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Here are all the posts in our Forum/Blog on the topic of Business: fashion industry...

Liz    Friday 03 February 2017 at 17:07

 Post #491 



 
Subject: Plus Size Swimwear

 
Please could anyone recommend any stores that might want to stock my plus size swimwear range? I manufacture and sell a selection of plus size swimsuits and swimdresses up to a size 26. Currently they are only available online at www.swimdressboutique.com but I would like people to be able touch, feel and try the garments on as I feel sure that they would fly out of the window.
Any advice gratefully received.
Liz x

 

 Emma    Monday 06 February 2017 at 14:40

 
Hi Liz

Congratulations on two counts - creating plus-size swimwear and appreciating the need for larger women to try on their clothes before buying them!

If you wanted to sell wholesale the usual method would be to engage an agent - they tend to be the people who really know about the shops. Of course, they require paying (commission of 20%, I believe), so that would be something that you'd have to think about. The main reason why suppliers use agents is to have access to the stockists. Please don't buy any lists available online - they're basically a scam. If you wanted to know of a really good agent, if you have some really good images, write back on this forum and I will send them off for you to a couple of the best.

Sadly, however, I actually think that you might be better off looking for a foreign agent - of whom I'm unlikely to be able to recommend. There are far more shops in other countries than in England.

If you really would like to market yourself - and many people do, although it's tough - I would go to the big fashion shows, like Pure in London, and have a look round. It's eye-wateringly expensive to get a stand, and I wouldn't do it straight off, but chatting with people there will prove invaluable.

If you decide that doing a fashion show is for you, I would seek out one of the specialist plus-size shows, like Curvy Is Sexy in Berlin. However, if you did sell there, you would be selling into Europe, a very tough gig at the moment!

Good luck and more power to you.

 

Andrea    Sunday 22 May 2016 at 23:31

 Post #472 



 
Subject: Our Focus Group Invitation

Hi there! :) We are 2 students from the London College of Fashion and we are working with a plus size German brand looking to enter the UK market. We are hosting a focus group this Thursday May 26 in a Central London location (SE1) to gather opinions from potential customers. There will be complementary wine and some snacks, as well as a lovely rooftop/terrace viewing overlooking the London Eye. Your opinions would be greatly appreciated! Please reply to this post if you would be interested

 

Emma    Monday 22 February 2016 at 08:53

 Post #467 



 
Subject: Shoptiques

The model has been recruited, the stock has been selected. Our shop has been turned into a part -time photographic studio. The photos have been taken, selected and edited. We are now on the starting block for a new way of trading.

I've been on record for years as having reservations about selling online -there are a number of disadvantages. In my opinion, there is simply no comparison with actually being able to come into a fashion shop, try everything on, and make an informed choice as to what to by.

''Being able to come into a fashion shop '' is a bit of a rub. Not everyone, at every time, is able to come into our little shop, here on the south coast of England. For these people, buying online is not a choice, but a necessity.

However, there has been an enormous growth in the other kind of online shopping -people who DO choose to shop this way, simply because they enjoy it. Sitting at home, (perhaps furtively ) at work, or sipping coffee in a café, browsing the Internet for something gorgeous for the weekend -it's the modern way of life.

Luckily, many of my initial objections to selling online appear to have been met by the American website, Shoptiques. It's a company that really knows it's stuff. It deals exclusively with small boutiques like ourselves, and provides the practical solutions that allow us to maintain the exclusivity, quality and choice that we feel is so important.

I'm very excited about it, and really hope that it works for us. Diversity and equality of opportunity in the world of fashion is something that we are passionate about. Shoptiques should help us enable more women access to better and more fitting fashion, no matter where they are, or how they choose to shop.

I will keep you posted as to when we go live!

 

Emma    Wednesday 03 February 2016 at 18:00

 Post #464 



 
Subject: Our Photographic Studio

We had the best time at the weekend, transforming our store into a photographic studio in preparation for our new Shoptiques venture.

We will soon be putting photographs of our stock online through the fantastic Shoptiques.com website, where customers can browse exclusive designer clothes from fantastic boutiques all over the world.

We are delighted to have been invited to join their website, and are so excited to be able to offer our more distant customers the opportunity to buy online from us-something that has been denied to them in the past.

We will be inviting people to email us at emma.plus@yahoo.com to tell us of any clothes that they are particularly seeking, in order for us find it in stock, or obtain it and post it on Shoptiques for them to buy. An amazing system, and a useful service.

 

Emma    Monday 20 January 2014 at 21:26

 Post #383 



 
Subject: A Proud Moment

We had such a wonderful surprise, and such a proud moment last week when we found out that we had won the prize for the 'Best Concept' section of the 'Dressed For Success' Christmas window display competition.

We had previously mentioned our shop window, which showcased our alteration service, and had asked on this blog for our customers to vote for us. Well, apparently you did, for which we are very grateful.

We must also have garnered some votes from the general public, though, because there were over 2000 votes in the competition as a whole, and I was told by one of the organisers that we got a great many votes.

We have always been proud of our window displays, which all members of staff take a turn in helping with, so it is fantastic to get some recognition. This special window was put together mainly by Kim and Olivia.

We had such a wonderful evening at the awards ceremony, a glitzy affair for which we dressed in our glad-rags (all in Anna Scholz, actually!) and enjoyed a lovely meal in the Dome Bar, just down the road from our shop. The photograph on the right shows all the winners with their awards (a framed picture of the winning window, and an engraved glass plaque).

The evening was particularly rewarding as an opportunity to hear a talk from the wonderful retail advice agency, Metamorphosis, as well as ejoying some welcome networking with other independent retailers.

I really would like to thank everyone who took the time to vote for us in this competition: we really do feel chuffed.

 

 Kim P    Wednesday 22 January 2014 at 22:21

 
Congratulations! That is wonderful news. The window displays are always so cheerful and inviting.

 

 Emma    Friday 24 January 2014 at 15:48

Thanks, Kim!

yes, we were very proud, and clearly (from this picture!) look like the cats that got the cream.
 

Emma    Wednesday 27 November 2013 at 16:04

 Post #376 



 
Subject: Fashion tribes continued.....

Once you start thinking about different fashion tribes, it's difficult to stop. Recently I have noticed a particular ‘type’ that seems to be quite prevalent in Brighton at the moment.

It's what I call the ‘Ruby’ woman. She takes her sense of style mainly from the nineteen-forties and fifties. She will wear ruby-red lipstick, and draw prominent dark eyebrows on her pale face (no false tan here!). Her hair is also dyed black, or dark brown, and is often extravagantly waved. She loves to wear red - which is nearly always teamed with black. At this time of year she snuggles in a soft red coat, which she wears with a pair of black leggings and cute little fur-lined booties. Sometimes, if she if feeling particularly exciting, she will opt for a pattern: a rose-print in the summer or tartan in the winter season. Often seen with a red bow in her hair, her look is feminine and glamorous.

Another tribe is the ‘Luxe Minimalist’. This woman is all about simplicity and perfection. Happy to wear the subtle version of just about any colour - she likes a soft, loosely tailored shape. Trouser suits echo Armani at his nineteen-eighties best, while skirts and casual trousers are effortlessly draped. The Luxe Minimalist loves a classic shirt; always long, sometimes the softest silk, sometimes in the crispest cotton or linen. Not to be confused with the Luxe Euro woman, who is intensely feminine in her styling, this woman’s look could almost be described as androgynous. She does not wear clothes with detail or body-conscious tailoring, and she hates short skirts and jackets (she’s probably never tried on a pair of tights in her life), or close-fitting trousers. She has her pop of colour - but this is the only striking thing about her style. All details - be they buttons, ties, lapels or waistbands - are pared back to a minimum.

To make the issue super-complicated there is even a tribe which can be clearly recognised (by other members at least), yet who all have completely different looks. These are women who can change their look radically in a day; they may set off for work in the morning in a sexy-librarian look, then, after dashing home for a quick change, emerge to go out to dinner in a Luxe-Euro look. Later, at the weekend, one of them can be seen elegantly sashaying around town in a fluffy angora jilet teamed with soft woollen trousers (à la Luxe Minimalist), yet later in the day is seen leaving the house wearing a full-on leather biker look - with knee-high boots.

One distinctive thing is that they always have the ‘complete look’. This is the woman who won’t leave the house if her handbag doesn’t work perfectly with the ethos of her outfit, or if her shoes don’t have exactly the correct height of heel to carry the whole thing off. She has a forensic eye for detail.

These women form a very particular group: the Fashionistas. They work in the fashion industry, not as designers (these would hardly be worth writing about as most wear shapeless black clothes in my experience), but rather on the selling side... quite a few of them are boutique owners! I see them when I do my buying in that part of London where all the fashion agencies are... or when I do my purchasing in Germany... or at the airport on the way to a fashion fair. I can always recognise them, and I know that they usually recognise me. There is a certain little nod of the head that we give each other as we dash past on our various fashion-orientated missions.

 

Emma    Saturday 18 May 2013 at 10:57

 Post #357 



 
Subject: The times they are a-changing...

The times have changed quite considerably since I first opened Emma Plus. In those days we tended to sell clothes to women in our own immediate area. No-one spent more than, say, half-an-hour’s travelling time to buy clothes. We sold to women in and around Brighton, with the odd person coming from the rest of Sussex.

This localised selling happened in all regions of the country, and had two detrimental effects on plus-size designer fashion. The first was that the shops that existed in those days were kept artificially small. ‘Bonsai’ shops, I call them. Because we didn’t have very many customers, we could only buy a small amount of stock. Because we only had quite a small and limited range, it really wasn’t worth a woman investing her time and effort travelling some distance to get here (in fact, when someone who lived far away from us telephoned, asking whether it would be worth her while travelling, we would usually advise her not to do so; it wasn’t that we didn’t believe in our stock; it was just that, after taking half the day to get here, a customer would generally prefer to have a choice of, say, more than two bottom halves, three tops, one dress and a coat in her size!). This, as you can imagine, was a vicious circle.

The other detrimental effect on plus-size fashion was a lot worse. Twenty years ago there really was very little product available in the size range that we cater for. Buying online had not been invented, catalogue selling tended to be quite abysmal, and many weren’t lucky enough to live in the catchment area of a designer plus-size store. The high street just had a tiny selection, mainly from one particular chain, whose offer was very unimaginative. The result was that most plus-size women, unless they were gifted designer/seamstresses in their own right, looked under-par most of the time. People don’t remember this now, but it was an accepted fact that plus-size women looked a lot older than their real age, less stylish, and almost completely sexless. If the plus-size woman of today could see the kind of offer that we were presented with in those days, there would be a riot. I think that even those of us who lived through that time hardly believe it now.

Clearly, how you present yourself has a great impact on your social standing and personal confidence. When it was difficult to find clothing that accurately represented how you felt about yourself, and how you perceived your social standing, it was very detrimental. For example, I was told this story by one of my customers that illustrates my point... She was a highly successful businesswoman and mother of young children. Her work was brilliant, and her company had reached the stage where it was going to be floated on the Stock Exchange. Unfortunately, as a busy woman with a family, she had very little time to travel the country trying to find the clothing that she really wanted. Instead, she bought everything on the high street, which created a look she didn’t feel happy with, but she tried to convince herself that it wasn’t important. Surely, it was her professionalism and knowledge that was most significant in the boardroom, not the way she presented herself?

One day she had to go to the City to discuss the floatation. She walked into a room to meet with several ‘men in suits’ for the first time. As she entered, and approached the table, several of them looked up and, assuming that she was the cleaner, asked her to tidy up part of the room ‘before the client arrived’. She was humiliated, and understandably felt very undermined. It’s very difficult, even for a confident person, to come back from that kind of start to a meeting! She vowed that, no matter how much effort it took, she was going to present herself in the way she felt comfortable with in future.

To say that the impact of the internet has had unexpected consequences in almost every walk of life is something of an understatement. I, for one, never really anticipated how it was going to affect my industry. For the first time we can now get national recognition for what we do, and encourage more and more women to come into our store to buy from us. Today, if a customer telephones and asks whether it is worthwhile travelling to get to us, no matter how far they were contemplating, I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes. Occasionally, women ask if it would be worth their while undertaking a two-hour trip, and these days I am quite bewildered... Two hours? Why, of course, that’s no distance!

This has meant that our stockholding has increased exponentially, and we find that we have more beautiful clothes in a wider variety of sizes and in greater quantity than ever before. And what is being offered to us by the designers is getting ever more exciting and gorgeous. For about 10 years I found myself saying ‘wow... this is the best season ever’, with a tone of surprise every season. Now I understand the mechanism of how our industry works I take this situation as a given. Of course it’s the best season ever, every time! It would be a bit of a let-down if it wasn’t, considering the reasons why the industry should be improving year on year.

The next aspect of the internet revolution has also got into swing... the empowerment of the customer. Nowadays, bloggers and reviewers are trying to take some of the bother out of all this travelling. They are aiming to find out everything they can about the plus-size shops out there, and to give recommendations, warnings, and general feedback - not only to the store owners, but to the customers who can then have an informed choice as to whether they wish to get into their car or on to the train, and trek to a shop that may be some distance away.

This is a democratic development; hopefully we will now see the real power of the consumer. The shops that are worth visiting will get more popular, and those offering a disappointing product or service will either have to shape up, or will go. I strongly believe we should welcome the ‘Trip Advisors’ of this world, and encourage the bloggers and reviewers out there. We can’t blindly accept what they are saying, but I do think they will have a vital part to play in the future.

This is why I was so delighted to see that one of the most popular plus-size bloggers, Boombands Em (pictured, above right, with Anna Scholz and me), had written such a generous and enthusiastic review of our recent ASD (http://boombands.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/emma-plus-at-brighton.html) on her blog, and Tweeted about us, too.

I’m very grateful; I don’t think many folk realise just what a hugely positive influence on our industry people like Em have, and how much we can all benefit from it.

 

Emma    Saturday 20 April 2013 at 16:14

 Post #353 



 
Subject: Anna Scholz

I have been cogitating on the designer, Anna Scholz. Not surprising, because next week we are hosting our third Anna Scholz Day on Saturday 27th April, where the designer herself will visit our store, meet her customers and bring much of her range with her.

It’s always a great day. We have lots of scrummy nibbles and drinks, oodles of fantastic Anna Scholz clothes, loads of happy customers and, of course, the lady herself - a beautiful, charismatic presence.

Many times I have had people ask me why I love Anna Scholz and her oeuvre so much. In order to explain this phenomenon I will have to go back to the beginning...

I started working at this store 23 years ago. It was then, just as it is now, a proper plus-size shop. When I say ‘proper’, I mean that it has never been one of those irritating shops that call themselves ‘plus size’ but start at a size 12 (why?) and go all the way up to a size 22 (surely, this doesn’t even count as a plus-size these days?). When I first came here we stocked fashions from a size 16 up to a size 26; nowadays we stock mainly between size 20 and 32.

Back then, it was very difficult to find really lovely clothing in those ‘proper’ plus sizes. The main reason was good old-fashioned prejudice. Against all the available evidence it seemed that our own plus-size industry had decided a number of things about its customers. It had decided that we were elderly (or middle-aged in a particularly frumpy way). It had decided that we were dowdy (dull and lacklustre). It had decided we were sexless (heaven forbid that we showed a bit of femininity). It had decided we were shapeless and wanted nothing more than cover-ups. We were supposed to lack the energy to bother about fabric care (there was a disproportionate amount of ‘drip-dry’ clothes). We weren’t prepared to spend on our clothing. And, more than anything else, we hated colour.

I’m not saying that it was impossible to find lovely clothes back then. It was just very, very difficult. And they were few and far between. It was a difficult time for our shop.

I will never forget the first time I saw Anna’s collection. It was at the huge clothes fair that used to take place at the NEC in Birmingham and it was in February 1994. I had seen a picture of one of her dresses, and I had already decided that I was going to look her up if I got the chance. I walked on to her stand at the exhibition, and the rest is history: my shop has never been without an Anna Scholz garment from that day to this.

Anna (as far as I know) was the first plus-size woman to have her own fashion line, and it showed. She didn’t need anyone else to tell her what larger women wanted. She was young, vibrant, attractive, driven, enthusiastic, uncompromising, skilful, and anything but apologetic about her size (she is still all of these things). Her clothes were a revelation, and we couldn’t get enough of them.

Looking around today it’s easy to think that she is just one among many designers producing fashion-forward, sexy, joyful, colourful clothes. Yet she was the first, and still the best. And she has been a powerhouse, turning out fabulous items that have been a joy to consumers and an education to our industry for the past almost two decades.

 

 Kim P    Wednesday 24 April 2013 at 18:43

 
I hope everyone has a great day on Saturday, so many beautiful designs to choose from! They are always great fun and I am sad to be missing it.

 

 Emma    Thursday 25 April 2013 at 13:18

Hi Kim

Thank you very much... We're sorry you can't make it.

We've already had the delivery in and we're trying it all on, stomping up and down, pouting, squatting, swinging our hair around and posing girlishly - just like the models in the photograph!
 

Emma    Tuesday 02 April 2013 at 17:22

 Post #346 



 
Subject: Idealism

I was going through the airport duty free section when I noticed an advertisement for a new type of foundation. I had wandered into the cosmetics department, looking for some top-ups for my make-up bag. It pleased me greatly to see this new formulation, which offered what seemed an almost limitless number of different shades. Gone are the days, it seems, when there were only three or four shades of human skin that warranted matching make-up. A few years ago only some lucky women were ‘worth that’ it seemed.

However, I have always known that, whatever the range, even if there are a thousand different shades of foundation on offer, I will need to have either colour number 1 (the absolute palest) in the winter, or number 2 (after I have a particularly impressive tan at the end of the summer). Yes, I really am that deathly pale!

I think it is a generally accepted fact that any skin looks a bit better with a bit of melanin in it, but I am happy to accept my ‘shortcomings’, just as I accept the fact that I do not have a waist. When I was younger, I was annoyed with my faults, but I have long ‘forgiven’ my body for not being exactly what I would like it to be.

I remember listening to a record as a child that suggested that the world would be a much better place if it comprised ‘one big melting pot, turning out coffee-coloured people by the score’. I was appalled. Of course, if there were such a scenario, then I (and my snow-white legs) would personally have a lot to gain, but I felt, even as a young child, that the world would be greatly impoverished in the process.

