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Unlocking Luxury Fashion for Plus-size Women

Unlocking Luxury Fashion for Plus-size Women

Sometimes inspiration strikes when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable. A couple of years ago, my cousin Charlotte and I were at a family dinner in Florida, and after a few glasses of wine we got to confiding in one another about our experiences as plus-size women. We talked about how we both love fashion and how we were deeply frustrated by what the industry was giving us. How buying clothes was a series of uncomfortable situations in stores that don’t have anything for us, where we were tossed aside. How our straight-sized friends got to try on everything…while we drifted off to the shoe department. God forbid we lose our luggage while traveling, because finding something to wear would be harrowing: a choice between an ill-fitting men’s extra-large and an ugly poncho.

Charlotte and I are different ages and different sizes, but we both felt like we couldn’t express ourselves with our clothing, like we’d lost part of our identities in a marketplace that offered us so few options. We decided we could change that, not only for ourselves but for others. We could disrupt the fashion industry by offering real care for our plus-size community. We could help people by providing high-quality clothing that makes people of all ages look good and feel good—on dates, in interviews, in the boardroom, at events. And so Amour781 was born, as a love letter to ourselves, and to plus-size women everywhere.

In the United States, 67% of women are above a size 14, and yet the market, especially the luxury market, ignores us. Charlotte and I saw an obvious need to serve plus-size women with purchasing power—and we weren’t going in blindly. I came from a long background in retail, from buying to logistics to management. Charlotte had been working in venture capital, so she knew how start-ups work. We made it our mission to help plus-size women feel comfortable, look great and develop their own fashion sense as they built a closet full of beautifully constructed garments made with long-lasting materials. We didn't want fast fashion, we really wanted quality pieces worth investing in, pieces you could wear for years to come.

Honestly, it started off very challenging. We went into market with a lot of hope, and the door was slammed in our face time and time again. But with time, we built more and more relationships with designers who were excited to design for plus size. We found smaller brands—many of them owned by women—that were looking to grow like we were looking to grow. As we worked to lift each other up, we built a sisterhood. Even brands run by straight-sized people empathized with what we want to do and got excited to be successful alongside us.

After a while, we started getting invited to showrooms, which are hallowed spaces in the fashion industry. That was a big moment, because it proved that brands and designers saw us as worthy of their time and investment. Now every time we go to market, we find more and more brands that are willing to cut pieces exclusively for us.

When we start one of these collaborations, the first we have to make sure the fit actually fits. It’s not easy to scale designs for sizes 2 to 22, especially when the fit model is on the very small end of that spectrum. It costs time and money to figure that out. So when we partner with smaller designer— such as Adriana Cotreras, Jill McGowan and Nouvellesilk—we help them in whatever ways we can, sending them measurements, trying things on ourselves, so they can take various curves into consideration and cut each size properly. In return, brands go into production with these pieces and we’re able to offer them on Amour781. Win-win.

These brands are committed. They’re taking those notes and coming back to us with expanded collections that offer much more to plus-size shoppers than a single cardigan in a bunch of colors. For example, Tanya Taylor had been cutting on a straight size 10, and things were not fitting at the larger sizes; so we asked for a little more space, a little more length. Whenever I’d go to their showroom, I’d see tons of pieces that I wanted—pieces they didn’t realize I’d want. They listened, calibrating the way they cater to the plus-size market and investing in fashion pieces for the plus-size consumer. Together we’re not only developing new luxury options for plus-size women, we’re laying the groundwork for these women to become a powerful force in fashion.

This kind of learning and evolution shows how important it is to have a diverse team, people with personal experiences that can shape and inform a company and its work. Size diversity, ethnic diversity and racial diversity are all hugely important to ensuring that the right voices are being heard for the type of product you're producing. Representation is essential to showing how much you truly care about the consumer.

Being intentional and staying rooted in our values helps us create a joyful experience for our customers. We want them to feel special. We want them to know how much we care. Because nothing is more rewarding than when someone calls or emails us to tell us about what they purchased and how incredible it was to shop on a site where the entire site was just for them.

I know how it feels. I was in Athens this year, which is home to an amazing plus-size company called Mat, run by a curvy Greek woman and her family. I found myself in one of their 14 stores across the city—yes, 14!—and I could try on absolutely every article of clothing they had there. I didn’t have to look at the back of the rack to see if they might have something large enough. I brought 20, maybe 30, items into a fitting room, and still the sales associate brought me more things she thought I might like. It was wonderful and surreal. Afterward, I was so emotional I cried. 

And that’s the kind of experience I want to give people with Amour781—because we all deserve to express ourselves in clothes we truly love.