The Plus-Size Supply and Demand Problem: 'Fatkini' Sells Out Instantly

Gabi Gregg's swimwear collaboration with Swimsuits For All was eagerly anticipated by the fashion blogger's thousands of fans. But order fulfillment and inventory issues have left would-be customers disappointed by cancelled orders. And, though many say Swimsuits For All was quick to charge their credit cards, the plus-size retailer has been slow in issuing refunds.

Gregg, long well-known in the fat-acceptance and plus-size fashion blogospheres, became famous after photos she posted of herself relaxing in a bikini — which she called her "fatkini" — went viral. That led to Today Show appearances and a gig writing a column for InStyle magazine. The Swimsuits For All collaboration was announced in April and the product images — shots of Gregg and other women modeling neon and galaxy-print bikinis and a jewel-print maillot with mesh panels, all looking very trippy and Spring Breakers — were covered positively by USAToday, Fashionista, Refinery29, the Daily Mail, XOJane, and MTV, among others. The neon and jewel-print suits were cute, but the real prize of the collection was obviously the galaxy bikini, modeled by Gregg herself. Who wouldn't want a swimsuit that looked like the universe?

The Plus-Size Supply and Demand Problem: 'Fatkini' Sells Out Instantly

All that press attention might have been too much for Swimsuits for All to handle: the galaxy-print bikini sold out within hours. Excitement on Twitter...

Yes, it is 2:30 am and I stayed up to buy a @gabifresh galaxy bikini: swimsuitsforall.com/Gabi-Galaxy-Bi… #plussize

— Chubble Bubble (@chubble_bubble) May 15, 2013

can't wait till this gets to my mailbox because I'm not ever gonna take it off ever swimsuitsforall.com/Gabi-Galaxy-Bi…

— lacey micallef (@fartpalace) May 16, 2013

Yay! The @gabifresh line of swimsuits is live! Snagged my galaxy bikini. MINE. swimsuitsforall.com/Gabi-Fresh-for…

— Sarah Nelson (@CelestialAxis) May 15, 2013

...quickly gave way to disappointment:

Le sigh. So much for saving up for the galaxy bikini.

— Paisley (@paisleypaisley) May 17, 2013

*cries real tears over galaxy bikini*

— Ally (@frushi) May 21, 2013

Gregg's Instagram and blog comments fields are full of dozens and dozens of comments from people who say they waited up to order the swimsuits as soon as they became available, that their credit cards were charged, and that they received order-confirmation emails from Swimsuits For All — only to be told days later that their orders would not be fulfilled. Several also say their payments were slow to be refunded.

The Plus-Size Supply and Demand Problem: 'Fatkini' Sells Out Instantly

Swimsuits For All told Gregg — who promptly informed customers via her blog — that it would not be making any more swimsuits because it took their supplier three months to make the current stock, and by the time a new round of suits would be ready, swimsuit season would be over. Gregg has apologized on her blog to those who never got their bikinis. Frankly, she's doing a much better job addressing Swimsuits For All's mistakes than the company itself.

This is clearly a public-relations disaster and an embarrassment for Swimsuits For All, which wasn't prepared for the wave of interest Gregg's designs elicited. As retail snafus go, it sort of sounds like the plus-size fashion world's version of the Target/Missoni debacle. In that case, heads rolled — the head of Target.com even resigned. Swimsuits For All should have made sure its inventory software and Web site infrastructure was up to the task of handling such an influx of orders, but mistakes happen. And when they do, it's important to explain what happened, apologize promptly to customers who were disappointed, and offer to do something nice for them in exchange — three things Swimsuits For All hasn't really done.

The good news is three other swimsuit styles Gregg designed are still available (in limited sizes). And if there's one takeaway from this whole episode, perhaps it's this: that the market for fashionable plus-size clothing and swimwear is so woefully underserved that people will go nuts for an exciting new offering. Whichever retailer figures this out first stands to make a lot of money.