It seems to me that there are forces always at work that try to cajole us either into all being the same or into feeling ashamed or inferior because of our diversity. Women with whiter than white skin like mine often slap on layers of self-tan, even while some of our sisters bleach their skin to try to achieve that elusive café-au-lait beauty. Some women try to straighten their hair, and, for hundreds of years, some have squeezed their figures with corsets in the course of giving themselves the required body shape.

Actually, I think these forces are very strong, have always been there, and are probably more powerful today than they have ever been. We are continually subliminally (and sometimes not so subliminally) told we have to have one type of hair, to be a certain age, a particular height, a type of body shape, no more than a maximum weight, and yes, a certain shade of skin. If you are any different from this then you are a failure, and you cannot ever achieve beauty.

Maybe it’s just because I am a contrary type of gal, or perhaps it is because I have never personally fitted into to these ‘ideals’, that I have never accepted them. Or maybe it’s because I have observed that they have absolutely nothing to do with actual beauty. They are just a form of bullying. If you don’t believe me, I can prove it... Just sit in a coffee shop and watch the people going past. Look at their faces, their bodies, and their general appearance. Men and women; I defy you to really try to tell me that it is only those who fit into the accepted cultural norms of attractiveness (those rules about height and weight, colouring, body shape etc.) who are beautiful.

I refuse to feel badly about myself, just because my legs could be used as beacons, warning sailors not to crash on the rocks. Nor do I feel particularly ashamed because my measurements are more or less all the same - all the way down my body - so that I am always in danger of my skirt falling around my ankles.

When women come into my shop I often see a strange phenomenon. I see beautiful women dressing as if they think they are plain. When you talk to these customers they often say that they strongly believe that they are not attractive. It seems odd, because it’s hard to understand how they can avoid having noticed how lovely they look. Don’t they have a mirror? I cannot always change their point of view, but, by golly, I can provide them with the clothes they need to dress to their best.

I strongly believe in the beauty of the diversity of human beings. No matter how strongly the forces that try to shape us all in the same mould (and try to make us feel inferior if we don’t ‘shape up’) press down on us, I will do my best to make my store a haven from those pressures.

It’s my belief that is what a plus-size store should be. Because if it isn’t about this, what on earth is it for?

 

 Kim P    Thursday 04 April 2013 at 16:31

 
Well said Emma!

BTW, those two lovely grey dresses I bought for work are a great success. Had several compliments and I am so pleased I was lucky to be able to get them both. Thank you!

 

 Emma    Friday 05 April 2013 at 11:08

 
Thanks, Kim!

You looked fab in those dresses: so glad you got them!

Looking forward to seeing you on the ASD!?

 

 Kim P    Wednesday 10 April 2013 at 18:06

 
Sadly can't now do the ASD but our conference is in Brighton again this June so will be sure to pop in then!

 

Emma    Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 18:28

 Post #340 



 
Subject: Future shock?

Customers particularly interested in fashion will probably already know that London Fashion Week is happening at the moment. It’s existed since 1984, and is a well-established date on the international calendar of the clothing industry, providing a platform for fashion designers to show their wares in the UK.

What has never been provided within this event, however, is any kind of platform specifically for the plus-size fashion business. So I was fascinated to hear that this was the inaugural year for the British Plus Size Fashion Weekend, founded by renowned plus-size blogger Remi Ray, and timed to coincide with the beginning of Fashion Week.

I decided to make the pilgrimage to Shoreditch Town Hall, a mid-Victorian monolith of a building, whose shabby-chic interior offered an impressive backdrop to the event. I am used to going to the kind of industry happenings that are for insiders only - basically buying events strictly for doing business. In the kind of fashion shows that I have been attending for the past 20 years, the public is certainly not entertained. They tend to be non-controversial, rather swish occasions set in plush environments, comfortably insulated from the outside world.

This new show exploded on to Shoreditch with an unashamed enthusiasm, energy, and overt point of view that I have never experienced before.

My day there began when I arrived mid-afternoon, and joined the throng of women looking over the sponsor’s stands. I was interested to see the range of clothing of the kind that we wouldn’t normally sell in our store. These are clothes, in the main, sold directly to the customer, either through small independents online, or with the large retailers like Simply Be or Evans. It fascinates me to see the difference between the kind of fashion they provide for an event like this (which showcases the designer-led capsules that they would bring to a full-on fashion affair), and their mainstream clothing.

The main part of the big plus-size retailers’ offer is relatively pedestrian, but when the big companies go in for designer fashion it is very youthful. The quality is low, and this complements the particular type of edgy fashion, which is possibly only intended to last a single season. There is a vibrancy and excitement about the styles which is infectious. However, I can’t help feeling that a store owner like me had better tread carefully, and not be too seduced by the youthful enthusiasm of the looks. The kind of woman who buys a pair of silver leggings, and teams them with a cropped top, or pops a transparent chiffon cape over a bra and hot pants, is unlikely to purchase such items in my store!

It was during the fantastic catwalk show later that evening that this miss-match between different plus-size fashion aesthetics became most evident. It really was wonderful to see a proper plus-size catwalk show. Having been to too many fashion shows even to begin to count, over too many years to admit, I can honestly say I have never seen one before. Yes, I have seen shows that have a few plus-size women here and there, and I have seen ‘mainstream’ fashion shows that have a section for a plus-size designer. Online, I have watched the lovely Elena Miro catwalk shows in Milan, but this is the very first show I have witnessed myself, and it was a revelation.

Designer Anna Scholz’s clothes were there (see picture), and her collection was truly superb. I would argue that she knocked all other designers out of the park with her offer. However, that is just my opinion, and she represented just one end of a very diverse spectrum.

I have always believed that women who take the time and effort (and spend the money!) to shop in a store like mine, wish to purchase something that they will get a lot of use from. So I have tried to avoid flash-in-the-pan styling, no matter how inviting it might appear at first sight. This is because our clothes are made to last and to treasure, and it would be a shame if the style dated after one or two seasons.

I have also always thought (and my thinking was so ingrained that I have to confess that I simply took it as a given) that our clothes should be flattering, and that they should make the most of our assets, whilst unashamedly hiding our weaker points. This, more than anything is what we stand for, and where a designer like Anna Scholz takes prominence.

Looking at the different kinds of fashion on the catwalk, however, I was struck by the fact that my own views are just that: views. They are there to be disagreed with. If this show is to be taken literally, there is seemingly a huge wave of young, large women charging forward into the future with a whole different aesthetic. They want style, and they don’t care if they show off their bodies. They want looks, and they don’t care if they last. They want fashion, and they want it in quantity. They want it now, and they don’t intend to save up for it. They want what they want, and they don’t mind whether they look thinner of fatter wearing it. If you have a problem with their clothing not looking flattering enough, then it is your problem, not theirs. They have attitude and not a little courage.

There is an argument that what is seen on the catwalk should never be taken literally. The looks are designed to be controversial and argumentative. However, these weren’t haute couture catwalk looks: they were all commercially produced items that someone out there is selling.

I’m still digesting this new information. It has yet to be shown whether this is something that I am going to have to take on board in the future.

One thing is certain: it did me good to be drawn out of my comfort zone and to see a different point of view.

 

 natashasimpson    Thursday 06 June 2013 at 09:33

 
Wow amazing size plus fashion.
Sounds like amazing.
Dressing sense is amazing like from excel clothing....!!!

 

Yasmin    Sunday 03 February 2013 at 16:53

 Post #333 



 
Subject: Plus Size Fashion Market

 
Hi, I am a fashion student and doing a university project on the plus size clothing market, it would be really appreciated if you could complete my survey, it will only take 2 minutes :)

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QGYZ9DW

Thank you very much for your time! x

 

Emma    Wednesday 23 January 2013 at 14:42

 Post #331 



 
Subject: Almia

This morning I was going for my customary dog walk on the hills above Brighton. It was beautiful: everything was white and the trees were describing abstract shapes against the sky, with their two-tone black and white branches. However, looks can be deceptive, and the weather was anything but hospitable. The air was cold, and there were occasional flakes of sleet being carried by the ‘lazy’ wind (so called, because being too lazy to go around you, it wants to simply go through you). All I can say is, thank heavens the roads are clear now!

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about the weather because I was wearing a wonderful old stalwart coat. Made from thick wool, it was from a collection that we have not seen in the UK for at least five years. It is from Almia of Sweden. Coming from Scandinavia, this manufacturer knew how to make a good coat, and this old friend is no exception. It is almost military in style and has a lovely wide revere that can be drawn up and done right up to the neck. Although recognisably a fashionable ladies’ coat, nevertheless it is easy to see the heritage that leads in a straight line back to the coats that defended Leningrad.

It does sometimes bewilder me that, when asking for a ‘waterproof’ coat, many women avoid wool. The very word ‘waterproof’ seems to imply one of the modern, scientifically designed fabrics, of the type found in sportswear stores. Don’t get me wrong: I love those fabrics (and we are awaiting a delivery of raincoats from the Fransden collection, many of which have just such qualities). However, this does not mean that wool is not in itself waterproof, as well as being extremely good protection against that lazy wind!

Such collections as Almia can disappear from the British market at the drop of a hat. In this case it was because the company lost the lovely agents, Todd and Hilary Acker, who retired after they had managed the range for years. One thing led to another, and the range vanished from our shores. I have always really missed it, because Almia was not just about coats. Far from it, their look ranged far and wide, from gorgeous chiffon summer dresses and jackets, through tailoring, knits, trousers, and just about anything that you may wish to see in your wardrobe.

I shall shortly be winging my way (with any luck) over to Germany, to do my latest tranche of buying, and, after the cold winters we have been experiencing lately, I will be looking around with a beady eye at really lovely, warm coats. This year there is one particular collection that I am going to have a look at, in the hope that it will be able to offer me something beautiful, stylish and practical.

The collection? Almia. They have decided to return to the UK market, and for the first time in years I am able to see what they have on offer. I can’t wait.

 

 Sharon    Wednesday 23 January 2013 at 20:30

 
That is excellent news Emma - i adored Almia's trousers when they were available over here.

 

 Emma    Thursday 24 January 2013 at 14:38

 
Hi Sharon!

Yes, it's always very good news when we are able to source a different 'fit' of trousers!

Years of experience has helped me to understand how we all need a different fit. Not everyone understands this, and I know that some ranges spend a lot of effort trying to get the perfect shape for their patterns. This is largely a waste of time, as it actually gives a far better service to the customer to try to have as many different cuts of trousers as possible.

I, for instance, have got absolutely no bottom, thighs or hips (hooray, you may say), yet I've got a very wide waist, and am extremely long in the rise. Getting trousers that actually fit me, and don't fall down every time I move can prove a challenge. Another woman may have a tiny waist, yet a more magnificent bottom than mine, so will need a completely different shape, even though she is the same size.

This is where knowledge of the different ranges comes into play. Almia tends to have a somewhat narrow hip, that doesn't suit everybody, but the women who like them, love them! So a 'trouser queen' like Kim will be able to guide customers towards the correct trousers.

I would love to know what, if any, particular type of trouser you would be looking for this autumn, Sharon, so that - if Almia has them in their collection - I can snap them up for you... No obligation to buy!

 

Emma    Wednesday 26 December 2012 at 10:29

 Post #325 



 
Subject: EMMA PLUS WINTER SALE starts 28 December

So I was in a shop just round the corner. It wasn't a shop I normally frequent, as it was a 'proper' sports clothing store. You know the kind of thing: micro-sized cycling shorts, with the little bra-type tops that ultra-slim women choose to wear when they are feeling the burn down the gym. Everything, in a nutshell, that doesn't interest me at all.

However, I was on a mission. I had received valuable intelligence, via a text message from a friend, that this store had Fitflops at half price! Fitflops (the stylish, comfortable, practical footwear of choice for the retailer with - how shall we put this? - rather shop-worn feet) at half price! It was certainly worth my squeezing past the shocking pink micro-bras to get to those. My feet thanked me as we walked away with a gorgeous pair of soft leather ankle boots.

I love good sales. Who doesn't? I like them from whatever angle I look at them. It's lovely when, as was the case with the Fitflops, I am a customer able to find something that is new stock, useful, perfectly fitted to me, of a style that pleases me, and I'm being charged a massively discounted price.

But it's also lovely for me, as a retailer, watching my items disappearing out of my store. You see, we clear everything, every season, during the very exciting run-up to the new season's deliveries. We have huge deliveries on order, and we need to make space for all that lovely summer clothing.

The fact is it's possible that the cold weather has hardly begun yet (I have an inkling we are going to be experiencing the chill just a little bit more before we start to feel the warmth of spring), so the winter items that we're now 'clearing away' are essential, gorgeous clothing that will see a lot of action before this winter is out. Yet, in the fashion business, it just has to go! It's one of those happy incidences where the customer and the retailer are in perfect harmony.

People who already know about our wonderful sales will alreay be preparing for the opportunity to come in and get some really lovely bargains. For those of you who have never indulged, I recommend it as a fun and profitable way of spending part of your Christmas leave, if you have the time.

The Emma Plus Winter Sale starts on 28 and 29 December (this Friday and Saturday) at 10.00am. Don't forget, if you park in the adjacent NCP car park and spend £100 or more in-store, you will have two hours' free parking.

We look forward to seeing you!

 

Emma    Thursday 15 November 2012 at 13:31

 Post #322 



 
Subject: Feel the Fear

I was thinking about the title of a well-known self-help book that had been published in the 1980s whilst I was chatting to a woman who had just opened up her own fashion shop in the Brighton Lanes. I’m not a great reader of self-help books, but I remember the title of this one, which resonated with me. The name of the book was ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’.

The new shop owner and I were laughing about how similar our experiences were. She, like me, had worked in the same store for a previous owner, whose company had come to an abrupt end. She, like me, had not really wanted to be her own boss at that time of her life, but could see a wonderful opportunity to fix the business - and create something fantastic. Both of us had taken a risk and changed our lives.

We both agreed that the experience was the single most terrifying of our lives. We weren’t silly; we hadn’t expected it to be easy, but nevertheless didn’t realise just how daunting it would be. No-one knows what is involved with starting a business until they have done it for themselves.

It’s just so complicated. The best analogy I could give is trying to fit the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with only the most fleeting of ideas about what the finished picture is supposed to look like. And all the shapes have to come together at exactly the same instant: they have to be thrown up into the air, and then simultaneously snap into place as they hit the table. If you made any misjudgements, the whole thing - with all your love, time, effort and money - just turns out to be one enormous mess.

However, I was able to reassure this new entrepreneur that - for me at least - it was the best thing I ever did, and I have never regretted it. There is nothing quite like the fashion business, and the joy of having your own shop is incomparable. It’s a cliché that if something is really worth having, it’s worth taking a risk for - but true nevertheless.

I have a customer who told me a very interesting story about a dress she bought in my shop. She was, at the time, one of my larger clients, and a very beautiful lady, with an hourglass figure. She saw, and fell in love with, a lovely bright red Anna Scholz full-length evening dress. We altered it to fit her perfectly, and she looked resplendent in it when she sallied forth to her ‘posh do’. This lady is not silly, either, and she knew that it takes a bit of courage for any woman to wear a red dress to a party, and was aware of the fact that she was going to have to carry it off - or it would end up being a mistake.

Upon arrival, however, things were a bit more complicated than she had envisaged... every other woman there was wearing black. This was enough to make her feel insecure, but the fact that she was far and away the largest person there, only added to her feeling of self-consciousness. She had no choice but to continue with her evening, try to relax and let herself enjoy it; it was not possible to run home and get changed into something more ‘comfortable’, and anyway, she knew she looked good. She was being herself.

After a little while, she realised that a small gaggle of waitresses, huddled in a corner, were looking at her and whispering. This, again, gave her pause... but she decided not to let it spoil her evening, which she was actually beginning to revel in. Then one of the waitresses came over.

“Excuse me”, she said, “I’m so sorry to approach you, but all of the waitresses wanted you to know that you look beautiful and stunning”.

It’s not just silly, reckless people who take risks; many very wise people decide to break free of what is safe - and sally forth into something a whole lot more risky, but which provides far greater reward. If you don’t do this then you are forever imprisoned by the walls of your perceived limitations.

Fashion often gives us these opportunities. Some people say that fashion is trivial: I don’t accept that at all. I think it is a transformative force in the lives of women.

 

Emma    Saturday 15 September 2012 at 15:57

 Post #310 



 
Subject: Anna Scholz Spring/Summer 13

Hotfoot from buying Anna Scholz Spring/Summer 2013, I was left wondering why it is that I am always so blown away by this designer’s creations. Time after time I feel an excitement almost bordering on panic when I see each new collection (it’s so hard to decide what to buy, because I want everything), and this season was no exception. With a bit of consideration, I think I know why...

Before I worked here I could have been forgiven for not really understanding the different body-shapes of women. We are all familiar with our own body shape, and, if we have good taste and judgement, we develop a knowledge of what suits us. However, we can’t be expected to know and understand what is going on with everyone else! In fact, the biggest learning curve that I had to climb when I first started working in plus-size fashion was to understand the great diversity of physiques amongst larger women - and how I could use this knowledge to help women to create their best possible look.

One of the frustrating aspects in my business is that each plus-size designer seems to create clothes for one particular body shape. For instance, Elena Grunert creates for the tall, larger woman - with a somewhat straight physique. Her partial namesake, Elena Miro, on the other hand, has designs on the neater, perhaps more apple-shaped woman. The collection produced by Exelle excels in flattering shapes for the pear-shaped woman, while Personal Choice has a happy relationship with the hourglass lady. Although there are always exceptions to this rule, what tends to happen is that the body shape - not the taste - of a woman is what dictates the designer that's best for her.

With Anna Scholz, however, the tables are turned by the fact that she has an unheard-of level of experience and knowledge for a designer in our industry. Looking around the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, I was amazed by the sheer diversity of it all. There are gorgeous items to suit every body shape, and yet all of them enjoy the highly distinctive Anna Scholz vibe.

This year (as with most years at Anna Scholz) is all about the dress. We see it here in every possible incarnation... The work dress, in either black/white or cobalt/black combinations set with panels for a flattering waist. The fun, flirty little nude-coloured pleated dresses, finishing above the knee, that my niece would kill for. The gorgeous double silk long (or short) kaftans, for which Anna is justly famous. The floor-length maxi-dresses, in cheerful summery colours, that will grace many a Mediterranean holiday next year. And the sophisticated, strappy evening dresses that would instantly give you a pop of glamour for even the most prestigious event.

