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Curating for Transgender Customers: How 5 Retailers Size Up

If I were to rank the need for retailers to address the demands of the transgender community, I would give it an 11.

That’s the hot figure that arose during a recent shoe-shopping trip with my daughter, who wears a size 11. There among the limited stacks of shoes in her size, and her exasperated claims of what a chore shoe shopping had become, we overheard a conversation between two transgender women. They were trying on several of the same pairs of shoes, and were quite happy by the choices. My daughter’s limited selection represented, to them, expanding opportunities in the human experience.

Transgdender_BAPForbesThese opportunities should continue. The Institute for Transgender Economic Advancement estimates 1% of the population, or 3.2 million people, is transgender. That’s slightly smaller than the population of Connecticut, and larger than that of Puerto Rico. However, while it is a small percentage of the total U.S. population, the figure will likely increase as more people accept transgender men and women as part of our community.

Included in that acceptance will be retailers, and the sooner they recognize the importance of their role serving this market group, the greater will be their long-term benefits.

A niche is more than a pet project

I’ve written in this space before about the potential for merchants to increase sales and foster loyalty through data use that goes beyond typical demographics. By mixing behavioral analytics that indicate activities and interests as well as purchasing preferences, retailers can understand the why behind customer actions and parlay that into fodder for creative segmenting. They can identify select groups of shoppers, even within the transgender community, who should be catered to in different ways.

Put another way, while the customer may prefer wearing heels sometimes, she also could be an avid basketball player and hunter.

If there ever was an event that underscored retail’s need to meet the demands of niched market segments, the transgender community represents it. And we should not let size fool us, because even the smallest of markets can be lucrative. Case in point: The U.S. sale of organic foods rose 3,400 percent from 1990 to 2014, to $35 billion, representing the fastest-growing lifestyle trend, according to Food Safety News.

Trailblazers in transgender retail

The transgender community can represent equal opportunity for retailers, and a number of merchants and major designers are recognizing this. It may be a little while before transgender merchandising is displayed prominently in small-town department stores, but let’s hope not. Meantime, mainline merchants can take some lessons from these transgender trailblazers:

Chrysalis Lingerie: This lingerie brand was created specifically to address the tastes and needs of transgender women through a combination of luxury and functionality. Here Chrysalis has made the important decision to not sacrifice practicality at the cost of pretty. The garments are both, because their wearers require and want both. Being a niche market does not mean one should compromise on style or performance.

Make Up For Ever: The professional  cosmetics retailer does not market specifically to transgender men and women, but it has hired transgender model Andreja Pejic to be its face, making it among the first major beauty campaigns fronted by a transgender model. By doing this, Make Up For Ever makes clear it understands the many differences in who its customers are and who they aspire to be, and it serves them.

Girls Will Be: This custom-design online shop dubs itself “Your headquarters for girl clothes without the girly.” The fit runs between tight and boxy and the imagery breaks stereotypes, providing young girls a choice between flowery outfits that do not appeal and boys’ outfits that may not fit right. Though not specifically designed for transgender children, the site is clear in its goal to empower young girls to just be who they are.

 Nik Kacy: This online footwear merchant, named for founder and designer Nik Kacy, offers beautifully made and classically styled shoes that come in sizes that fit those who want masculine shoes but do not fall within the industry standards in size. Nik Kacy is expanding into women’s shoes as well. Its slogan, “Walk your way,” challenges the norm of the shoe industry, and will likely launch new forms of sole searching.

Macy’s: The grand lady of department stores has achieved the status of trans-friendly because it puts buyers in the aisles to hear firsthand what its shoppers want. This was illustrated years ago when CEO Terry Lundgren explained how Macy’s buyers in Chicago learned the stores there did not carry enough size 11 women’s shoes to meet demand. Buyers on the ground responded with complete displays of size 11 shoes, in 20 styles, which sold six and seven pair at a time. Macy’s might not have questioned who the buyers were, but it clearly found a niche.

Had my daughter and I been shopping in Chicago instead of New York, she may have had better luck shoe shopping. But we did both luck out in a valuable lesson: Expanding opportunities to enrich human experiences often exist right before our eyes. We just need to see them through the eyes of others.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.

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