- There are opportunities to launch or grow businesses across industries that serve people living with obesity, including in fashion, home furnishings, tools, travel and more.
- Companies interested in this market should take care to use people-first language and avoid fatphobic terminology.
- Businesses should seek to solve this demographic’s pain points without trying to “help” with weight loss.
- This article is for small business owners curious about selling products and services to people living with obesity or higher weight.
Until recently, men’s big-and-tall shops, small sections of women’s clothing stores and late-night infomercials were the only avenues for people living with a higher weight to find clothing, accessories and home furnishings that suited their needs. Today, however, more companies across more industries are launching and growing product lines specifically designed for people living with obesity. We rounded up seven success stories and compiled some dos and don’ts if you’d like to follow in their inclusive yet profitable footsteps.
Body-positive companies for people living with obesity
Body-positive companies serve an inclusive audience and many sell products or services that make the lives of people living with bigger bodies easier, more convenient and more enjoyable. The below businesses are great examples.
If you’re just beginning your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll want to make note of these mistakes to avoid when starting a business.
At 6 foot 3 inches and 300 pounds, Rico Elmore knows better than anyone the trouble of finding glasses that fit. The Indiana man became so frustrated with the process that he left his job in the automotive industry and founded Fatheadz Eyewear so he could sell appropriate-size varieties himself.
“I couldn’t find any eyewear that fit and I came to the realization that I couldn’t be the only one,” Elmore told Business News Daily.
The glasses — sized as wide, wider and widest — range between 5 7/8 inches and 6 5/8 inches wide. Elmore started the company with just a handful of styles in 2004. Today the company sells prescription eyewear, sunglasses, readers and active styles designed for different sports under a variety of brand names.
“I am literally watching our business grow every single day,” said Elmore.
The business owner said he hears daily from thrilled customers who say his glasses are the first to fit them in years.
“It’s pretty entertaining to hear some of the responses,” Elmore said. “They really appreciate it.”
2. ZIZE Bikes
ZIZE Bikes was founded in 2005 when Joan Denizot discovered that no one was making bicycles safe for a person of her size. After extensive research, she sought to create a bicycle shop “with bikes built exclusively for heavy riders.”
Today, ZIZE Bikes offers customers the option to shop by weight capacity (250 pounds, 300, 400 and 500), by rider height (with options for riders from 5 feet tall to over 6 feet 2 inches) or by use case (mountain, commuter, e-bike and more). The company also created a private Facebook group of 700-plus members named “Biking for Big People.” In this way, Denizot and her team not only provide a useful product for a demographic in need but also ongoing support and community. [Check out the benefits of using Facebook for your business.]
Bill Fabrey founded Amplestuff, a company that sells a wide range of products for plus-size people, after watching his wife struggle with everyday tasks because of her size.
“We thought there must be things that would make her life easier,” Fabrey told Business News Daily.
The company was launched in 1988 with the belief that everyone deserves the best possible life, no matter their size. One product they sell is an oversized clothes hanger that measures as much as 6 inches wider than the standard variety.
“Isn’t it silly that all these large clothes are made, but you couldn’t find anything to hang them on?” Fabrey asked.
Like the hangers, the online retailer offers a number of plus-size versions of items readily available to average-size people, such as fanny packs, socks and hospital gowns. The New York-based company also sells airline seatbelt extenders, long-handle body brushes for hard-to-reach spots, books and videos (think chair-dancing workout DVDs) designed specifically to solve the unique problems of larger people.
Fabrey anticipates the business will only grow as more people become aware of the specialty items.
“I constantly run into people who would benefit from our products, but they don’t know they even exist,” said Fabrey.
Amplestuff has received a great deal of positive feedback from people grateful for products that can make their daily lives easier.
“They like our attitude that we understand the hassles they have to go through,” Fabrey said.
4. BrylaneHome’s Plus Size Living
BrylaneHome’s Plus Size Living brand includes furniture, bedding, accessories and other products designed for larger people to enjoy the comforts of home and the outdoors. Items include extra-large rocking chairs that can hold up to 350 pounds, oversized bedspreads and full-body massage mats.
“With an ever-growing number of plus-size consumers, the demand for specialty products that cater to this emergent market segment has never been greater,” said David Milgrom, former senior vice president and general brand manager for BrylaneHome.
While launching a new business in tough economic times can be challenging, this is a good time to take advantage of a projected surge in consumer spending.
5. Big John Products
Big John Products offers toilet seats and accessories specifically for people living with obesity.