Yet it was the little, deceptively simple-looking day dresses that I have come away dreaming about. There was one in black and white with little flashes of red, shaped by clever all-round darts, that looked cool and cottony for the summer that we know is going to come-in next year. The floral cotton dress (pictured above) managed to be a vintage Anna Scholz item, while still looking completely new and fresh. Then there was another black and white dress that skimmed the body in a shapely, yet swishy way, frothing with a little soft frill around the bust and arms in an incredibly feminine manner. You put it on, and you are good to go... anywhere!

The colours are edgy: nude, cobalt, black, black/white, peacock and flame. And the fabrics are - as ever - her great strength. The wonderful double silks are joined by jersey, crepe, georgette and cotton sateen.

Taken as a whole the collection provides a comprehensive resource for plus-size women (particularly those obsessed with fashion) of every body shape, which they can select from and know they will look gorgeous in. If you are into Anna's style, then you're in.

 

 Kim P    Tuesday 18 September 2012 at 11:46

 
That dress looks lovely on you Emma. It's amazing how Anna Scholz keeps coming up with such gorgeous prints season after season.

 

 Emma    Thursday 20 September 2012 at 14:54

Thanks for your remarks...yes, Kim, Anna does have a genius for fabric. I think one of the aspects of her as a designer is that she is completely uncompromising with her fabrics. Even this very simple jersey dress (see right) packs far more of a punch because of the sophisticated palette and Art-Deco references, that draw you in...
 

 Rozi Desouza    Tuesday 25 September 2012 at 11:47

 
This dress is looking so beautiful on you. You are looking gorgeous.

 

 Emma    Wednesday 26 September 2012 at 13:47

Thanks, Rozi, for your lovely comments.

This is another Anna dress that I felt fabulous in (see right)!
 

 Bruno Moretti    Thursday 18 October 2012 at 08:44

 
Nice dress. You are looking so good in this dress.

 

Emma    Friday 27 July 2012 at 18:30

 Post #304 



 
Subject: Whirlygig

It has to be said, I am quite an argumentative person. Who could be more argumentative than someone who, even when re-reading her own words, disagrees passionately with them? That’s me!

When I was re-reading my last post about buying for next summer, I found that I just didn’t agree with me, and felt the urge to put the opposite point of view.

In my last post (to jog your memory or save your time if you have not read it yet), I was talking about what you could call ‘practical’ fashion. I was looking at the weather we have had so far this summer (and the last, and the one before that), and thinking about the kind of clothing that has recently proved to be the most useful. Then I was intending to get more of those kinds of hardworking, everyday items. You know the sort of thing... lovely, comfortable trousers, teamed with smart little jackets and pretty tops. How very practical, comfortable - and sensible!

Oooeer. That’s a word that brings me up short. Sensible? Has it really come to this, that we (calling ourselves a fashion store) start thinking about buying sensible clothes? How hideous! How very pedestrian! Isn’t fashion about something a whole lot more than simply dressing yourself? Isn’t it really about beauty, passion, gorgeousness and lust? Aren’t the clothes we wear a whole lot more than simply covering us up in a practical, workmanlike way? Aren’t they transformative? And if they are transformative, wouldn’t it - on the whole - be so much better to be transformed into something stylish, lovely, individual and original, than into something sensible?

What if news of my awful lapse got out? Gather round, everybody, and see the Emma Plus Spring/Summer 13 collection... it’s wonderfully sensible! It would ruin our reputation.

So how have I suddenly recovered and seen the light? In the week or so since I wrote that last piece, three things have occurred to make me regain my usual fashion mojo. The first thing (the elephant sitting in its familiar spot in the corner) is that the weather has completely changed. Walking down the road just now, I felt like I was abroad. The golden sun was filtering down, and there was a kind of summer spirit shimmering in the air that made Brightonians look different from a few weeks ago. Back then we appeared thoroughly British: damp, earnest, nose-to-the-grindstone folk, manfully struggling through the mizzle to get to work. Today, we all looked like sophisticated, relaxed, suave Europeans, stylishly sashaying down the avenues, casually selecting a picturesque roadside café in which to start our torrid affair with a handsome Gallic... sorry. Starting to get carried away there! Still, I think you get the overall picture. What a difference a bit of sunshine makes!

Another thing that has happened since I wrote my last blog is that I have started to receive brochures from the various collections I buy from. It’s early days (I haven’t, for instance, seen the Spring/Summer 13 Anna Scholz brochure yet), but the omens are good. More than that, they are exciting!

Looking at the brochures I’ve had so far I’m seeing colour; beautiful turquoises, cherry pinks, emerald greens and cobalt blues. There is texture: soft, tiny crinkle linen weaves, chiffons, rich swirling jerseys, and delicate lacy effects. In dresses there are drapes that swirl around the body as if caught-up in a summer breeze, and gorgeous tops and jackets with plenty of volume. There are prints (some of the best I have seen: abstract, or near-abstract sophisticated flower designs) in bold, life-affirming blocks of colour.

Suddenly, looking at the pictures, I realised that (for example) what I really needed in my life right now was a pair of stretch skinny cherry pink jeans. Who knew that? Luckily, Brand did.

The final reason for my abrupt change of heart is that the buying season has crept up and is now thundering down on us like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz. I am caught-up in the whole fashion whirligig that spins us rounds and deposits us in a completely unexpected place every season. It’s better than any fairground ride.

Funnily enough, a close look at many of these exciting items also reveals something quite odd. Many of them - like the aforementioned skinny Brand jeans (seen above right with a sleeved, pretty little top) - also happen to fall into the ‘sensible’ clothing category. On second thoughts, perhaps I’d better not mention that.

 

Emma    Saturday 21 July 2012 at 10:40

 Post #303 



 
Subject: Spring/Summer buying...

It’s that time of year again... buying time! It’s a time for excitement, planning, anticipation... but also a time for reflection. What, if anything, have I learned from the summer of 2012 that I can take with me when I am purchasing the collection for Spring/Summer 2013?

Well, the elephant in the corner does appear to be the weather. For about three years now, in early summer, periods of lovely sunshine have been few and far between. Situated above the jet-stream (rather than the usual position of below it), the UK has been colder, wetter and windier, at least until mid-year. Things often seem to warm up only later on in the summer.

So I was thinking about the criteria I need to consider when I am doing my buying for next year. Of course, there are many of the same issues that we always have, and will continue to think about (probably) for ever more. For example, I will be thinking about summer weddings.

As long as there are human beings, there will be love - and if there is love, there will be summer weddings! Weddings are easy to buy for. Yes, I have to use every ounce of my experience and knowledge to source items that fit and suit my customers. But other than that, buying for weddings is a no-brainer. No-one is silly or wise enough to second-guess the weather when buying an outfit to wear to a summer wedding. The fact is, regardless of how the rest of the year has been, it’s always going to be sunny on that one special day! And, in any case, you are going to wear that gorgeous outfit come what may!

For weddings, it's pretty, colourful, comfortable and suitable outfits, in ‘this season’s’ colours and styles, that my customers are looking for. Obviously the first range to look at for this kind of thing is Anna Scholz.

Then there is work-wear. Again, this tends to be largely eternal to what's going on in the atmosphere. Women are involved in every profession, and each has its own sartorial rules. However, most occupations these days do not have a proper dress-code. Most women wear smart-ish everyday clothes to work. So when I talk about ‘work-wear’ in particular, I’m talking about the kind of clothing you would only wear to work. Suits, mainly, or smart jackets and dresses. Again, this is a no-brainer. The environment in the average British office hasn’t really changed all the time that I have been in this profession. So buying it is all about finding out about the latest styles, fabrics and colours, and sourcing some great, invaluable items. I’ll be rifling through the Marina Rinaldi collection for the lion’s share of this kind of garment.

No sea-changes there then. So what will be different next summer? I think it will be the ‘everyday’ clothes that will be subtly different. In my opinion, many women will - either consciously or subconsciously - be looking at those items that they find have been the most useful during our recent wet summers, and will want to wear more of the same.

We have been selling lightweight trousers very well recently. And no wonder, because - during odd weather - it is very difficult to know what to wear, and a good pair of summer trousers, teamed with a great little jacket and lightweight top, is so useful. It also side-steps the vexed question of whether or not to wear tights! When rain is falling from the sky, it feels wrong to splash through puddles with bare legs (and, er... sandals?). Yet to wear tights and proper shoes, or boots, looks so wintry and feels so hot. A light pair of trousers worn with sandals or summer shoes is just the ticket in these situations.

I shall be looking to collections like Brand (who do super ultra-cool trousers), NP (whose trouser expertise is second-to-none), Verpass (who always have great trousers), and various other ranges to help me with the great summer trews.

A good lightweight casual jacket is a very useful thing in this weather. You know the kind of thing: neat and shapely, perhaps in an interesting colour or fabric, and made of stretch cotton. If you get caught out in a very heavy shower, it won’t keep you dry (we’re not talking about rainwear here), but at the same time it will not be ruined. And the rest of the time it looks flattering and feels summery and comfortable. It’s so useful you will not take it off when you come inside, and most of the time it will be great for outdoors, too. You put it on and you are good to go. Personally, I just adore Elena Miro's little jackets (see picture, right), so I will go hot-foot to their showroom and snuffle them out.

Underneath that jacket you will need a lightweight top. Colourful, with a bit of femininity, and cool - made from a practical, washable fabric. It will have to have a sleeve, because you may well have to take your jacket off when the going gets hot (which it could do; even in the rain it can feel uncomfortably warm).

Of course, a must-have is a jolly good raincoat. While we have been having all this wind, an umbrella offers little or no protection from the downpour. It really isn’t good enough if we are going to be getting repeated rain to have an old sports coat, or dog-walking raincoat that shows a sorry face. Nowadays, we may find a lot of use for a summer raincoat, and it had better look the part - and earn its keep.

Lastly, I have to remember that (hush, because I am whispering this now), it is actually possible that we will indeed have a long, beautiful, sunny summer next year. I have to be prepared for this, too.

This is the joy - and the challenge - of fashion!

 

Emma    Thursday 19 July 2012 at 18:16

 Post #302 



 
Subject: Emma Plus Summer Sale Starts 10.30am Friday 20th July

It’s not every year when the stars align to the advantage of the British consumer, but this year does seem to be one of them!

We have been waiting for summer for so long (and almost giving up hope), when along it comes - just in time to take advantage of summer clothes at super-bargain prices!

As our regulars already know, we clear all stock every season to make way for the next tranche of goodies. This means that all current stock has to go. In this instance, that opens up a gorgeous collection of summer clothes at truly wonderful prices.

I have mentioned before that, in my opinion, the best possible option for the stylish plus-size woman who is thrifty (either by necessity, or by nature!), is to buy designer clothes in the sale. The difference in price between designer and high-street clothing, even at full price, is nowhere near as great as the difference in what you get for your money.

Designer clothes are fashion-forward (in the main, the style of a designer item will look band-box fresh for at least two years, and usually considerably longer); the quality means they are a delight to wear, and the fit is superb. Adding that to the fact that designer clothes tend (these days) to be easy-care and incredibly durable, the only possible argument against buying high-end clothing is the price. However, if you are lucky enough to source items that are correct for you in the sale, then even this disadvantage melts away. And this season, not only are the prices fantastic, but the choice is brilliant.

I really would recommend any plus-size woman interested in looking good to hurry along to our Sale. She will not be disappointed.

The Sale starts tomorrow (Friday 20th July) at 10.30am. We look forward to seeing you in store!

 

 Sharon Cross    Thursday 26 July 2012 at 13:55

 
I've booked a day off work tomorrow to come down and have a good attack on your sale stock. Hope the weather holds up :-)

 

 Emma    Thursday 26 July 2012 at 23:05

 
Hi Sharon!

You are indeed a very discerning woman, if you don't mind my saying so!

I can't think of anything better to do with a lovely day than come down to Brighton, park in the NCP car park next to Emma Plus (to get two hours' free parking), have a spot of lunch in one of the North Laine's gorgeous little cafes in the sunshine, see a few of the sights of Brighton, and find some goodies in the Emma Plus sale, in the air-conditioned cool......what's not to like?

I do hope the weather holds up, and that you have a lovely time on your precious day off....

 

Emma    Wednesday 27 June 2012 at 06:48

 Post #300 



 
Subject: ASD in the news...

I was delighted to see that our Anna Scholz Day (ASD) merited a mention in the industry bible, Womenswear Buyer magazine – right. A trade journal for the fashion industry, WWB makes it their business to keep a finger on the pulse of all that's 'moving and shaking' in the world of fashion retail, and published this piece about our recent visit from top plus-size fashion designer, Anna Scholz...

 

 Kim P    Tuesday 03 July 2012 at 19:56

 
Great to have such good coverage for Emma Plus! You all look lovely in the pic as well.

 

 Emma    Sunday 08 July 2012 at 12:54

 
Thanks, Kim, for your lovely comments...!

 

Emma    Friday 22 June 2012 at 11:42

 Post #299 



 
Subject: People

It was only half-way through the conversation that I realised what I was really saying. A friend and I were chatting, ostensibly about travel. I am not a particularly well-travelled person, but I have been on a few really interesting trips, and always feel that I have gained some kind of knowledge (however small) that's unique to the country I have visited.

My modest experience of Italy has shown me that it is a particularly beautiful country. A lovely climate, amazing architecture, and really beautiful countryside and coastline. However, more than anything, what I enjoyed most about the country were the wonderful people I encountered. It strikes me that the Italians have an age-old tradition of professional hospitality that means they really know how to make you welcome.

Later we were chatting about India, where I had made a business trip for about 10 days some years before. I did think the country was amazing... a really unique and special place. But, more than anything, I thought the people I had dealings with were exceptional. I had to use a conscious effort of will not to burst into tears when I was saying goodbye at the airport. I found a kind of fellow-feeling and empathy among my colleagues there that was so wonderfully warm.

I have also been very lucky to visit Australia, to visit some well-loved friends who have emigrated there. I thought the country was truly eye-opening. How could it be that one country - with a modest population - could have such an embarrassment of riches? However, no matter how incredible the environment, it was the people that stood out for me as the major attraction. I found them generous, quirky, independent, friendly, and incredibly funny.

Similar experiences seemed to be repeated, always with a slightly different emphasis... the locals I met when I visited Spain were so welcoming, and I really appreciated the way they went the extra mile to help when I was just a stranger to them. I would have thought that many Greek islanders, living on their tiny, perfect islands, may have seen enough big galumphing English people to last a lifetime - yet they couldn’t have been more friendly and lovely, and appeared genuinely delighted to see me.

When I visited Finland, I was moved by the way we were entertained to the utmost, and with such obvious good grace, by the wonderful, civilised people we encountered.

It was at this point that I realised I was beginning to sound like a broken record. I just seem to like the people, wherever I am! Couldn’t I just stay at home? So I started to think about the people of Brighton, and – guess what - I came to the conclusion that Brighton people are marvellous too! They are funny, weird, creative, clever and very, very friendly. And we have wonderful sights to see as well (such as our Royal Pavilion, top right). If only we had Italian weather - then there would be no point in going anywhere else!

If you're in the fashion industry, you may think you are in the clothes trade, but in fact you are in the people-business! If you don’t like people, you will probably not enjoy this kind of work, and you'd better find something else to do for a living.

One of the wonderful things about the travel business is that it is another industry where you really do need to be a ‘people person’. Hotels, shops, restaurants and visitor attractions have to be run by ‘people who like people’... otherwise they would end up acting like Basil Fawlty, and that would certainly be bad for trade!

So travelling naturally gives me the opportunity to come across like-minded people who are glad to see me, and with whom I find myself bonding.

From these musings, you may be able to guess why my mind has been concentrating on this subject. Next week I'm on holiday (nothing exotic; I’m going to East Anglia). I’m confidently expecting to really enjoy the experience.

Weather permitting, of course.

 

 Haley - Hautespot for Style    Thursday 12 July 2012 at 11:34

 
Emma plus is awesome. Liked it.

Haley
http://www.socialbliss.com/

 

Emma    Saturday 05 May 2012 at 12:34

 Post #287 



 
Subject: Anna Scholz Day 12th May

There was a time when plus-size women’s clothing was never designed by plus-size women. What am I saying?... the fact is that the lion’s share of plus-size women’s clothing is still not being designed by plus-size women! This can create problems of perception within the industry.

Until relatively recently I was told by agents, pretty regularly, that larger women ‘didn’t like to show themselves off too much’ (by the way, in our industry, quite a few agents are men - but we would get this kind of comment from the female agents as well), so, apparently, we hated to show any cleavage. These agents often went on to explain that this was the reason why larger women didn’t want fitted clothes, preferring the baggy look. And, as luck would have it, they didn’t like colour either: black, dark grey, brown, navy... these were the order of the day.

I’m quite a strong person, but I don’t see the point in being actively offensive, so I would bite my tongue when greeted with comments like these, and simply quietly and politely tell the agents that what they were saying was mistaken. In reality I was maddened to the extent that I would want to burst forth with my opinions about how you would have to be wilfully deluded not to notice the huge number of beautiful, sexy women desperate for something to wear that didn’t make them look ready to take up holy orders.

On one occasion, however, the discussion (which had been continuing in the vein for a few minutes - a few minutes too long in my book) was taken out of my hands. There were actually two male agents in the shop: my agent and his boss, the ‘national manager’. I was politely trying to convince the men that, after (at that time) spending about five years dealing on a daily basis with larger women (and being one myself), I didn’t really need a masterclass from these two gentlemen on what we wanted. But they weren’t having any of this. Neither man had apparently ever met a plus-size woman who wanted to dress sexily.

Then, suddenly, the curtain of my changing room was whipped back, and the lovely lady who had been within (trying on a blouse) issued forth like a ship in full sail. She did not feel the need to pussyfoot around the subject, and told the two of them in words of one syllable what she thought of their point of view, and their so-called experience of larger women. Let’s just say that those two gentlemen were never able to boast about their knowledge of plus-size women again. Not without carefully checking behind every innocent-looking curtain in the vicinity, that is!

This story leads me on to my preoccupation this week: the visit of the fabulous plus-size designer, Anna Scholz (pictured), to our store... an event that is happening on Saturday 12th May 2012.

Anna is a beautiful plus-size woman herself, who started her line when she realised that the sort of clothes she required were simply not being produced. From the very beginning Anna has been entirely true to herself. Regardless of how her own size has varied over the years, she is, and always will be, able to see the world through the eyes of a larger woman. She wanted to create clothes that enhance the body, revealing the attractive assets that most of us have, while providing an extremely flattering silhouette.

