Kate Schnakenberg was in a fifth store trying to find a wedding dress. Schnakenberg, 30, an operations manager at Securities Training Corporation who lives in South Slope, Brooklyn, had made an appointment at Ella & Oak, which serves women of large stature. It was a company he discovered on Instagram, where he learned that he was running his first 10-week pop-up store, on West 29th Street in Manhattan.
“The last dress I tried on could not close my back and the arm holes were not large enough,” he said of his visit to a previous store. “I’m a 14, which is the national average size. The fact that I can’t try on a wedding dress or know how it will look before buying it because they don’t have my size is irrational.”
He found many options in Ella & Oak. Until recently, the company’s focus had been on e-commerce with the occasional emerging weekend in Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and other cities. This month, the founders, Samantha Brody and Christine Callahan, opened their showroom in New York. They expect to be in the store until March 8.
“The large size market is unattended and underrepresented,” said Callahan, 34, who manages the design and commercialization of the brand. “Sixty-eight percent of American women are large. How can you buy a dress for your most important day if there are no samples of your size to try? “
The frustration with the lack of options and the abandonment that the fashion industry has exhibited towards women with curves is nothing new. However, the way in which Ms. Brody and Mrs. Callahan choose to address this problem is.
Ms. Brody, 33, of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is responsible for the company’s customer experience, financing, data and research. “I found more than 100 bridal boutiques in the five counties, but I still haven’t found one that is exclusive for large sizes,” he said. “That’s why we decided to start our extended popup window here.”
They rented a 7,000 square foot space from a florist for $ 4,000 per month. They found the space on Craigslist and included a beautiful floral arrangement, desk, chairs, small kitchen and bathroom. Then the couple went to Ikea to stage the room, with a sofa, mirror, wicker chairs, pillows, carpets and coat racks.
On January 11, the opening day of the pop-up window, the one-hour appointments began at 9 a.m. and finished at 9 p.m. Eighteen dresses, size 12 to 30, of the four independent designers Ella and Oak have exclusives with: Rebecca Schoneveld, Elizabeth Dye, Amanda Ergen-Jennings and Anne Barge were available. Each designer specializes in handmade clothing, not mass-produced, large size. Six additional pieces, which are part of Ella and Oak’s first attempt to create a private label, will arrive later this week. Prices ranged from $ 1,100 to $ 1,800 for the brand line, and $ 1,500 to $ 3,200 for those of its designers.
There is no additional charge for larger garments or what is called the “fat tax”. Another problem that the two address is the basic size chart that the industry has accepted as standard.
“Not all bodies fit a specific size, especially larger women who carry their weight differently,” Callahan said. “Designers are trying to make a generic organization chart work for each person. We are trying to change that through dimensional size or custom made dresses. “
Others find the outdated and outdated size chart.
Justin Warshaw, executive director and creative director of Justin Alexander, designer and manufacturer of wedding dresses and accessories, began its line of large sizes, size 16-32, in 2018. Sales of large sizes now account for 26 percent of the company. girlfriend orders.
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“I will modernize and resize our size chart to ensure a proper fit in smaller to larger sizes,” Warshaw said. “To do this, we are using a company that specializes in real data and 3D analysis and body scanning.”
Darci Thoune, associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, and founder of Two Fat Professors, a website dedicated to fighting fat phobia with education and community development, said many designers are missing the financial opportunities that this market can provide.
“There is still a negative, unattractive and even bad association with fat bodies,” he said. “For designers, that is generally not something they want to associate with. There are women who want to spend money. This is an example of a cultural practice that could be changed to be more inclusive of all bodies.”
Some designers may be reluctant to extend their lines due to cost. “Offering oversized dresses is a financial investment,” said Don O’Neill, creative director of Theia, the brand of evening, bridal and bridesmaid clothes. “It should include additional samples, additional photo sessions, expanded inventory and inventory pieces.”
In 2018, Theia began its first line of large sizes, Curve Size Collection with Lovely Bride, an independent bridal boutique with 18 locations in the United States. Theia’s large size collection offered six of its best silhouettes in 14W to 24W. Last year, 28 percent of its business was attributed to sales in the curve size range, according to the company.
This year, Mr. O’Neil plans to expand his size line. “Offering inclusive sizes to girls with figure and curves is an important part of who we are,” he said. “This has really opened that market for us.”
Twenty minutes after Mrs. Schnakenberg’s session at Ella & Oak, Samantha Presal, her friend from the University of New York, arrived.
Mrs. Presal, 30, who is getting married at the end of this year, has already gone through the search for wedding dresses and, although she is not a large bride, she knows what it is to have something in shape. “You feel empowered,” he said. “When you can’t close the dress, it’s a defeat.”
“There is a gap between the fashion industry and reality,” he added. “New York is saturated with bridal shops, but almost no one includes large sizes.”
This was also the experience of Mrs. Schnakenberg. “Most of the places I went to said,” 90 percent of what we don’t have left, “he said, as he stood in front of an elongated mirror and modeled his second dress of the day, which suited his form perfectly.
“It feels amazing to have a place that says everything we have will fit,” he said. “I don’t feel like a last-minute idea in these. The designers really understood my body.”
If this 10-week experience is profitable, Mrs. Brody and Mrs. Callahan will seek to expand or find a permanent place, possibly in New York. The financing of friends and family took them off. His next goal is to raise $ 750,000 from investors.
The fourth dress that Mrs. Schnakenberg tried on, the Anna, designed by Rebecca Schoneveld, sparked an excited call to her mother, who lives in Chicago. After hanging up, Ms. Schnakenberg made another appointment by the end of this month. This time she would be accompanied by her mother and her future mother-in-law.
“This fits me like a glove. I could go with that now, ”he said. “This is the first time I feel that I am using something that resonates with me. It is something I want to buy, not something that I am settling for, and that is a really powerful feeling.”