“Our products are ideal for the oversize market,” Scott Kramer, president of the California company, told Business News Daily.
At 19 inches wide, the Big John Toilet Seat is 5 inches larger than a standard seat and can hold more than 500 extra pounds.
Big John also offers specially designed supports for wall-mounted toilets that increase the weight capacity from the usual 350 pounds to more than 1,000 pounds.
The company has multiple customer groups, supplying business-to-business, business-to-consumer and business-to-government spaces. They work with home healthcare providers, long-term care, governments and retail customers, proving with more sales channels you can diversify your revenue streams.
Over the last several years, Big John has increased distribution all over the world, reaching customers in Europe, Australia and Canada, Kramer said. He equates the demand to the general population becoming more accepting of large people.
“Overweight is no longer niche,” he said. “It is quite mainstream.”
6. Goliath Casket
Forrest Davis, a longtime welder in a casket factory, started Goliath Casket in 1985 to ensure people living with obesity have respect in their final moments. A standard-sized coffin is 24 inches wide and 6 feet. Goliath Caskets were designed in multiple sizes, up to 52 inches wide and 8 feet long.
“He wanted to build something that was dignified and that would give the family some closure and honor,” Keith Davis, the founder’s son and former owner, said of his late dad. “He didn’t like to treat anyone with disrespect.”
Paragon Casket Inc. purchased the family-owned company in 2020. Paragon has expanded the Goliath brand to include multiple design styles and hardwoods to offer more options and choices to their customers.
7. The Underbelly
Inclusive wellness is at the core of Jessamyn Stanley’s Underbelly yoga classes. The Underbelly, a streaming wellness app co-founded by Stanley, is based on the belief that wellness is for everyone and celebrates inclusivity, curiosity, authenticity and learning. The digital platform is a home for both wellness enthusiasts and those curious about wellness but who haven’t seen themselves reflected in the health and fitness community.
Underbelly facilitates online yoga sessions and its website is filled with tips for people who may find certain poses challenging due to their body size. With more than 475,000 followers on Instagram, regular articles in SELF magazine and brand partnerships, Stanley’s success illustrates the growing supply and demand for authentic services built around self-acceptance.
Do’s and don’ts of marketing products for specific body types
When marketing products and services for specific body types, especially people of a larger size, it’s critical to keep the following dos and don’ts in mind.
Do use people-first language and body-positive imagery.
Use people-first language in all content. For example, the phrase “people living with obesity,” instead of “obese people,” reframes the statement and puts the focus on the person first and their weight second.
Feature models in your marketing and advertising that resonate with your target customers. Many global photography companies, like iStock and Getty, offer licenses of high-quality stock photos of body-positive individuals and people living with more weight. Also, check out smaller stock photo companies like Body Liberation Photos for marketing assets.
Do create products that solve problems.
You’ll want to develop products and services that solve a problem in the lives of customers living with obesity or more weight. To do that, you need to know who you are serving and serve them well by researching your ideal customer. Look for published research and consider conducting your own primary research through surveys and focus groups. Seek opportunities to shadow your ideal customer to learn more about their lifestyle and buying decisions.
Conceptualize products that would be simple for you to create and produce and that would solve one of the everyday “pain points” or annoyances for this demographic. We also recommend following influencers, brands and advocates in the body-positive space on social media. These influential public figures will help you learn more about your audience’s mindset — their nuances, needs and preferences.
Remember, your target customer isn’t everyone. Identifying your niche will help you cater your services to an audience willing to buy what you’re selling.
Don’t use offensive language.
Never use fatphobic, derogatory or offensive language to talk about body size in your marketing or within your company. Such negative sentiments will seep into your product design and customer service. People sense authenticity. If you don’t respect your audience, you won’t be able to serve them or make a profit. [Learn from these cringe marketing fails.]
Don’t try to ‘help’ with weight loss.
If you’re genuinely embracing body positivity, your business shouldn’t be about getting customers to shed pounds. Adopting a savior mentality — and suggesting that your product will “fix” people and that they can live a better life only after they lose weight — will alienate your customer base.
Much like fatphobic and biased language, creating a product to “fix” someone will highlight your lack of credibility and authenticity in this space. People don’t purchase products from companies they don’t trust, know or like. You can aim to improve customers’ lives without changing who they are.
Serving customers — and your business goals
Entrepreneurs and small business owners can find and create opportunities to grow their revenue while serving the needs of people living with obesity. People with bigger bodies or higher weights often have unmet desires and unserved interests. New products and services can fill those gaps while generating profits for the businesses behind them, provided you go to market with the right strategy.