She is innovative - she was the first in our industry to use stretch silk, and this material (which she uses to fantastic effect) remains one of her signature fabrics. She is bold - she uncompromisingly creates sexy clothing; her attitude is that women are beautiful... and size has nothing to do with it. She is celebratory - I have never seen a designer more prepared to use gorgeous, singing colours.

Other designers now follow behind Anna. That is her contribution to our industry. It is incredibly helpful that people realise that there are ample (in every sense of the word) women out there who want to look very, very good. But it is not easy to be able to recreate that celebratory, uncompromising and bold aesthetic, because to be able to carry it off, first and foremost, you need to be able to get the fit right. She's a tough act to follow.

So Anna Scholz was the catalyst that set off a massive change in our industry. No-one any more attempts to tell me that plus-size women are not interested in looking gorgeous. If they did, they themselves would know that they sound like dinosaurs. How did Anna manage to achieve so much?

Arguably, it all started with her being a larger woman herself.

 

 Kim P    Sunday 06 May 2012 at 19:46

 
Looking forward to next Saturday and seeing all the gorgeous clothes. I love my Anna Sholz dresses and tops and I was living in her leggings over the winter. They are so well made and the colourful prints are stunning. Web photos rarely do them justice.

As you know I am not keen on too low a neckline but the beauty of buying from Emma Plus is the ability to have clothes altered professionally ( and often FOC ) to suit customers wishes so everyone is catered for!

 

 Emma    Tuesday 08 May 2012 at 13:10

 
Hi Kim!

So looking forward to seeing you this coming weekend! If it's anything like last time, it will be a blast!

Yes, I think your reply has pointed out a bit of a problem with my post about Anna Scholz, which left the impression, firstly, that she is only about flashing a bit of cleavage, and secondly, that this is the only way to look fabulous and sexy!

That would be wrong on both counts, of course! Although no-one does decolotage quite like Anna (and I mean no-one!), she is also all about every aspect of looking fantastic, encompasing all different looks from understated, through classic, to demure, and items such as business suiting, knits, coats, trousers etc, do also form part of her line...not just sexy low-cut tops and dresses!

 

Emma    Thursday 26 April 2012 at 18:00

 Post #284 



 
Subject: Plus fashion

So farewell then (at least for now!) Evans, Brighton. You have been here for a long time, and will be much missed. It was rather a shock to the system to hear that our local Evans is closing down tomorrow.

Over the years there have been many other plus-size stores here in Brighton. When I first started in 1990, Evans was on the high street, and nearby in Brighton Lanes there was a lovely designer shop called Park Plus. Round the corner from us was a 250-year-old department store called Hannington’s - which stocked various ranges that crept towards the plus-size mark (at the most around size 20). Later on, Hannington’s opened an Elvi department - specifically for plus-sizes. A short way along the coast in Hove was the grandmother of us all: a lovely shop called Dresswell, which, although it was not a specialist plus-size shop, stocked some larger sizes.

Shortly after I came here, a new store, Box 2, opened-up a stone’s throw away, selling designer plus-sizes.

Back on the high street, and some time later, we were told that a new, slightly more up-market high street shop was opening, and it was to be called Ann Harvey. It was an unfortunate time for them to open, starting off as they did in virtually the same week as near namesake Ann Summers - which caused much confusion, consternation and not a little hilarity when various mistaken customers blundered into the wrong new stores. (For the uninitiated, Ann Harvey sold, at the beginning, rather pretty plus-size clothes, whereas Ann Summers is an - ahem - intimate apparel and adult toy store!)   Also on the high street was a shop called Etam, which momentarily opened a plus-size department. Later, another plus-size high street store, Rogers and Rogers, opened in our nearby shopping centre. We also benefitted from one of the largest plus-size departments of H&M stores in the country.

A little later a store called Hampstead Bazaar opened, selling a layered look that many plus-size (and small) women wear, and, in a similar mould, The Glass House boutique also opened nearby. About this time a new store called Cinnamon, which specialised in plus-sized designer wear, opened in Burgess Hill, and then rapidly expanded into Brighton.

In those days many locals regularly made the trip up to the big London stores to supplement their wardrobes. Liberties had a gorgeous plus-size department, as did Harvey Nichols, John Lewis and the really big players in the field: Harrods and Selfridges.

One by one I have watched these stores close down or otherwise pull out of the market. Various offerings have diminished and become something else: I believe that Elvi, Ann Harvey and Box 2 are now available predominantly online. Rogers and Rogers has gone into out-of-town discount fashion store, Matalan. Our H&M plus-size department has massively diminished, and cannot even be called a shadow of its former self.

Many have simply gone: Hannington's, Park Plus, Cinnamon, The Glass House, and now Hampstead Bazaar have all disappeared, and after 60 years of trading, Dresswell of Hove closed down late last year.

I was surprised when Liberty's closed its plus-size offer; less so when Harvey Nicks did not continue with it. That John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges no longer have plus-size departments is nothing short of a national scandal.

The biggest shock of all, however, is the closure of our local Evans - a monolithic high street presence in the plus-size market, and one which I never dreamed would disappear from Brighton’s high street.

As of tomorrow, Emma Plus is the last plus-size women’s fashion store in this city. As I said to someone yesterday, I feel that we have been on a journey, and one by one our travelling companions have disappeared.

An economist studying the situation here would no doubt conclude that there can be no requirement for plus-size fashion in this city. Perhaps we, as a population, have been shrinking in size? Maybe fashion has ‘gone out of fashion’? Perhaps plus-size women don’t really want or need to look fabulous? Or maybe there is something particular about plus-size women that mean they don’t need to try things on in order to see if clothes suit them, and are perfectly able to select items of clothing by looking at photographs online?

Every day beautiful plus-size women come through my door and prove these ideas wrong. Why the high street (and, to be fair, many designer stores too) have retreated from this vital, expanding market is bizarre and needs urgently to be questioned.

Professionally I enjoy the extra custom that being a ‘sole trader’ in this field affords, but as a plus-size woman myself, I am furious and bewildered.

 

 Nicola    Sunday 29 April 2012 at 12:48

 
Hi Emma

I think what you have said here is very interesting and also a reflection of the failure of the high street, both high and low end, to cater to larger women's needs.

I think that the key is in the service, or lack thereof, from the larger stores such as Evans and Harrods. Having shopped at both the thing they have/had in common were their failure to provide a good level of service. In the case of Harrods the assistants were cold and offered no useful advice (more interested in selling than find the best for their customer). In Evans the service was non-existant with disinterested staff.

The result - you went away with clothes sure, but they didnt make you look good and left your self-esteem at rock bottom, and in the case of Harrods an empty bank account toboot.

The uniqueness of your store Emma is that you provide, along with a great range of clothing, sound & honest advice, which leaves you with happy customers who feel good about themselves.

The tradgedy of the closures of all these stores is I feel larger women are being humiliated off the high-street and onto the internet where they can remain anonymous. Younger women in particular are going on-line and are losing out on the guidance and advice of professionals like yourselves.

Nicola

 

 Emma    Tuesday 01 May 2012 at 15:24

 
Hi Nicola,

thank you so much for your lovely comments, Nicola! I think there may well be a chicken-and-egg situation here. You would suggest that it is the lack of good customer service that has done for these stores, whilst I would stick to my own personal hobby-horse of the lack of good fit in the plus-size market!

However, we are perhaps just both reflecting the fact that the customer is in dire need of help in order to get a fit and a look that is right for her. Let's be honest, with the horrendous fit that is available for most plus-size clothing on the high street, the consumer needs all the help she can get when sourcing her wardrobe!

Without that help, she may just as well buy online, because she is never going to find things that really fit her well anyway!

 

Emma    Thursday 12 April 2012 at 11:39

 Post #279 



 
Subject: Trouser Day 21st April

We've decided to burst forth this spring (actually, we always burst forth, not just during springtime but at any time of the year... but I digress) and ‘go for it’ with an emphasis on really fantastic events.

I feel sure that any right-thinking plus-size woman would agree that one of the great struggles of modern life is the eternal quest for the perfect pair of ‘good trousers'. Trousers are a particular problem, not just for plus-size women, but for all of womankind (and perhaps mankind for that matter). There are so many variables in the proportions of the lower portions of the human body that it’s a bit of a wonder that anyone would ever undertake the thankless task of creating a pair of good trousers. I use the term ‘good trousers’ to mean not the kind of trousers that are bought in a sale, or picked up in a budget-priced high street store, or online, scooped up amongst the bewildering array of styles - all of which are displayed in photographs on generically-shaped models. These are simply ‘will-do trousers’, which will spend a short but useful life providing leg-coverage during the routine tasks of one’s everyday life... shopping in the supermarket, walking the dog, housework, doing a spot of gardening - that kind of thing.

No, ‘good trousers’ are quite a different beast, and cannot easily be picked up in such ways. I can honestly say that I have never heard the phrase ‘these trousers fit me beautifully, are incredibly flattering, lasted for ages and feel gorgeous... I picked them up online’. It’s not that I don’t think such an occurrence is possible; one look at the internet will immediately make you understand that, with the vast scale of humanity, virtually anything is possible - from a cat that speaks to a man capable of summersaulting from the top of one building to another. It just means it isn’t really all that likely.

Good trousers are a treasure. You slip them on and feel confident about your nether regions. You can put them on and forget about them. But if you were not inclined to forget about them, then thinking about them would give you nothing but pleasure. They look good, they feel good, and they have no vices (like a visible panty line, showing your cellulite, riding up, being baggy on the bum... the list of ‘trouser problems’ goes on).

A really good pair of trousers will take you into the office on an important day. You can wear them on a date, or out for lunch with the girls that you haven’t seen since you left school. They will see you through the tough times (when you don't have time to do the ironing, but still have to look 'put together') and the good (effortlessly looking smart at a moment’s notice). They will be your secret weapon, and your quiet, useful little friend that will stay around for years. They are quite literally worth three times the price that you'd pay for your high-street trousers - and a whole lot more!

And, of course, if you choose to also wear them to walk the dog, do the gardening or suchlike, then there will also be life left in them for that when they grow old!

A pair of good trousers should, first and foremost, fit you superbly. Until recently it was a bit of a mystery why this presented such a problem. The top designers were doing their best. They were cutting the trousers as perfectly as they could in order to fit the body shapes that they had identified. And yes, for the lucky women who enjoyed these body shapes, there were always superb trousers to be had. Yet there were very many women who found those trousers unsuitable. Routinely women would tell me that they just ‘didn’t suit trousers’.

Then of course there was the problem that one range tended to vary in shape from another. Some suited the slim-waisted bigger-bottomed woman, some the snake-hipped lady with the wide waist. How on earth was the customer to know which range was going to suit her best?

During the past 20 years the plus-size industry has expanded and improved immeasurably. More ranges have come on to the market, there is more choice, with the look becoming more directional and varied. Suddenly not only were there a host of different ranges from which to source trousers, but there was a greater selection of looks. It was all only serving to become more bewildering - but luckily, at the same time, independent stores were also improving and trying to develop an expertise in the whole area of body shape.

Recently, some manufacturers, like Finnish company, NP, for example, did widespread studies of body shape as it applied to trousers - and the reality started to emerge from the gloom. Not only were we in the plus-size industry able to identify what shapes of trousers would suit women with any number of different body shapes, but we were offering the differing shaped trousers to satisfy these requirements.

Hence the advent of our ‘Trouser Day’. We have had a couple of these events before, and they have been some of the most successful days we've had in our store. We assemble the biggest selection of trousers we can, and we identify which body shapes will suit which trouser styles. Then we train our staff and ensure that the most knowledgeable will be in the shop on this day.

Trousers are sorted into different groups, and our customers are fitted properly with trousers that many could never imagine would look as good.

On this day there will be refreshments and a prize draw, where a lucky customer will win a pair of trousers. Moreover, when a customer buys one pair of trousers they can then purchase a second pair at half price (exclusions apply). This generous offer is almost unheard-of at this end of the season - when choice is so wide.

The atmosphere buzzes on our Trouser Days and most customers find it a sociable and pleasant way to pass a Saturday!

Anyone spending £100 or more on the day will also get a ticket for two hours’ free parking at the NCP car park, adjacent to our shop.

Emma Plus's Trouser Day is on 21 April 2012, between 10.00am and 5.00pm. We really look forward to seeing you in store!

 

 Kim P    Friday 20 April 2012 at 19:10

 
Good luck with the day! A fantastic opporunity to buy flattering and comfortable trousers which as you mention is not something easily achieved in larger sizes. Some of my best buys fron you have been various wonderful trousers by Brand. I know the Trouser Queen aka Kim will be in her element! Can't make tomorrow but hope to pop in again soon.

 

 Emma    Saturday 21 April 2012 at 17:03

Hi Kim

Thank you for your lovely words of encouragement! I am here at the end of the day in the shop, tired, but very happy!

We had a wonderful Trouser Day... We were very busy and sold dozens of pairs of trousers to very happy customers.

I love these events; we always have a really lively, pleasant atmosphere here.

Now, the next event to look forward to is Anna Scholz Day...!
 

 Kim P    Saturday 21 April 2012 at 23:02

 
So pleased everyone had a great time, very hard work for the Emma Plus ladies but must be so satisfying seeing the joy on customers faces when they have found their perfect trousers.

I noticed the Anna Scholz event on the 12th May. Very exciting news!

 

 Emma    Thursday 10 May 2012 at 18:16

Just a quick update...we held our 'prize draw' for our Trouser Day event. All those who went in for it were placed in a jar, and a friend of Emma Plus (my old schoolfriend, Clare!) pulled the winner out. The winner is Debbie Bright.

Debbie is now the proud owner of another pair of Emma Plus trousers!
 

Emma    Thursday 15 March 2012 at 15:35

 Post #274 



 
Subject: Greek goddesses and dressing-up boxes

So here I am, hot-foot from the Anna Scholz showroom - where last week I was buying the collection for the Autumn/Winter 12 season.

It’s always lovely to visit Anna, Darren and co in their den; a light, open space situated in a post-industrial building. Her team are always beavering away at their desks and tables, sharing a cup of tea and a friendly welcome to us buyers. It must be a very pleasant thing to see the recipients of your hard work arriving at your workplace, and to be able to listen to the succession of noises emanating from the viewing area. In our case, the noises were - in ascending levels of volume: a) stunned, delighted silence; b) sighs of enjoyment; c) tinkling, happy laughter; d) cries of joy; e) screams of ecstasy; f) loud slaps to calm us down... At Anna Scholz, it was ever thus.

More and more these days I am finding that Anna Scholz is all about dresses. Thank heaven for that, because there is no-one who can cut dresses for plus-size women the way Anna and her team can. The most important thing about dresses is the fit. They have to hang properly on the body, to express the womanly shape, yet to be flattering and not give ‘too much information’. This is far, far more difficult than it sounds - and it sounds difficult enough! Most dresses from other designers either show a woman’s shape, both the good parts and the bad (in case you are struggling with what I am talking about, I mean womanly curves equals good parts, cellulite and wobbly tummy or legs eqauls bad parts), or just give up and are completely shapless - not a good thing.

It goes without saying that Anna's cut effortlessly scythes through these issues; she is never shapeless and always figure-enhancing. Many of her dresses this season are either fitted (for instance, her lovely tweedy work dresses, teamed with matching sharp jackets) or fluid (stretch silk was very much in evidence) and high-waisted. The fitted dresses show a maturity and showcase the slightly retro-aesthetic around at the moment. For many of these more suit-inspired outfits the ‘sexy executive’ or even ‘seductive librarian’ look is explored to an extent that any woman who has not yet grown out of her ‘little girl with a dressing-up box’ phase would be more than happy.

Of course, I have always loved Anna’s stretch silk dresses. These days she always shows a panoply of shapes, some more floaty than others, some long, some short. This season she created dresses with panels, cleverly manipulating the fall of the fabric, and drapey frocks that brought the cloth across the body in ways reminiscent of a Greek statue.

There were other fabrics, too. Beautiful soft wool/cashmere mixes to create her swing coats in pumpkin, caramel, or sumptuous black. Silk chiffon was turned into dresses with sleeves and skirts that would take a will of iron not to swish around the room in every time you put them on. And various jerseys... for example, her 1970s-inspired jersey prints with which she has gone full-on and created maxi-kaftans that Penelope Keith would have been happy to sport in her classic creation of the glamorous but monstrous Margot in ‘The Good Life’.

People are always taken with Anna’s fabrics, particularly her stretch silks which, like all of her fabrics, are exclusive designs. I’m not surprised that they are what she is known for; there are fabric designs to die for in every collection. However, I don’t always think this is why her pieces are such a joy. One’s eye is drawn to a gorgeous fabric, yes, but only a fool will buy a dress, no matter how lovely the print, unless the cut of it enhances the body. How many of us have, with great regret, walked out of a shop after trying to squeeze ourselves into something made of a lovely fabric, only to have to give up on the whole idea, and go home with a heavy heart?

This is the true revelation from Anna Scholz. When I first see her new fabrics, out of an old habit I inwardly sigh, because somehow I still don’t really believe that the lovely cloth will ever be made into something that will either fit me or flatter me. Yet when I then try the dresses on I see that they are cut just as well as they are printed, and it is like a dream come true. Hence the squeals of ecstasy in her showroom.

The prints this season are in a superb palette of emerald green, teal, mulberry and cobalt blue, and also project a nineteen-fifties vibe. There are animal prints that are subtle and sumptuous in blues, greens and blacks; there are abstracted graphics; and there are full-on Rothko-inspired painterly effects.

My absolute favourite is a gorgeous Rothkoesque stretch silk print, draped day dress in the most glorious blues, greys and black - pictured. I also cannot resist showing you a lovely emerald snake-print top... or dress if you happen to be below the age of thirty!

 

 Jessie Clay    Friday 27 April 2012 at 22:49

 
i would like to know if you have a book that you put out and do you make thing that a lady can wair in a wheel chair ? and that is not coast a arm and a leg ? if you do i would love to get a book and see what you have . thank you Jessie Clay

 

Emma    Tuesday 14 February 2012 at 18:20

 Post #271 



 
Subject: Getting what you really, really want...

In my last blog I was just about to go off to start the first of my buying trips. Well, I’m back from that now, but I am still up to my neck in Autumn/Winter 2012 buying. Although I have seen and bought some gorgeous items, it isn’t over until, as they say, the fat lady sings (that would be me then - singing for pure joy, because what I have seen so far has been lovely).

