may change slightly.
Japan vs. Overseas Lolita Culture
Across overseas lolitas of all sizes, people are less inclined than Japanese lolitas to buy new. Being able to shop and see items in person is a factor, but a significant enough portion of the Japanese customers live outside of cities with the items and also buy online.
I think the ordering attitudes is partially due to differences in Lolita culture. Early lolita was incredibly difficult to get new overseas; people were encouraged to buy secondhand. Also partially because Japanese lolitas are more aware of the small size of brands and the importance of investing in them.
During the pandemic when Metamorphose, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, Atelier Pierrot, and Innocent World said they were struggling/at risk of closing, many Japanese lolitas rallied together to support brands, even if they could only do so in a tiny way.
For overseas customers as a whole, I think plus size individuals are equally likely as size 1 to buy secondhand rather than new. However, the plus size market is overwhelmingly represented by overseas lolitas as you can see in the graph on this post. Metamorphose releases are also very similar figures. This means that plus size releases are even more reliant on overseas investment, and even more affected by overseas buying practices.
There’s nothing wrong at all with buying secondhand or from Taobao (I also do!), but I think it’s sometimes necessary for people to consider prioritizing investing in the items they want to see more of rather than a larger quantity of items.
As you can see, the plus size market is really not big at all, and on top of that it’s financially risky for lolita brands to get involved with.
Atelier Pierrot (and mostly me as the person in charge) are working really hard to try to make releases more accessible, but it is done out of passion for lolita and not because it’s a lucrative market. If there is sufficient support, over time it may become easier to release plus size items more often, and with very little/no price difference. This is my goal!
However, this is a goal that is entirely dependent on overseas customer support.
Buying new from lolita brands is the best way to show the brand where the market might exist and encourage more of the items you want to see. Supporting Atelier Pierrot plus size releases will also allow us to in turn support the plus size manufacturer and hopefully allow them to continue making plus size pieces, not only lolita, into the future.
Even though this is a hugely long explanation, I’ve still barely covered the basics. I hope it was still informative for people!
This post was originally posted in Rufflechat, a private Facebook group, by Connie of Atelier Pierrot. Re-uploaded with permission. Minor edits have been made to the text for site readability.