Gertie and Carolyn have both recently weighed in on pattern sizing and ease issues. I think there are interesting points to explore as far as amounts of ease, size ranges and grading issues, the changing shape of North American consumers, and many other issues. But one reason I think the Big 4 in particular fail to meet the needs of their customers is that they sell patterns like they’re commodities, and the sewing market is not a commodity market – particularly now that sewing is a niche hobby.
Let’s face it; the sewing market will never be as big, per capita wise, as it was in the 50s. Selling a bunch of ‘general purpose’ patterns for a buck or two each is at best a recipe for slow decline. I suspect that both Simplicity and BMV are much more bare-bones operators than we might expect. I think indie pattern companies who seek to meet the needs of a niche market and who sell patterns at a higher cost per pattern are much more likely to succeed, particularly given the hugh influence of the Internet on the market these days. The only strategic advantages the Big 4 have anymore are their name recognition and their placement in chain fabric stores.
If the Big 4 could develop a few niche lines: petites/small sizes, something equivalent to the old half-size patterns (mature figure, but not necessarily plus-sized), and a few more along those lines, say, and update their ease amounts to join the 21st century, they could leverage their strategic advantages to stay around for another 100 years. Otherwise, I seriously doubt they’ll be anything more than a vestigial part of the market in a few years.