I asked, on my previous posting, what it was that women were wanting me to buy. I had a couple of answers on my Twitter page (@emmaplus). One woman begged me “please can we have sleeves - small ones, lace ones, long ones, cutaway ones – anything, but plus-size fashions need arms!”. Another wished I could obtain clothing: ”that fits big boobs but doesn't look like a tent around rest of body!” With these words, and others, ringing in my ears I sallied forth.

I have a little saying that goes like this: “Something’s best points are often their worst”. I guess this is just another version of the old adage “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”. Anyway, there's something in my business that provides both the best thing and the worst thing about my job. This is that I do not design my own stock - but instead choose from designs offered to me by others.

On the bad side, were I to be designing my own collection I wouldn’t hesitate to say “let there be sleeves” and decree that every dress and top produced this season should have one of an array of sleeves. As my correspondent says: “small ones, lace ones, long ones, cutaway ones”... but never without! If only it were that simple. The fact is I don’t have any direct say in what is produced by the fashion houses. I just get to buy the results of their genius.

However, this situation also creates what is most fabulous about my job... namely, being the beneficiary of all that genius! Every season is a surprise, and most are a real delight. If I were asked to design clothes every year, I'm sure I would soon run out of good ideas. But this is a neverending conveyor belt of creativity and innovation. I just don't know what I am going to find next.

So I have been looking around, and have seen a number of gorgeous dresses and tops with sleeves (those women reading this who have their fashion-heads on will know that, as a winter collection, the sleeve thing is much less difficult).

When I was at Marina Rinaldi, I bought some lovely jersey dresses, all resplendent with long sleeves. And I was thrilled to see that they had produced a gorgeous light, soft tweed suit that included not only a lovely jacket, but trousers, a skirt, and – yes - a matching dress... with sleeves! That makes the hit-rate of this outfit extremely high. Business suit... tick. Soft and wearable... tick. Versatile... tick. Sassy... tick. Sleeves... tick.

Because I am so excited by this development, I am breaking several fashion laws* and putting a picture of me trying the said outfit on, right there and then in the Marina Rinaldi showroom (see right).
* I will list the laws I am breaking: firstly, I am trying on a dress in easily one size smaller than I require. Secondly, I have it on over the top of my leather leggings and various other garments (I just couldn’t take them off in the middle of their display, with people walking past). Thirdly, it is not a very good photograph. It’s blurry, so my IT specialist will probably be disgusted with me putting in on our forum (I was going to say something about it! - J.). Fourthly, my hair: just look at my hair!

But at the very least, I think we can see that I am not a vain person, and am quite able to show you an unflattering picture in the service of getting you to see this dress! But this is not an unflattering style of dress - particularly if one makes an effort to get the correct size and take off one’s previous outfit before wearing it! It also achieves the objectives of my second correspondent; it would fit beautifully over a larger bust, and - in common with almost every other Miraldi outfit - shows no tent-like qualities whatsoever...

 

 Nicola    Saturday 18 February 2012 at 12:32

Hi Emma

I love the look of the suit you're wearing in the picture. It's left me chompong at the bit to see what next winter has in store for us. I loved this season's selection so much it's hard to imagine it getting any better.

I have attached a photo of me in my Elena Miro gilet, I love how soft it is. As you can see I too was having a bad hair day!

Looking forwards to seeing you all in the Spring.

NICOLA
 

 Emma    Saturday 18 February 2012 at 13:06

Hi Nicola

Thanks for the photo... Brynn looks hale and hearty, enjoying his dinner! I hope you are all very well.

Yes, I love that Elena Miro gilet, and I have enclosed a sneaky peek of a gorgeous Elena Miro jacket that I have ordered for next season. It's just as soft as the gilet you are wearing, but thicker (like a coat). It has a bit of a trompe l'oeil effect, in that it looks like a waistcoat worn over a knit, but is actually all one piece. It is beautiful.

But enough of this Autumn/Winter 2012 stock talk... we are now getting superb summer pieces in. I think there may be plenty for you, Nicola. Is there anything you are particularly looking for?

As for your hair... it's better on a bad day than mine ever is at its best!
 

 Nicola    Sunday 19 February 2012 at 13:05

Hi Emma

I love the look of that Elena Miro jacket!

Regards this spring/summer, like this winter, I need to re-stock my entire wardrobe. I need items which are flexible enough to be worn for work or casual. My linen shirts are all looking a bit tired now, I would love some new ones, especially if they are somewhat tailored (like the Marina Rinaldi 3/4 sleeve blouses I got a few seasons ago). Trousers are a must, I really like the KJ Brand trousers I got this winter, not too baggy but not too tight on the thigh either.

Let me know when you think the best time is to come over. I have a bank holiday in mid march but I don't know if that would be too early.

Here's another pick of Brynn showing off his Welsh rugby shirt while we watched the 6 Nations last weekend.

NICOLA
 

 Emma    Monday 20 February 2012 at 15:28

Brynn is such a happy baby! He really does have such a definite personality already, and always has had!

There will be plenty for you to see in mid-March: there already is, actually. Most of our lovely new Brand trousers are in stock, and we've had some fantastic items in, from Elena Miro, new (to us) Danish range Carmakoma, Nanso, and loads more.

We haven't had our Marina Rinaldi deliveries in yet (see photograph of some of the items we have on order), but we are expecting them very shortly, and there is a lot there for you in particular, Nicola. This should all be delivered well in time for your March holiday..... Hope you are able to make it.
 

 Kirsten James    Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 17:12

 
Lovely Emma! However, I am anxiously awaiting the Anna Scholz full report as only you can give it! Glad your trip went well. Thanks,
Kirsten

 

 Emma    Friday 24 February 2012 at 16:27

Hi Kirsten!

Thank you for your remarks and interest! As soon as we have seen the Autumn/Winter 12 Anna Scholz collection, I will write a blog, and fill everyone in!

In the meantime, we have had most of the superb Spring/Summer 12 Anna Scholz dresses in, and they are just a joy to behold. Really, this is the best ever season for Anna Scholz dresses, which of course means that it must be one of the best plus-size dress collections of all time!

The image I have here is a gorgeous selection of the Autumn/Winter Marina Rinaldi looks. There is the aforementioned business suit (with dress), as well as a couple of lovely dresses, a coat to die for (with little tufts of texture in a stylish weave), and some yummy jumpers and knitted jackets (Marina Rinaldi always uses such fantastic fabrics: the knits look almost hand-knitted in yarns that feel like you could curl up in them), with matching scarves.

One that particularly sticks out is a wonderful super-long knitted jacket (almost a knitted coat-dress), in a dense, soft knit with teeny tiny sequins scattered throughout. So sumptuous, luxurious yet subtle.......mmmm
 

Emma    Thursday 02 February 2012 at 19:59

 Post #270 



 
Subject: What we really, really want...

Well it’s here again... buying time! It seems ridiculous (even to me) that I can still get so excited about an event that comes round every six months and that I have been involved with for the best part of the past twenty years, but there it is. It really is something that I never tire of!

This weekend Jaq (the store manager) and I will wend our way to Germany to visit the fashion houses in Düsseldorf. This is where most of the designer clothing companies rent showrooms where they set out their stall to sell to us retailers. We can trawl through dozens of collections there, buying the best, and taking note of the rest.

Before we go, we really have no clue as to what to expect: fashion can turn on a sixpence, and even having an encyclopaedic knowledge of what has gone before doesn’t give you any kind of a head start.

For example, Spring-Summer 12 (the collection that is now hitting our shop) has got beautiful bright colours, and quite modernistic, fresh styles, much of it inspired by holiday wear. If you turn to our ‘Our Range’ page on our Home Page, you will see what I mean: the new images are in. The looks are very current, and the colours are what I call ‘Barcelona’ tones... young, vibrant, joyous and artistic.

Yet the season that preceded this collection (the Autumn-Winter clothing that we are just selling through now) was all about the retro look. There was a palette of vintage colours, reminiscent of 'Mad Men', and more structured shapes that spoke of a sophisticated, bygone, ladylike era. This was grown-up dressing.

There had been a sea-change between these two seasons, so there may yet be another one in the pipeline! Who is to say what the new Autumn-Winter 12 looks are going to be?

Perhaps now I am conveying something of the excitement that can accompany a buying trip...?

All I can do before I see the new collection is to cogitate on what it is that I am looking for. One must - first and foremost - remember that I will be buying a winter collection.

Yet again, I will be looking for knits like a heat-seeking missile. We have had so many cold winters of late, that it really does seem that I can sell each and every beautiful jumper, knitted cardi, jacket, sweater-suit or knitted dress that I can lay my hands on. So I will go out, hell-for-leather to get the best available.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it... That’s my way of saying that I adore knitwear, and I could stare at gorgeous knits every day and night from here to next Christmas - and never get bored. I love my job.

I would adore to get my hands on a really, really long coat! What is it with designers, that they seem to make lovely mid-length coats (good!...take a look at this lovely wool version for Winter 12, by German designer, Brand, right), but no really long coats (bad!)? I know there is now a pent-up demand for the long coat, and I will try my best to satisfy it.

This winter we stocked some gorgeous business suits from the likes of Marina Rinaldi, Elena Grunert, and others, and they sold like hot cakes. In fact, I would say that this is one particular requirement that never goes away. Even those customers who have been lucky enough to have already bought business suits from us, still want more! In fact, the one thing that really seems to stimulate the urge to buy a suit from us, is to have just bought one! It seems they are addictive.

And there are those women who didn’t get a look-in with the suits... they want some too! I refuse to buy a boring suit, and finding the really interesting and super ones is always a bit of a hunt, but I am packing some comfortable walking shoes, and I will not give up until I am successful.

Of course, I am canvassing opinions from my customers, and would love to hear any requests on this blog, or in the shop.

What do you all really, really want from next winter’s collections...? How can I make your day...?

 

Emma    Saturday 14 January 2012 at 15:08

 Post #267 



 
Subject: Curvy?

I was reading an article the other day about modern politically correct language. It seems that many terms for people that were not acceptable in the seventies are now perceived as reasonably harmless. There are passing trends, not just in clothing, but in language!

In my business my preferred term for us larger women is ‘plus size’, or simply ‘large’. I cringe when I hear a larger woman described as ‘big’ (men are ‘big’, women are larger-sized... to me, there is something so unfeminine about the word ‘big’), and I find myself reeling back when I hear the phrase ‘big girls’. Although I have quite a few customers who merrily call themselves big girls, it brings to mind the term ‘big girl’s blouse’, which I take to mean something somewhat pathetic and useless - characteristics alien to my customers. Also, the use of the word ‘girl’ to describe a full grown woman has an infantilising effect; not really the kind of thing that sits well with sophisticated fashion.

The term ‘plus sized’ seems to have very little wrong with it. If something is ‘plus’ or has ‘plus points’ this is entirely positive, in the same way that ‘minus’ and ‘less’ seems to simply diminish the object. However, I have heard women complain about the term, because they feel that it tip-toes around the fact that we are larger, and is somewhat patronising. No wonder sometimes people don’t know what to say for the best!

You may ask why, on a fashion blog, I am even occupying my time in discussing such an esoteric subject. Well, it’s my belief that what you call something can actually have an impact on how it is treated. Years ago, when I was a large schoolgirl growing up with a large sister and mother, most clothes available on the high street in plus sizes were called ‘outsize’ clothes. And yes, the styles existed in a world outside fashion. They were completely different from the clothing available to smaller women. We were standing on the ‘outsize’ of fashion, peering in, and that was a frustrating place to be! Even today, there are archaic ranges being marketed to us plus-size boutique owners under the description of ‘outsize’ clothing, and they are simply horrible clothes. It seems the name they give their fashion speaks volumes about what they are peddling!

I have a bit of a problem with the word ‘curvy’, which seems the almost ubiquitous word to describe larger women these days. And funnily enough, it is the same basic reason that I have against the word ‘outsize’, albeit in the opposite direction. Whereas the latter word is an insulting term for the larger woman, I feel the former may in fact gloss over the shortcomings of the shape of some of those women. Saying a range is for the ‘outsize’ woman encourages the ‘designer’ (I am somewhat reluctant to use that word, but you know what I mean) to have a prejudice about the customer - stereotyping her as a woman with no sexuality, no style and no figure to speak of; lumping (excuse the term!) everyone in as the same.

However, I feel that the use of the word ‘curvy’ can do the same thing... but in the opposite direction!

In my opinion, a ‘curvy’ woman is a woman (of any size) that has one of a group of body types. Usually they have an hourglass body shape, although they can be a moderate pear shape, or a large-busted woman.

What they simply cannot be is an apple shaped woman! I say this as an apple-shaper myself. The reason for this is simple: it is very rude (the old fashioned word for ‘politically incorrect’) to refer openly to something that is to the detriment of someone present.

It is not detrimental to refer to the womanly curve that flows over a bust, and in to a smaller waist, before gently expanding to describe a feminine derriere. Yet I feel that it is rather rude to refer to a curve that goes out from under the bust, extending ever outwards until it reaches the meridian of the body, before returning, like the underside of a lollipop. Not all curves are good. Please, I would prefer it if you don’t notice my ‘curve’ (an apple shaper does not have ‘curves’ she has just one curve!), and if you do, I would be quite happy if you don’t mention it - in the same way that I wouldn’t overtly mention that your husband has lost his hair.

The term can also rub salt in the wound of the large number of women who have a straight body shape... those women that I refer to as ‘athletic’ build - although they can also be called ‘column shaped’ - while many women with the ‘well-proportioned’ body shape, who wish they had better definition, also feel excluded.

So it galls me when the word ‘curvy’ is used as a collective noun for all plus-sized women, when it actually only describes the lucky few! And, like the unfortunate situation with the word ‘outsize’, it can actually have some kind of effect on the brains of the designers.

There does seem to be a positive glut of designers creating fashion for the ‘curvy’ woman. This is, of course, a good thing. But readers of my blog will know that I am obsessed with diversity and trying to fit all equally well. I think it’s all too simple for a designer to say ‘I like women who have a real ‘lady’ shape, whatever size she is, and that’s the kind of woman I am going to design for. If there are women out there whose figures have anything beyond a moderate degree of imperfection or are out of proportion, then let them go buy another collection'. Unfortunately, there are all too many designers who feel this way.

In fact, the real art of dressing us larger women is to understand our imperfections, celebrate our deviations, and to flatter our forms, whatever they are. My business is all about diversity and (to use a very old-fashioned PC phrase) equal opportunities! I’m glad to say that there are still many designers who really understand larger women, with their various silhouettes, and provide gorgeous, accessible looks for everyone. Designers like Sallie Sahne (pictured above right: a gorgeous soft jacket from the Spring/Summer 12 collection) or Anna Scholz even manage to bring out the attractive curves in women who didn’t think they had any! That is a game worth playing!

Certainly many plus-size women are curvy, and I’m exceedingly grateful that they have some lovely designer collections. However, I am acutely aware that they only form part of the population of larger women, and it is our job to style each and every woman who enters our shop.

With that in mind, we will be fitting clothes to women who are plus-size, curvy, larger - and even those who are big girls!

Sadly, 'outsize' women may want to look elsewhere!

 

Emma    Wednesday 14 December 2011 at 15:34

 Post #263 



 
Subject: Fashion democracy...

I find that I now remember rather little of what I was taught at school; I think that, for me at least, I am more likely to be able to use the skills I gained during my education, than to recall facts or specific lessons.

However, one particular statement made to me (during an economics lesson, of all things!) did stick very firmly in my mind. We were told that every time we purchased something, we voted. My teacher (a wonderful, inspirational man) taught us that even though we were only called upon to vote in parliamentary elections every 4 or 5 years, we were able to express our preference several times a day by carefully picking out what it was that we wanted to spend our money on. His point was a brilliant one: if you don’t like the company or the product, show your disapproval by removing your hard-earned cash from their premises forthwith - thereby (hopefully) concentrating the minds of the business owners on what they can do to improve their relationship with their customers.

Of course, my teacher’s argument continued that the converse is also true: if you welcome how a company is run, and enjoy their product, it is worth going the extra mile to endorse their service with your custom.

His message really went into my head, and I can honestly say that it is one of the few lessons that I had during my childhood that has had a daily influence on my behaviour. Some people may think I am an obsessive, but I will always seek out companies that I approve of, or ones whose products I really like, and make an effort to patronise them when I can. And I know I am not the only one: almost on a daily basis I have evidence of my own customers acting in this way.

I remember when I first opened a shop under my own name (almost 18 years ago now). I had worked for the previous two owners, before making the daunting jump to take it over for myself. I had built up good relationships with my customers, and had promised that I would try to continue this when the shop re-launched after its refit. One morning, half-way through the building work, whilst the shop was still closed, I found a note had been pushed under the door. It asked me to put a sign in my window to tell the sender when I was re-opening, because the lady was intending to come in immediately, and ‘buy something, even if I don’t like anything!’ The note was signed by a long-standing customer of mine!

These days when I see customers who have travelled all the way over from Wales, up from Cornwall, or down from London - or made the trip from Norfolk, Essex, the Midlands, or whatever - I am driven to think about these economic realities more than ever. Time was when there were many small local stores selling designer plus-size clothing. Many of these shops were somewhat lacklustre, and perhaps it was time for them to disappear. However, I do feel that many more have been seen off by the temporarily difficult trading conditions that have afflicted the fashion industry over recent years.

Many plus-size women used to rely on going up to the London stores - like Harrods, Liberties, John Lewis, Selfridges, etc. However, these stores no longer have their plus-size departments. Women are having to travel like never before in order to get beautiful clothing.

In my opinion - were I not in this business and if I lived in some part of the country that still enjoyed a good local plus-size boutique - I would rush to that store straight away to offer them whatever patronage I have at this time, in the hope that others will do the same. Although I clearly have a great interest in what the economists have to say about my trade, I do know from personal experience that some of it is rubbish. Economists seem to believe that nature abhors a vacuum and that where a business is needed, one will automatically spring-up to service the demand. I happen to know this is not the case in the plus-size industry. Over the past few years, when the independent designer shops have closed down, they stay dark.

It is obviously very important to watch the pennies if you have to, but it is not, I would argue, a wise option to spend those pennies in the large, cheap chain stores, thus starving out the very small businesses - which in the future would be sorely missed. Once lost, those individual shops will not return in a hurry. It is a situation that may well benefit a store like mine, with its reputation, long history and established internet presence, which can draw customers from far and wide. But a long car drive across or down the country, followed by a stay at a hotel, in order to find some gorgeous clothes, may well be the only option to many plus-size women in England, and this situation is getting more extreme all the time.

