Blog Post

Size Inclusion: The Miami Heat, Customer-Centric DEI, and the Customer of the Future

By Michael Nicholson
June 14, 2024

Engaging the Customer of the Future

Rapidly evolving consumer needs, demographics, and preferences present both challenges and opportunities for all businesses. Today’s changing customers expect increasingly personalized and customized experiences tied to brands aligned with their values.

Truly understanding your diverse customers involves integrating best practices for customer-centric DEI across your organization to create a more inclusive ecosystem directly impacting your customer experience and bottom line.

As Clara Stroude-Vazquez, Chief of Culture and Inclusion at the Miami Heat NBA basketball team puts it, “DEI has many layers, you have to think about it from a customer-facing standpoint and making your customers feel welcome when they interact with your brand.”

“DEI has many layers, you have to think about it from a customer-facing standpoint and making your customers feel welcome when they interact with your brand.”

Clara Stroude-Vazquez, Chief of Culture and Inclusion, Miami Heat

Getting this right means improving organizational performance with inclusive products and services. While customer inclusion presents many market opportunities, this article focuses on the business benefits of size inclusion through a case study of the Miami Heat.

The Heat’s size-inclusive products are innovatively capturing new markets, meeting diverse customer needs, and promoting a sense of fan and employee belonging.

Size Inclusion: The Business Value of Customer-Centric DEI

The story of the Heat’s success, however, would not have been possible without leaders’ awareness of the team’s diversifying customer base, part of a broader local and national market phenomenon.

As Jeff Chen, a leader in the smartphone 3D body scanning industry points out, average body types and sizes in the US are rapidly evolving, with growth in the market for plus-size fashion expanding at twice the rate of total apparel sales in the United States.

Yet the Heat’s work responding to these dramatic demographic shifts and market opportunities remains the exception rather than the rule. Recent cross-industry research broadly demonstrates the prevalence of out-of-date brands and attitudes regarding size inclusion.

Marketing researcher Omar Rodríguez-Vilá (Emory University), for example, recently conducted a social media analysis finding that leading US firms across all industries fail to represent diversity in the marketplace. According to the research, considering skin type, body type, and physical (dis)ability, major US brands lag 20 years behind the current demographic makeup of the country.

Recent data from the fashion industry paints a picture of a sector equally out of touch with marketplace reality; the latest Vogue Business size inclusivity report finds an incremental decrease in total size inclusivity represented across 230 major fashion shows and presentations. Of the 8,800 looks presented, only 0.8 percent were plus-size (down from 0.9 percent last season) while a mere 3.7 percent were mid-size (a decline from last season’s 3.9 percent).

Vogue data on menswear reveals an even starker reality: out of 2,855 looks, only 1.5 percent were mid-size (down from 7.7 percent from last season) while a mere 0.2 percent were plus-size (down 50% from last season).

Case Study: The Miami Heat and Size-Inclusive Apparel

Keenly aware of the impact of these gaps between broader market shifts and their past product offerings, brand and DEI leaders at the Heat worked tirelessly to create a one-of-a-kind size-inclusive apparel line.

Engaging the customer of the future, it turned out, required a data-driven awareness of specific demographic changes to their fan base. For the Heat, creating a truly inclusive fan experience capitalizing on these new business opportunities meant developing a new line of size-inclusive apparel designed with all sizes in mind.

Heat leaders were quick to recognize the most pressing inclusion gaps in their merchandise offerings, with women’s clothing in particular lacking variety, design choices, and size options. If past offerings excluded a significant portion of their fanbase, new designs could promote inclusion and engage women fans while also driving business outcomes.

Yet Heat leadership also quickly came to understand the core problem they would need to overcome to achieve this goal: limited sizing options from existing suppliers.

As this example proves, even in today’s context of rapidly evolving demographics, existing constraints mean that customer-centric DEI solutions are rarely easy, simple, or straightforward.

Jennifer Alvarez, project lead and Senior Vice President of Brand and Chief Creative Officer at the Heat, shares that the work involved staying the course for long-term business and DEI outcomes: “It took us eight years to get to a place where we can finally have this conversation.”

The Court Culture Line: Women-led, Self-sourced

As Alvarez and Stroude-Vasquez put it, the journey to a size-inclusive brand can be as challenging as it is rewarding: “We can do hard things together—inclusion benefits everyone.”

The transformative Court Culture Line that the Heat ultimately developed was women-led and self-sourced.Unable to find existing manufacturers offering inclusive sizing, the Heat’s solution involved manufacturing in-house.

Taking matters into her own hands, Alvarez ultimately partnered with a garment manufacturer to source, design, and manufacture new garments. The result: they were able to offer a wider range of styles and sizes (XS–4X) for women.

The Court Culture Line: Apparel for All

The Heat’s commitment to size inclusion engages fans of all ages, cultures, and sizes. The impact of customer inclusion was immediate. The Heat captured a new market, directly engaging the customer of the future.

The Business Impact of the Heat’s Size-inclusion Program:

  • Increased sales and a more inclusive shopping experience
  • More balanced shopper demographics (50/50 men and women in a sports franchise context)
  • Positive feedback from fans and employees who had previously felt excluded
  • Social media stories highlighting the emotional impact of size inclusion on lived experiences

“We have real data. We’re selling through our inventory. We’re hurrying and placing reorders. There’s a customer base, they’ve wanted this, and now they’re buying it. And they’re supporting us every step of the way.”

Jennifer Alvarez, Senior Vice President of Brand and Chief Creative Officer, Miami Heat

Stroude-Vazquezadds that the program helped re-confirm and broaden the bulletproof business case for DEI: “Our leadership understands why this is important. The results confirm we did the right thing. They also confirm the holistic business case for DEI.”

For the Heat’s innovators, belonging together meant moving beyond exclusive, limiting options that defined the broader marketplace. The end result ultimately offered fans who had been historically excluded from fully immersive experiences a chance to participate.

“We often hear from fans and employees, ‘I’ve never been able to participate until now.’ We’ve become a beacon for other teams and our league.”

Clara Stroude-Vazquez, Chief of Culture and Inclusion, Miami Heat

Key Takeaways: Size Inclusion Case Study

  • Needs assessment is crucial: identify gaps in your offerings to directly address the customer of the future.
  • Building strong partnerships inside and outside the organization is essential for success.
  • Inclusive practices can create positive brand perception and help propel sales growth.
  • Understanding the customer of the future can open new markets, drive innovation, and create novel experiences.

Building a Comprehensive Customer Inclusion Strategy

As the Heat’s award-winning DEI work demonstrates, engaging the customer of the future is critical to organizational outcomes today.The business benefits of inclusive design and marketing practices across products and experiences are clear.

Integrating DEI into these areas improves customer experience and product quality while increasing market share and revenue. Successfully integrating inclusion across the organization, however, is an ongoing journey rather than a destination.

Need help navigating today’s increasingly diverse workplace and marketplace? Connect with Seramount and learn how we can help you take your organization’s DEI strategy to the next level.

About the Author

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Michael Nicholson
Principal, Strategic Research