To have a good designer clothes shop on my doorstep, selling a wide range of gorgeous clothes, is something I would vote for any day.

 

Victoria Hollis    Saturday 12 November 2011 at 00:39

 Post #253 



 
Subject: 100percentpeople Plus Size Awards

 
Hi Em

Apologies for the shameless plug/posting here but I was hoping I could avail many of the gorgeous ladies who post and lurkers to go to

http://100percentpeople.com/plus-size-awards-2011/plus-size-ladies-fashion-retailer/

And pop in a vote (or two you can vote every 12 hours) for Anna Scholz. The reason I ask this is simply no other plus size designer has given us so many options and keeps evolving her ranges at a breath taking pace.

From her diffusion ranges for Debenhams and Simply Be through to Black and White labels she has given us curvy women so much and I think its time that she got the recognition she deserves.

I have no idea why she's been lsited as a retailer rather than designer but hey ho

 

 Emma    Saturday 12 November 2011 at 14:24

 
Hi Tory...

I have just voted for Anna Scholz!

 

 Anon    Saturday 12 November 2011 at 14:38

 
So have I!

 

 Kim P    Sunday 13 November 2011 at 15:40

 
I voted Emma Plus on that list and also in the independant plus size fashion retailer category!

 

 Emma    Monday 14 November 2011 at 15:43

 
Hi Kim!

Thanks for that....I didn't realise that Emma Plus was on the list. Did you put us there?

Anyway, I'm most gratified, and would be very grateful if anyone (who has the time and the inclination) would consider voting for us as well!!

 

 Kim P    Monday 14 November 2011 at 19:35

 
No, you were already on the lists!

Vote Emma Plus :-)

 

Kalli    Monday 07 November 2011 at 21:21

 Post #252 



 
Subject: Opinions please ladies!!

 
Hi ladies,

I am doing a university project on the Plus Size market. I was hoping some of you would be kind enough to give me your opinion on what you think of plus size womenswear that is in the market today.

Do you think it could be improved?

I would very dearly appreciate your insights on this,

Kalli

 

 Emma    Wednesday 09 November 2011 at 11:15

 
Hi Kalli

Thank you for your post... and question!

To be honest, I don't know what response you'll get on this. I'm unsure for two main reasons... Firstly this forum has never really developed into a discussion site. I don’t have a reason why this should be: although it’s my website, I am entirely happy for it to go in any direction. However, what seems to have happened is that readers have asked very specific questions - like, what should I, with my own particular body shape, wear to my daughter’s wedding; or where on earth can I get tights? If anyone simply wanted to chat, then they went elsewhere!

However, alongside this I have been writing my blog, which often does address the topic that you are looking into: the current state of the plus-size market. Sometimes this has elicited readers’ responses - but by no means always.

The other reason for my uncertainty is that the question is such a vast one! It’s a bit like asking what we think the world is like, and how we think it can be improved!

I often get letters (emails nowadays) from scholars like this. In the early days I used to write reams about the problems involved in this industry (after all, they are legion), but as time has gone on I have realised that much of my information is probably not useful. Because it is such a huge subject, it may be worthwhile - if only in this instance - to take a small area of it to make a more manageable study...?

However, I do congratulate you on the method you have employed - i.e. actually asking larger women for their opinions and needs. In doing this, you can teach the large companies a thing or two!

I really do wish you the best of luck in your study Kalli, and hope that you get something of use from our forum!

 

 Victoria Hollis    Thursday 10 November 2011 at 16:43

 
Hi Kallie

I'm actually a member of a facebook group which could possibly help you with this - drop me an email to victoriahollis@ymail.com

Victoria xx

 

 Kim P    Sunday 13 November 2011 at 15:30

 
This blog contains much information from both customers and a specialist retailer of plus size fashion so take the time to read back if you have not already done so. First hand experience is valuable, why not go into plus size high street retailers and specialist retailers like Emma Plus and road test them as a customer? The levels of service and product on offer will give you a clearer idea of the good and bad of the sector. If you are not plus sized yourself then maybe you have a friend or family member who could accompany you. Plus sized ladies are just as varied in their likes and dislikes as any other size customer. Good luck with your research.

 

 Emma    Monday 14 November 2011 at 15:57

 
It's a fact that our industry is hugely dysfunctional. I don't know of any business that pays less attention to its own customer base.

Could you imagine if, for example, one learned that the aircraft industry only manufactured sufficient components to satisfy demand for parts needed by half the planes in existence? And that the owners of the aeroplanes which were not catered for spent large amounts of time and money tracking down what they need (and were still extremely dissatisfied)? Wouldn't it be strange if you heard that consumers in that industry were not consulted, and that their money went unspent, because their needs were not being addressed? If this happened, how long do you think it would be before some large company moved into what was clearly a lucrative and unsatisfied market?

Yet this is the reality of plus-size women in their dealings with the fashion industry.... I know this, because I come into daily contact with women who tell me so. Our shop benefits immensely from this unsatisfied demand, meaning that we regularly have women travelling the breadth of the country to shop with us. As a businesswoman, it's great news for me, but as a larger woman, I am disgusted.

There is something very odd about the fashion industry that seems perversely dead-set on ignoring many of its potential customers....

 

Emma    Monday 03 October 2011 at 18:35

 Post #246 



 
Subject: Heeling words

“I was incredibly irritated by what the sales-assistant said”, my customer told me. “So much so, that I decided I wasn’t going to buy the outfit after all. I left the shop, and I won’t be going back there in a hurry!”

I was listening intently to this statement, coming as it did from a very pleasant and easy-going lady. She was not an easy person to annoy, yet she had obviously been very irked by what she had experienced in that fashion store, and as an owner of a similar kind of shop I had a professional interest in her story.

Apparently she had been shopping for an outfit for a particularly smart occasion. She had gone into a shop with a good reputation for having interesting clothes, some (but only a small number) of which were in large sizes. She had picked out a three-piece suit which was very pretty: the colour was lovely and the fit was good. It was very expensive, but she felt it was worth going for. It was at this point that the ‘helpful’ sales assistant started to give her some advice.

The lady was told (by the stick-thin sales assistant) that she should, on no account, wear the outfit with low heels. It would look ‘ridiculous’ and ‘frumpy’. It didn’t matter, apparently, that the customer found high-heeled shoes uncomfortable. This was irrelevant. One should suffer for beauty.

To be honest - although I had complete empathy for my customer’s annoyance at what happened - I would probably not have acted as she did. Usually, nothing in the world would prevent me from buying an outfit that I really liked. In fact, I would often be quite sanguine about simply tuning-out when small people try to give me advice about fashion. Much of it is outdated (it’s a truism that many smaller people think they can advise larger people because they feel they automatically know more about style. Often, these are the very people who are the least informed and knowledgeable). What isn’t outdated is usually irrelevant, or unachievable for a larger person.

In fact, I think we are living in a much-improved world when it comes to more realistic shoes (are those stifled guffaws I hear?). Fashion at the moment is very fragmented; women can, and do, formulate their own style, and choose from a much wider range of looks.

I think it is the very fact that much high-street footwear is ridiculously and vertiginously high that has ensured that alternative looks must be acceptable. Putting it simply, the majority of women just can’t wear those very high shoes.

During the summer I was visiting a stately home where, in one of the function rooms, a smart wedding was taking place. My friends and I were sitting in the large hall taking tea, where we had a ring-side view of the wedding party as it passed by. It was actually rather funny (in a cruel way) to watch the young women, often in groups of two or three, clinging to each other and they tottered, limped, tripped, slid, swayed and shuffled their way into their room (and no, they were on their way to the bar, before they had drinks!). None of these women were accustomed to wearing those incredibly high heels (not to mention the platform soles) that they had picked out to team up with their pretty summer dresses. So none of them had built up the skills, not to mention the calf muscles, necessary to walk elegantly through that hall.

In fact, I’m not sure that anyone really builds up those skills. Many people watching the royal wedding in the summer noticed that various celebrities (who surely should be used to this kind of footwear by now) had to hang on to their husbands' arms in order to be able to move in a straight line. This is why many smart women of whatever size have decided that enough is enough, and are opting for different shoes.

If tiny, slim, experienced-high-heeled wearers are not able to wear these sky-high shoes, then it is less likely that we larger women, who have to put greater stress on our feet, are going to carry it off with beauty and grace. And this fragmentation goes all the way through the industry, spreading out from the super-high, to the completely flat, and every height in between. Where once only one height of heel was acceptable for the stylish woman for smart occasions, by necessity now there are many.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that beauty and grace are not just about what you wear, but also about how comfortable you are in your own skin. If you are wearing painful shoes, this will show on your face. If your shoes discombobulate you, you will not be able to move properly, and if your shoes make you tower over people, your posture may be adversely affected.

So balance is necessary (quite literally!). We have to be able to choose an ensemble that makes us feel graceful, elegant, well-dressed, fashion-forward and confident. And it is eminently possible to do this without recourse to high-heeled shoes.

Like my customer, I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise!

 

Emma    Wednesday 21 September 2011 at 16:03

 Post #244 



 
Subject: Service, please!

I was shopping in my local area yesterday and I realised how the kind of service I could expect from any given store really affected my mood.

I admit that, for several reasons, I almost never buy clothes anywhere other than in my own shop. One is that if I don’t rely on my own products, then I can’t see any reason why anyone else should. I have set my store the task of having everything that a woman like me needs to wear. So I stock everything I can get my hands on - from casual wear such as jeans, through outdoor wear and knits, right up to the smartest kind of eveningwear that I could wish for.

Another reason why I don’t shop in the High Street is that, as far as I can tell, nothing they are selling is designed with me in mind. If I were a small woman I would be shopping in places like Reiss, Hobbs, Jaeger, etc. Obviously, as things are, nothing in these stores is going to fit me (until that mythical time when I wake up one day to find out that I have morphed into a size 14, 5’4” woman). So, if I weren’t shopping at Emma Plus, I would have to go to those few specialist high street stores that we have here in Brighton (heaven help me). Let’s just say this would not provide clothing sufficient to meet my needs.

So when I say I was shopping yesterday, it was not for clothes. I had in mind to buy myself a new bag; in common with a lot of other women this season I wanted a ‘nude’ handbag. In theory, I should find one easily (they are everywhere at the moment). My problem, however, was one I see among my customers all the time: I am very particular about the item I'm looking for. I would like it to be a true nude, not beige and certainly not baby pink. I would like it to be quite small (with a shoulder strap), and I would like it to be made of really lovely leather. Oh, and I’d like it to be vintage-looking, with silver not gold findings. Phew!

Well, I may not be able to shop in most stores for clothing, but I can zoom in anywhere on a quest for bags. So I moseyed round to my usual handbag-hunting grounds. The first port of call was the aforementioned Jaeger. However, I did not go over the threshold on this occasion. I stood outside the shop, casually walking backwards and forwards, trying to see if there were any nude bags within. There were not (luckily I could see this easily and did not have to go inside - something I was only going to do if they definitely had what I was looking for).

Why on earth did I not want to go inside? Well, there is a member of staff in the store, who, although absolutely lovely (she truly is the most wonderful person; had I needed to find a mother to adopt my first-born child, I would have looked no further). However, she is so incredibly chatty and effusive that I find it almost impossible to simply walk into the shop, smooch quietly around for a bit, and then stroll out within fifteen minutes. I would be lucky to get out within an hour. And I didn’t have a spare hour.

So, having seen nothing in Jaeger, I went to Hobbs. I like Hobbs handbags this season: they have that vintage vibe off pat. However, as I walked in the door, I was surrounded by a gaggle of assistants, all vying for my custom. When I showed interest in some (gorgeous, long) leather gloves, fisticuffs nearly broke out. This ended up with several pairs of the same gloves on the counter, and two ladies gently trying to nudge each other out from behind the till in order to make my sale. I dismissed the idea of spending any more time there; I thought I would rather come back when there were more customers in the store... I like a bit of attention, but this was ridiculous!

My next shop was a lovely one which we have locally. It’s called Comptoir Des Cotonniers... a store that has some interesting leather goods, and there did seem to be a bit of neutral colouring going on there. However, as I idled around the shop floor, I seemed to have a shadow. A sweet young sales lady was following me very closely, keeping up a running commentary on what I was absent-mindedly looking at. “Those shoes also come in grey... That belt is sold separately... The jacket has mohair in it”. As I knew she was just trying to be helpful, I really couldn’t give in to the urge to turn and ask her if she would kindly leave me to my own devices. I left the shop.

Yes, there seemed to be an awful lot of incredibly helpful sales assistants around, and it was making me feel uncomfortable. However, I am aware of the fact that I am a very contrary, unfair creature. If I don’t get enough attention, it doesn’t take long before that also makes me irritable.

For example, I walked into All Saints, the kind of edgy, youthful fashion store whose design seems to be based on a science-fiction concept of a future where civilisation has collapsed. Apparently, the remaining mutants had to scratch a living selling distressed clothes from some kind of post-apocalyptic dungeon. Anyway, I digress; they actually had a very nice-looking handbag. However, it was hanging on the wall halfway towards the ceiling (I say ceiling: it was more like the underside of a 600-year old, very dirty, interplanetary mining spacecraft). I am quite tall; however, even I would need a step-ladder (or perhaps an anti-gravity device) to get up to the bag. I looked around for the shadow when I needed it. However, this emporium was far too cool to employ sales assistants - so I left several frustrating minutes later, still having made no contact with whatever alien life I would have had to deal with to buy that bag.

So I crept into Reiss, which was almost next door. I was already feeling slightly snubbed, so perhaps by this time I was a delicate creature. As I entered the shop, I was greeted by two sales assistants behind the counter. All looked well here; yes, there were two of them (and no other customers), but they did not leave their safety zone of the counter. However, they did welcome me. Excellent start!

The problems began when I spotted a leather bracelet (sorry, but I am always off-message when I am shopping). Sadly, because the lighting in the shop was so poor, I couldn’t see whether it was silver or a gold buckle (the all-important gold/silver issue!). When I tried to make eye-contact with the two of them, suddenly I realised I was invisible. They had far more interesting things to be thinking about than a middle-aged woman who was far too large to buy anything in the store (they may have thought). Eventually, Mohammed had to go to the mountain, and I approached them with the offending object. Almost immediately I found out that the metal was gold (not good for me), but was instantly rousingly assured that this really shouldn’t matter! It was just the same as silver, really! I was even given some hints as to what to wear with gold (more gold, apparently!).

As I walked back to my own place, I started to muse about how vital it is to get the level of service right in a shop. Too friendly, and we may actually be wasting someone’s valuable time. Too keen to make a sale and we don’t really help a customer. Too intrusive, and we make people uncomfortable. Too absent, and we are useless. Too distant and we are alienating. Too ignorant and uninformed, and we cannot help. Too uninterested, and we ignore a customer’s real needs, and dismiss them.

We have to walk a careful path where we are available and capable of providing our customer’s needs, whilst giving them the time and space to enjoy their shopping experience. I reminded myself yet again that it’s vital to try to ensure that we always get the balance right.

 

 Victoria Hollis    Wednesday 21 September 2011 at 20:21

 
I read this laughing.... sometimes shopping can be almost like a comedy sketch.

The balance with service is a fine line some of us need our hands held whilst others are intrepid adventurers who will quite happily walk alone.

I cannot understand how any assistant worth their salt would say to a lady with your colouring Em to wear more gold like me with my milk bottle blue skin gold just does not work.

But what I can say without a qualm is the mix of lovely ladies you have in your shop are fantastic

Kim the trouser queen, Jac the accessories guru and you yourself the sheer genius I have never felt pushed or ignored in your shop speaking of which I'm hoping to come up mid october so cant wait I was wondering if you had the ponte jersey frill shift tunic from Anna Scholz in store ?

 

 Emma    Thursday 22 September 2011 at 15:24

Hi Tori

Thank you for your lovely comments!

Yes, I don't know what's worse... a sales assistant (specialising in fashion) who either doesn't know that certain complexions cannot wear certain colours. Or one that knows this is so, but doesn't care!

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news... we did order the tunic quite comprehensively, but (as is usual with Anna Scholz items), it has sold very quickly. We even re-ordered them, and now the cupboard is bare.

However, there is a bright ray of hope on the horizon: this season is one of the best ever, and there are some absolutely gorgeous things here now, and still coming in!

I really look forward to seeing you soon.
 

 Victoria Hollis    Friday 23 September 2011 at 17:50

 
Darn it too slow again lol...

I'm sure it will be worth the trip up anyway.

But the thing is and im sure I have mentioned it in prior comments you and the girls genuinely care about your customers and getting it right. I feel totally disenchanted shopping on the high street when staff are in identikit uniforms with a bad attitude more interested in chatting to each other than serving customers.

 

 Emma    Saturday 24 September 2011 at 13:27

Hi Tory!

Thanks for that... I'm so sorry you are suffering from 'High Street Shopping Frustration Syndrome'. It's horrible.

I was chatting to another of my customers this week (a gorgeous lady who reads the blog, but does not, as yet, contribute herself), and she had some thoughts about tights.

She used to buy the Levee tights, but hadn't known they had gone down (was that quite recent?).

She also said that she buys a collection called Gipsy, which she has delivered, ordered from their website. It does seem that Gipsy may well be a good option (being definitely currently available; all the others being a little bit of a colder trail).

I hope this helps you; if it does, it will show that the forum is working!

By the way, I have accompanied this reply with an entirely gratuitous picture of Jaq - replendent in a gorgeous Marina Rinaldi coat...
 

 Victoria Hollis    Sunday 25 September 2011 at 16:40

 
OOOOHHHH fab coat (Tongue hanging out drooling lol)

I heard the Levee have gone over the last couple of months

Ummm thinking mid october might be too long a wait for a trip down....

 

Emma    Friday 09 September 2011 at 16:21

 Post #242 



 
Subject: Snuggle

So what would I suggest are the ‘must have’ items this season? The autumn/winter 2011 collections are flooding into store now (see 'Our range' in the main section of our site), and with every delivery I am reawakening the excitement I felt when I forward-ordered these clothes six months ago. In more ways than one, this is a vintage year for design.

Generally the items that are ‘must haves’ for any particular season fall into two groups: those which you personally have a need or a yen for, and those which the industry has provided that are so good at the time, that just about everyone should snap them up.

Luckily, the rules affecting what you need (or want) and what the fashion industry suddenly comes through with are the same this time. For anyone suffering from amnesia, last year we experienced a very cold winter, where all bets were off as far as our normal wardrobe staples were concerned. Out had gone those trusty yet suddenly inadequate and flimsy cotton jumpers that had been our go-to items when the weather got cold in previous years (I say previous years: actually the winter before was also quite extreme if I remember correctly). Out, also, had gone the notion that you ‘really don’t need’ a winter coat. The rules had suddenly been rewritten.

Many women are normally perfectly warm, no matter what the weather, and to suddenly feel the cold blast of extreme winter was an unexpected and unpleasant wake-up call. It sent numbers of my customers into my shop in the pursuit of all things snuggly. They wanted coats, wool jackets, woollen trousers, jumpers, cardigans... let’s face it, they needed the part of their wardrobe that was missing: the winter part.

This was particularly noticeable because larger women in general tend to feel the heat and do not often feel cold. So some of us have decided to simply ignore warm clothing and rely on the fact that most of the time we live on quite a temperate island. In a nutshell, there was an area of our wardrobe that had been long neglected, and suddenly was desperately needed. To make matters worse, when we really started to think about it, we realised this neglected part of the wardrobe was often quite necessary!

The problem with the fashion industry is that it is always ahead of itself. Regular readers of this blog will know that my advice is always to ‘buy early’. I try to make it a habit not to use saleswomanship or hype in these writings (I can’t expect people to want to want to regularly read this blog if it is nothing better than advertorial for the designer clothing industry), and I try to give honest, logical advice to consumers. So when I recommend buying specific items early, I do so with good reason. Generally speaking, by the time you find you really need to wear the clothes, the best examples will have already sold out. This is as true for winter coats as it is for summer dresses.

So last winter, during and after the worst of the cold weather, we had a stream of customers wanting items that were simply not available for love nor money. I had women virtually crying on my shop floor, so desperate were they for at least one really good jumper, or knitted jacket, or winter coat. Yet the cupboard was bare; they had long since sold through.

So now, the fashion world (which in an uncharacteristic attack of realism, has taken collective note of what happened in the last two winters) has woken up to the possibilities of gorgeous warm clothing. And this has happened at the same time as many of my customers, scarred by last year’s disappointments (please note that I, too, bear these scars; there is nothing worse for me than sending droves of desperate customers away without the very things they had come in for), have decided that they ‘must have’ some really lovely winter wear. For once, we have a lucky and happy confluence of minds. We may all actually get what we want!

The looks this season are soft, warm, fluid, sophisticated and subtle. Everything is about knits or fabrics with a soft, generous handle. Despite everything I have just said, there are still cool knits (mixtures of cottons, silks, cashmeres, etc.), and as many different levels of weight of jersey, plus opportunities of layering, as there are degrees on a thermometer. It’s all about versatility: designer clothes last a long time, and it is necessary to get the maximum use out of them. So items that can be layered in cold weather and stripped back during the warmer times, are key.

All the collections we bought have acquitted themselves well this season: my favourite for knits? Verpass (see dress and jacket, right), with its subtle nineteen fifties aesthetic. Now that we have had many of their beautiful jackets, knitted dresses, coats, jumpers and gilets in stock, we are already finding that the fashion-hunters are in, snapping up their must-have pieces.

These women know that in order to get what they really, really want, they had better come before the cold weather hits. Because in Britain, we may sometimes not get a summer, but we do generally get a winter.

 

Emma    Thursday 01 September 2011 at 15:40

 Post #240 



 
Subject: A singular shopping experience

In my blog I have always been careful to keep ‘on message’... this forum is designed to be a space where plus-size fashion is discussed. In my opinion, our fashion is almost never mentioned in the mainstream media, so it is well worth giving it a bit of space here on our humble website!

So I hope I am not letting myself down when I move off message to talk about a subject that to everyone else but us has absolutely nothing to do with larger womenswear.

I would like to talk about the area where our shop is situated: the North Laine in Brighton. I have been running this shop for over 20 years now, and when I first came here, I didn’t really understand the significance of where we were. Yes, I realised that Brighton, as a destination town (which drew a huge number of visitors both from Britain and abroad) was a jolly good place to have a business that relied on people walking in our door. However, before I had worked here, I had never heard of the North Laine.

Of course, I knew of the Brighton Lanes, a lovely, quite chi-chi area of Brighton, famous for its tiny roads (the old fisherman’s lanes), and sweet little (somewhat tourist-orientated) shops. I guess that in my naiveté, I had thought that the North Laine (which is just inland from the Lanes, within easy walking distance) was just another one of the lanes, albeit with a slightly different spelling. I had sometimes noticed, though, how the locals winced when the uninitiated visitor referred to it as the North Lanes (without an ‘i’, but with, heaven forbid, an ‘s’). It’s a common mistake to make, although the Laine, is, in fact, far too singular a place to require an ‘s’.

In actuality the name does not have anything to do with roads or lanes; Laine is the old name for a field, and this particular field is one whose rich crop is shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, galleries, libraries, workshops, clubs, theatres, studios, commercial properties and general mixed activity, with the odd sumptuous palace (Brighton Pavilion) thrown in. Unlike the Lanes, there is only one North Laine... and it has an entirely unique character.

It is the haunt of performers (many and various venues are in the Laine), artists, media types, fashionistas, vegetarians, gays, foodies: rare and authentic characters, all. The area is the antithesis of the ‘clone town’, where all shops are part of a chain, and each road looks exactly the same. Here, the shops come and go, with a ‘blink-and-you’ve-missed-it’ ethos that locals take as a given. Most of the businesses exist because their owners had a dream of what they wanted to present to the world, and many times this idea was without any rhyme or reason. Amazingly, some (but by no means all) of these businesses find their niche and survive.

The result is a kind of insouciance about what is on offer. For example, no-one turns a hair if the shoes on sale are completely weird and wacky, or superb hand-made originals... or vegetarian.

Someone may decide to run a hardware store here, but only if they can go berserk and make sure they sell everything possible, and have the best customer service in the western hemisphere.

If you fancy something to eat, you really can start to call the shots: would you like vegetarian? Certainly! Organic? Gluten free? Child friendly? Macro-biotic? Artisan-made? Locally sourced? Gourmet? Cheap and cheerful? The answer always seems to be yes, in an area that shouldn’t be big enough to sustain all this diversity.

Naïve is quite a good word to describe my relationship with the North Laine in the early days. Somehow, I thought it was just a co-incidence that a plus-size womenswear boutique had been opened here (I did not launch this store; I inherited it from its first owner), nor did I see it as part of the reason why our store had taken root and flourished.

It took me a while to start to look around at the Laine, and see it for what it was. Then the penny dropped as to the role our geographical situation has had in sustaining and nurturing our business. I see design, artistry, fashion, originality and quirkiness all around, as well as uncompromising specialists who have enthusiasm and really know their stuff. Had our shop been started somewhere else we may never have taken off. However, in coming here, I believe we found our natural home.

 

Emma    Sunday 17 July 2011 at 17:58

 Post #226 



 
Subject: Wish List

At around the end of the ‘buying’ time of year (towards the end of the season when we forward-order our stock) I usually write a piece in my blog about what we have seen and bought from the new collections.

All forward-ordered items have to be purchased at least six months in advance because they are specially made for us, which takes time. This means that we will now be ordering for next summer... Spring/Summer 2012!

As regular readers of the blog will know, we visit fashion showrooms and we do a little bit of travelling abroad. We usually fit in a trip to Germany, where there is a large fashion presence in the city of Düsseldorf. It’s a very good place to go to find new collections, and to get an overview of what the new looks are like.

This time on the blog, I have decided to try something a little different. Before we do our buying, we always build up a ‘wish list’ of items that we really hope to find, and which we would like to come home with (metaphorically speaking). After 21 years in this shop, my wish list has grown to humungous proportions: there are literally hundreds of things that I look for.

So, for a bit of a change, this time I would like to write a post before I go buying - listing the clothes that I want.

I’m not talking about those items that I know I can get. For instance, the perfect black casual trouser (or smart trouser for that matter), or an excellent black dress. No, I’m talking about hunting down those things I know I - and my customers - want, yet the fashion industry doesn’t necessarily know we want!

Such a list of general ‘wish list’ summer items would include:

Beautiful cotton blouses, which are long enough to cover the derriere, yet snug fitting on the shoulders, with a good, practical sleeve that really covers the top of the arms.

Summer dresses, suitable for a wedding, or some such event, which again have a good sleeve, and which are feminine, colourful and sexy.

Casual cotton jackets that have a feminine silhouette.

Really super printed cotton jersey tops... one step up from a T-shirt.

Work suits, the jackets of which are fitted, stretchy and smart, with an edge, plus a choice of either trousers or a skirt.

Proper rain-proof summer raincoats.

I could go on... almost endlessly! However, I wanted to leave some space in this blog to list the things I am particularly looking for this year. By this I mean the kind of items that have the right fashion edge for right now.

For example, this time I would just love to have some summer dresses with that nineteen-fifties vibe. You know, those beautiful, sophisticated coloured prints - and feminine shapes that have been brought to the fore with TV programmes such as Mad Men. I need fancy dresses (for day events, evenings, etc.), plus simple ones (to wear around town doing the shopping, or for work).

I would like to get some stretch narrow cotton trousers in interesting colours, with some gorgeous, pretty long shirts to wear with them. You know, that Beatnik look.

As always, I would just love some summer knits. I mean knitwear made from cotton, linen, silk, viscose, or any such cool fabric. And I would like a great variety of shapes, in lots of lovely colours! Again, with the retro look that gives them a bit more structure and femininity.

I need (and I really mean need) some good summer wedding outfits. I refuse to come home unless I am able to buy some lovely dress-and-jacket combos or separates. They have to be (guess what!) colourful, easy to wear, sassy and super smart. I'm also looking for a touch of that nineteen fifties or sixties edgy style.

I’m desperate to see some gorgeous, wearable skirts. I’m open minded: they can be long, short, flowing or narrow. But they have to have ‘that look’: elegant, sassy, colourful, retro. They are also going to have to be properly adapted to the plus-size market. Skirts from the fifties and sixties tended to be either very bulky or incredibly tight and figure-hugging, so the designers will have to know their stuff to get it right.

At this time of year I get incredibly excited, because I haven’t seen anything yet of the new looks being prepared for next summer. The designers who dream up those styles are amazing - I really never know what to expect. They may produce items that fit the general description of what I am looking for, but they are always different from the designs I have in my own head.

Ironically, the fact that I am not going to come home with what I am expecting is the very thing that makes it all so exciting. Because those designers will have created clothes that are far more fascinating, artistic, fashionable and chic than anything I could ever come up with. That's why I am a fashion store owner and not a designer.

 

 Victoria Hollis    Friday 22 July 2011 at 23:37

 
Oohhh Wishlist....
There are several things that are on my DREAM list that I woule love to find but I think they must be somewhere in my shangri-la

* A soft fitted leather jacket in black falling over the derriere but with a feminie finish subtle but timeless the kind you could wear with jeans and boots or throw over a cocktail dress for an edgy feel.

* The perfect pair of indigo blue bootcut jeans - alas I have never foud any jeans that work on my figure

* Cotton blouses for summer as you have stated - cant find any that work for me anywhere...

* The perfect black worksuit I think must be a figment of my imagination

And there are a few other things but these are my most pressing wishes.

I for my sins am an autum and winter girl with my cool colouring the colours of winter suit me much more than the atypical brights and pastels of summer. My eyes are glues for when we get pics of the autumn and winter collections up from what you said at the Anna Scholz day I am waiting with bated breath to see the black label items and when they are available another sojourn to Brighton will be called for I think...

 

 Emma    Saturday 23 July 2011 at 11:11

 
Hi Tory!

Thanks for your suggestion! Yes, a gorgeous, soft leather jacket, that has feminine style, yet covers the bottom! Is there some reason why the designers won't do this? Anna Scholz does some very good leather jackets, but they are what I call 'outdoor' leather jackets...full-on coats, if you will. That's not what I am thinking about.

The best we have come with in this field are the Sallie Sahne suede-effect jackets...soft, feminine and draping. However, they are not real leather!!! On the plus side, the faux-suede is thoroughly washable, so there is always an up-side.

I think the nearest we usually get to a perfect work-suit is with the Italian company, Marina Rinaldi. There are big down-sides (why the shorter skirts? And the price...), but the jackets are incredibly feminine and wearable.

As usual, there is a mental note to self when doing my buying for next summer: more variety in jeans....always more variety!

 

Emma    Monday 04 July 2011 at 00:09

 Post #223 



 
Subject: Fit

There is a subject that I can’t help returning to in my blog. It’s one that's very important, not just to me as a plus-size fashion retailer, but for me as a plus-size woman - and, I think, also for many women reading this page.

The subject is that of body shape. This is so important because it is Big Retail’s failure to deal with it that is responsible ultimately for the failure of the high street to provide the clothing choice necessary for plus-size women.

I would like you to imagine that I am - as indeed I am - a woman aged 50, and interested in fashion, yet with one vital difference: I have shrunk down to a size 12. In this situation our high streets would look very different to me. I would be able to buy my clothes in dozens of chain stores and thousands of independent shops - providing me with a rich tapestry of fashion options.

In the chain stores I could, for instance, buy from the cheap-and-cheerful fashion ranges like New Look, Hennes and Zara. Or, if I were looking for mid-range, I could have a quick look in Marks and Spencer, or scan Next’s range. Later, I could hop off to Warehouse and French Collection. Climbing up the price and style ladder, I could browse my way through Hobbs, Cos and Jaeger. There would be a huge variety of styles, quality and exciting fashion looks.

If I were in London - with the world my oyster - I could visit the big stores like Harrods, John Lewis, Liberty and Selfridges. I could spend days just doing these stores and come away loaded with great looks.

In the afternoon I could pop my nose round any one of any number of thousands of really lovely independent boutiques and see the latest in designer styles.

So why, if I have the same money in my pocket - and the same interest in fashion - am I (in reality a larger woman) not given these options? In our city, Brighton (my own shop aside), I would only be able to try on a tiny selection of items in New Look, a very few somewhat depressing pieces in Hennes, and some (frankly frustrating) clothes in Marks and Spencer. After that I would have to go only to stores that specialise in items made in plus sizes. In Brighton, these are Evans and Anne Harvey.

The price point of these stores is relatively low (I leave aside the issue of whether it is actually rather high in relation to the quality on offer). The fashion is disappointing and the quality can be frankly shocking. I’m not criticising those stores for being what they are, any more than I am criticising Zara for being what it is - or, for that matter, Jaeger for being Jaeger. My question is this: the vast majority of clothing on offer for this half of the population is strikingly similar. Where is the variety?

In our business the received wisdom is that larger women don’t want to pay for nice clothes... that, in some way, we don’t really care about looking good or being fashionable... that any shop specialising in plus size fashion of higher quality, fashion and price, will fail.

In a funny kind of way, I agree with this analysis - but only up to a point. Many larger women simply won’t pay for pricier clothes. But the reason for this is not what the industry thinks. In my opinion, the horrible supply and demand problems that afflict the plus-size fashion industry stem directly from the failure to address the fit problem.

If I were to take, say, a hundred size-12 women, they would all be different body shapes. Some would be apple shaped, some pear, some hourglass, some well-proportioned, some top-heavy, some athletic. This is what human females are like: we come in a range of shapes. However, with the size-12 women, the variance between them is small. Most of them would still be able to fit into the same clothes, even if they did not necessary all have the same silhouettes.

However, if I were to take a hundred size-22 women, the story would be strikingly different. Yes, they would have the same range of body shapes. Yet their body differences would be amplified. In this case there could easily be 10 whole inches of difference between women of the same size but different body shape. For instance, if I were a size-22 apple shape, my waist would be considerably larger than my pear shaped friend, who takes the same dress size. And my hips, in turn, would be much smaller than hers. It’s quite possible that if an item of clothing fitted one of us, the other one simply wouldn’t be able to do it up.

If I were forced to try to shoe-horn my friend and me into wearing clothes with the same fit, I would have to start thinking about a sloppy, unflattering, generic shape. It would be impossible for us to actually look fashionable, attractive or chic. And the number of styles that could be made to fit both of us would be small.

Were I to stumble into a shop that sold clothes with this kind of 'apathetic' fit and paucity of styles, I would rapidly start looking for the exit. But if, as is the situation in many towns in Britain, this were the only store that sold my size (and I really needed something to wear), then I would probably buy something.

One thing I would never do, however, is pay good money for clothing that is generic, sloppy and makes me look lack-lustre. Nor would I fork out for the same-old, same-old. I would happily have a little splurge on something beautiful that made me look and feel good... I love fashion and believe it is important to me as a person. Actually, I am rather prone to spending a little too much on fashion. But I baulk at paying out for something that does not inspire, delight or excite me.

As a population, we are getting bigger every year. The section of the population that wears plus-size clothing is not going to go away any time soon. And the big retail companies are all about exploiting markets to make money. Sooner or later, someone, somewhere has got to start to ponder why the plus-size fashion industry is so dysfunctional.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good for my business that women get in their cars in Swansea, Billericay or Totnes - or even in Madrid (to travel to the airport) - and make their way into our shop. The desperation of our customers, who - fed up with having so little choice of clothing in their locality - decide to come to Emma Plus, is very good for business.

But as a plus-size woman myself, it makes my blood boil. Something really ought to be done about it! Even if it spoiled my own trade, I would be more than happy to offer help and advice to ‘Big Retail’ to try to sort out their shortcomings. It simply can’t go on the way it is.

 

 Kim P    Friday 08 July 2011 at 23:14

 
Great comments as always Emma. The easiest way to look like you have lost weight is to wear clothes that fit well and luckily there are plenty of such garments in Emma Plus!

 

 Emma    Monday 11 July 2011 at 00:20

 
Hi Kim!

Yes, it's an interesting point you make... I've had numerous customers over the years who have told me that friends or family have found it very difficult to believe that they are plus-size women, despite the obvious fact that they are!

Eventually, we have come to the conclusion that, to many small people, being large is synonimous with being badly dressed and presented. As soon as a woman looks gorgeous, they forget that she is plus-size, and find they simply can't believe she is, even when the fact is pointed out to them!

 

Emma    Monday 30 May 2011 at 20:45

 Post #219 



 
Subject: Ker-ching!

In keeping with my habit of rushing in where angels fear to tread, I have decided to write on the subject that most designer store owners try their best to avoid... price.

Over the years there is a story that I have come across many times. This is when a woman comes into our shop for the very first time, even though she has known about us for several years. She has been curious, but has diligently avoided actually entering our portals.

Her friends or family have been trying to drag her in, and she has always resisted. Eventually something has forced her to come to us. It could be a family wedding that has driven her (after many fruitless and depressing hours trawling just about everywhere on the high street) into the shop as a last resort. Or it could be that she has decided that the only way she is ever going to stop her sister going on about us, is to give in and pay us a visit.

Then something magical happens - she is stunned and delighted. She buys all sorts of lovely items. She rushes up to us, and tells us that she wishes she had come in before. After this first experience she becomes one of our regulars.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times this particular scenario has been run and re-run in our shop. I appreciate that this sounds like an ‘advertorial’; an attempt to sell our service to any customers who read the blog. I genuinely don’t intend that to be the case.

In fact, I am happy to suggest that this experience is not unique to Emma Plus. I feel certain that this is something mirrored by every good designer shop in the country. It speaks volumes about the way women, and in particular larger women, feel about designer clothing.

For many it is an expensive indulgence that they are not permitted, and should avoid at all costs. People think they do not deserve designer clothes. And some are afraid even to take a look inside a shop like ours.

The kind of clothes we sell are not cheap. They are not impulse buys. Many of them may cost twice - or more - the price of their high-street counterparts...

But exactly what kind of prices I am referring to? As I have said, many of our items do have a steep price-point. The most expensive collections, like, say, Marina Rinaldi (from the superb fashion stable Max Mara) or Anna Scholz (arguably the best-ever plus-size designer) can be expensive. Although Anna Scholz’s Black Label collection has a price-point that is not too far from the high street, her White Label collection can provide, for example, dresses which will set you back £400 or more, and Marina Rinaldi is priced at about the same level. Any decision to buy pieces from this end of the market had better be well considered.

Purchasing at the top end of the market is not a rich woman’s game, however. Items from these designers are investment pieces. Often they will be bought for special occasions: a sister’s wedding, a special party, a reward for a promotion. But these clothes will be incredibly fashion-forward, beautifully tailored and well-made. They will be your friends, and you will joyfully turn to them on many happy occasions over a number of years. By the time you have had your last wear out of them, you may find that they are the cheapest per-wear item that you have had all along. And then you might even sell them on eBay!

But a good designer plus-size store does not only sell high-end fashion. There will be a host of mid-range fashion as well, from companies such as NP (the Finnish collection that has specialised in plus-fashion since 1925) or Verpass (a German range that is really hitting its stride at the moment with 1950s inspired design). Prices start at about £65 for a blouse, and many of these items will be as well cut as the top-end clothing. They are extremely utilitarian, being comfortable, washable, durable, yet stylish. It is in these ranges that we often see amazing fabric innovation. Years before anyone else was putting stretch into fabrics such as cotton or linen, these were the ranges that were trailblazing, as they are now with the new body-cooling fabrics.

Again, items bought at mid-range prices are good long-term investments. These are usually clothes expected to perform as smart everyday pieces (often workwear) over quite a long period of time. They have to be reliable.

I think what shocks the uninitiated, however, is the low-end of our price range. We sell items from collections like Brand (the brilliant German house famed for its trousers) and Nanso (a Swedish range of beautifully colourful jersey items), and these prices are very accessible. Starting at £49 for its tops (which are amazing quality - these gorgeous tops really are bullet-proof), Nanso has its own keen following amongst our customers. When priced against the high-street these items are only a degree or so higher, yet their look is a million miles away.

I believe that when we begin to think of ourselves as the very people for whom all this wonderful fashion is being created, at every price-point, we will rush into the designer shops to see what's on the menu. We may not be able to afford everything we want, all the time. But that doesn’t matter, because, whatever we can’t get in this season, there will be something equally lovely for us in the next. And the purchases we have made will still be there to mix-in with our wardrobe, which over the years will build to become our style fingerprint.

The value of that individual, beautiful, unique resource is - as it is worn on our back every day of our lives - incalculable. This is how we are seen by the world. And yes, I believe it is worth the time and the investment.

 

 Kathy    Wednesday 01 June 2011 at 14:55

 
I totally unreservedly agree with Emma
I love clothes, I love shopping and my wardrobe is brimming with items that cost a bit less and were worn a lot less then that.
I rarely throw things out so I live with all my mistakes....
Take it from me - quality delivers and it is worth the money.
I am still wearing clothes from Emma's that I bought ten years ago...
Sure have fun for a season - and buy the thin fabric high street Tee in a seasonal tangerine... but come next summer it will sit unloved and unworn... and a waste of money!
Better spend your hard earned cash on Emma's lovely wearable durable clothes.
Money saving tip- shop her sales... divine and at very attractive prices!!!

 

 Emma    Wednesday 01 June 2011 at 17:04

 
Hi Kathy!

Thank you so much for your contribution!

You are one of our most stylish customers (and, we are talking about an extremely stylish body of women), and I do really appreciate hearing your views!

 

 Victoria Hollis    Wednesday 01 June 2011 at 22:54

 
Hi Emma and the lovely ladies at the shop......

I just wanted to stick my nose in on this one - apologies in advance lol if it's a bit long winded....

The cost per wear issue is a good one all of us want to wtach the pennies at times BUT there is no point in spending a minor fortune on a high fashion item wearing it once feeling uncomfortable and then hiding it at the bottom of the wardrobe.

The fact is there are a great many larger ladies, bbw's or whatever we choose to label ourselves as who think they don't deserve nice clothes and use that horrid phrase "oh I will buy something like that when I lose weight"

Buy yourself that gorgeous dress now......You will feel fantastic.

Anna Sholz for example her clothes are TIMELESS and frequently multi seasonal for example her summer maxi dresses can easily be wintered up with knee high boots (duo go upto a very large calf size) and one of her gorgeous cardies and coat (ummmm fallen in love with the pink once you wore in your pic Em)

We deserve to look good and feel great

 

 Emma    Thursday 02 June 2011 at 23:45

 
Hi Tory-

I couldn't agree more! I think that sometimes there is one small advantage to making a more substantial purchase...that the decision has to be a considered one.

Often it simply isn't worth having that 'high fashion' tangerine top, if it doesn't suit either your body or your personality.....

 

 Kim P    Saturday 04 June 2011 at 21:51

 
The Brand and Nanso ranges are very good value, as you say Emma they are not much more expensive than regular High St prices but are well styled and a little different to what you'll see elsewhere.

 

 Victoria Hollis    Friday 17 June 2011 at 16:20

 
The tangerine thing this season is VILE I know very few women who can get away with that shade I have to say Anna Scholz's coral dresses are far more flattering

 

Emma    Saturday 26 February 2011 at 15:58

 Post #197 



 
Subject: Elena Miro show...

 
I was just looking on the Elena Miro website, which features a catwalk show of their Autumn/Winter 2011 designs.

It's fascinating to see the influence of the nineteen-fifties or early sixties: it's the real look of the moment.

There is a wonderful femininity in the look, and the way that Elena Miro does it. It drips with Italian retro style...

The web address, if you would like to take a peek at the catwalk show, is http://curveditalia.elenamiro.it/

 

Emma    Saturday 15 January 2011 at 13:06

 Post #187 



 
Subject: Real-sized models...

I am always interested in the images used by the fashion industry to sell their wares – which some would say is a rather blunt way of describing fashion photography. After all, it really is about selling, isn't it? Or are fashion images an art form? Don't they provide an aspirational, fantasy outlet for women’s imaginations? Surely, they are only obliquely commercial?

In my opinion, yes and no... The pictures created by the fashion industry are made for one reason: selling clothes. So in one way the answer is a clear no; it's an airy-fairy notion to think it is just art. It is highly commercial, and if the commerce behind the production of these images were not a profitable one, then they would pretty soon stop being published.

When we who work in clothes retail do our buying at the big fashion shows and fairs, we are bombarded with pictures of the items we are there to look at. Yes, the clever and artistic photographers and creative directors are using all their wonderful inspiration and skill to make images of female beauty... up to a point. When you speak to the agents, you are immediately struck by their emphasis on commercial concerns. Their first words often are: ''Do you like the main picture in our catalogue? Do you think it will encourage your customers to look at our range?''

Yet there is certainly an aspect of fashion images that is entirely fantastical, and nothing to do with reality. Top fashion models are often a size 6 – but they are usually over 5’ 10” tall. As the average British woman is 5’ 4”, and a size 16, this is obviously a 'fantasy version' of womankind.

I have so often heard it suggested that fashion images have to be 'aspirational', that I decided to look up exactly what that word meant. The list of synonyms is: ambition, goal, objective, target, hope, desire, wish and want. Hmmm. I would suggest that, for an average woman, the image of one of these models could hardly be described as 'aspirational'. 'Normal' women may (or may not) desire, wish or want to be this freakishly tall and thin – but it is surely not something that they could reasonably set as an ambition, or attainable target, or goal. Arguably, doing so would be very unhealthy.

I think that such obsession with the unattainable spreads right across the fashion industry, and our part of it (the plus-size specialist) is not spared. It has been said before on this forum that the pictures of plus-size clothes are often modelled by slim models. Ironically, the models used to promote plus-size clothing are far nearer to the average woman than they are to the plus-size community.

There are individuals and groups of women who are trying to redress the imbalance in what is promoted as beauty. I was recently looking at a website for the Real Bodies Unite Campaign. They have an on-line petition for women who would like to express their frustration at the images, which – when you think about it – are provided for us, and paid for by us... yet many of us find unsatisfying. Surely, we should be getting better representation from the fashion industry that serves us.

Sarah Jones, from Real Bodies puts it this way: ''I want to make a change to see body diversity in fashion so we can all feel happier in our own skin and be healthy whatever size or shape we are!''

For anyone interested in signing their on-line petition, the address is: http://100percentpeople.com/specials/real-bodies-unite-campaign

 

Emma    Thursday 02 December 2010 at 20:49

 Post #177 



 
Subject: Who wants to be a model?

I have been ‘away from my desk’ again... not playing truant, but suffering from another health problem that has necessitated yet another operation. It does seem like déjà vu, because I was in almost exactly the same situation this time last year, and was convalescing then as now during the ‘winter wonderland’ of a beautiful snow-bound England. Let’s face it (as some teachers may confirm), if you have to have some time off in the winter, it’s very lucky for it to coincide with the snow. One is able to enjoy the beauty of the seasonal weather without the worry of travelling anywhere in it!

One of the lovely things about being at home these days is the possibilities the internet provides for information and entertainment. I have been visiting my favourite sites, looking at the latest news and comment in the ‘on-line plus-size community’. There are a number of very interesting sites, like, for instance, Anna Scholz’s fascinating blog (www.blog.annascholz.com). I’m always interested to read what Anna has to say: she must surely be at the centre of the British plus-size fashion world.

Another site that I really like is called ‘Plus-Size Tall’ (www.plus-size-tall.com). I admire the support that these people give to the cause of plus-size and taller-fitting clothing. At the moment they have introduced a very exciting new competition, looking for a new plus-size model. The winning woman will be offered a trip to Las Vegas in February 2011, where she will ‘hit the catwalk’ at the Curvy Revolution, the world’s biggest plus-size fashion convention.

I am often asked by various organisations (usually TV companies) to mention to my customers some kind of competition or search for a larger woman who can take part in something-or-other. In general I take these searches with a pinch of salt; not all actually present a real, positive opportunity for larger women. However, in this case, I think what is on offer is a fantastic, exciting event for some lucky women. And most importantly, it is being run by a really good, genuine organisation that is truly interested in larger women’s fashion.

I hope that if someone reading my blog knows anyone who would be interested, they may mention it to them. I think it would be great fun, and I would love to hear the outcome!

 

Olga Gonzalez-Ramos    Wednesday 13 October 2010 at 15:58

 Post #169 



 
Subject: Loved your feature on www.Dailyvenusdiva.com

Salutations,

I loved reading about you and your eye for fashion. Just wanted to drop you a note saying 'thank you' for making these amazing designs for me to wear at a size 22/24. Wishing you all the best and keep making our curves look sexy and elegant.

Curvaciously Yours,
Olga Gonzalez-Ramos
www.olgaplusmodel.com

 

 Emma    Wednesday 13 October 2010 at 17:53

 
Hi Olga!

Thank you for your lovely message! I only wish I deserved your praise! The truth is, I neither design nor create the lovely clothes we are able to have in our store.....

We rely on the fabulous designers who produce, every season, the most gorgeous fashion. Buying them is like being a child in a sweetshop, and is a real priveledge. It is a great pleasure to have my job. To be given credit for the creativity is just too much to add, I'm afraid!

You do look absolutely beautiful in your photograph...I dare say we will be seeing you modelling many of those lovely designs....

 

Emma    Sunday 26 September 2010 at 21:53

 Post #166 



 
Subject: Fantasy fashion

We’ve all heard of fantasy football, but how about fantasy fashion? Very few people ever get the chance to design their own fashion range, but that shouldn’t stop us dreaming...

What if I were to formulate my own unique collection of larger-size clothing? Say that somehow I was given the resources and talent to produce my own designs from scratch. What would I create?

Of course there are an infinite number of answers to this question, so if I am to develop this idea I had better concentrate on a single criterion: what kind of clothes have I always wanted, yet never found to my own personal satisfaction in the shops?

In other words, what are the clothes that I have been longing for? This, of course, is a very different collection of clothes than I would be creating if I were a real designer - where I would be producing a look that was fashion-forward and relevant to one particular season.

Instead, I’m talking about the eternal wish-list items that I have wanted but always been denied; a kind of clothing anti-autobiography, whose title would be ‘The Clothes I Never Wore’.

So, with so many items to choose from, I will edit my choices and just throw out a few random ideas...

Let's get the ball rolling with casual trousers. I would love to produce a pair of super-soft stretch leather leggings - the sort that one never sees in larger sizes but which would be incredibly useful under long tops or short dresses.

I would also love to get a really gorgeous long stretch-denim dress. Comfortable and practical, it would be a wardrobe staple that would still be fashionable decades after it was produced. When was the last time you saw a larger-size garment like this in the shops?

For outerwear, I would design a top-fashion raincoat. It would be 100% waterproof with a proper hood. And I’m serious about it being waterproof; mine would be functional enough to sail across the Atlantic in, yet incredibly funky and in a lovely colour... deep Atlantic blue, perhaps.

But I would go really nuts with my knits! In fact, I find the whole subject of knitwear in larger sizes both a great inspiration and a cause of real frustration. It’s true that one can get wonderful larger-sized designer knitwear this season, but there are still huge gaps in availability. Why, for example, is it so difficult to find patterned knits in our sizes? I would take Missoni as an inspiration and create gorgeous stripes in subtle yet unusual colour combinations. And I would design a line of soft, super-long dresses, supported by plenty of stretch (so there would be no sagging), with luxe layers of jackets, coats and capes.

One of the wonderful things about fantasy clothes design is the incredible optimism it engenders. I have been in the large-size fashion industry long enough to realise that many dreams do actually come true. Wait long enough (admittedly in the world of plus-size fashion, often rather too long), and you will eventually find items like these.

This is what the job of the clothes designer is all about: making people happy. For example, I have written in a previous blog about how I dreamed for years of a gorgeous sheepskin coat - and then James Lakeland created one so much better than I had ever desired. And this is far from an isolated case. Many times I have looked at an Anna Scholz item (like her long stretch-silk wrap dress from last winter) and thought ‘at last’!

Somehow, by osmosis, our personal clothes wish-list seeps into fashion’s collective subconscious. Keep looking long enough and you may well surprise yourself. And the deep satisfaction of finding the item that you always wanted, rendered in such a way that it exceeds your wildest expectations, is a source of great joy.

In fact, one of the things you have always wanted is probably in a store somewhere right now!



 

Emma    Saturday 28 August 2010 at 14:49

 Post #157 



 
Subject: Denim

I was chatting to one of my customers this week, who surprised me by suggesting that she was, in her 50s, ‘too old’ to wear denim. It amazed me because this point of view was itself so long past its sell-by date!

As most people know, from the beginning of the 20th century denim started out as a simple work-wear material, but at some point items made of this fabric started to take on a stylish image, and denim has from then on always lurked somewhere in the world of fashion.

Early on it was the fabric of youthful rebellion, with a hard edge. As the denim-clad James Dean famously said: ‘What am I rebelling against? What have you got?’

In those days, denim was for teenagers, and was an expression of a rejection of their parents’ smarter clothing aesthetic.

As the century went on, however, the spread of the denim look became wider and wider. There were the echoes of the manual work-wear look, with baggy dungarees and jeans, but there were also sophisticated disco-influenced designer denims, adorned with sequins, beads and embroidery. And there were stylish fashionable dresses that women-about-town were happy to be seen in, and soft and feminine chambray blouses.

Denim has so many advantages. It’s a strong, long-lasting fabric, whose texture improves with wear and washing. The colour flatters most skin tones. It is a natural fibre that breathes with the body and it is often seen as egalitarian and non-pretentious.

The denim look continued to mutate, and today is incredibly diverse. To take an example, we are now expecting a delivery of ‘jeggings’ a denim legging, from Anna Scholz. This is a real ‘fashion’ look: the ultimate take on the ‘skinny jean’, which is the perfect item to team with the ‘short dress/long top’ look.

Women come to us for wide-leg jeans, classic-leg jeans, and every now and again we still have the bootleg shape (which is coming back into fashion). We often do dark denim, washed denim, and coloured denim jeans. However, jeans are not by any means the beginning and end of the story for denim. As is now usual with this material, some of the new looks push the envelope into whole other areas.

For instance, in stock at the moment we have a wonderful Brand dress, (pictured) which, although it looks like denim, is actually made from Tencel, arguably a better fabric from which to construct such a garment, as it provides a flattering, cool fluidity.

But it is next season (Spring/Summer 11) that our denim looks really take off, and we have some fabulous items on order. We are expecting long shirts, with a gorgeous drape. We will have wide-leg trousers, and little soft denim dresses. We have ordered lovely long skirts and soft pleated jackets. Many of these items are not made from the classic ‘denim’, a cotton fabric that takes its name from Nimes, in France, where it originated. Some of them are Tensel, some Cupro, and much of it is linen. But the look is ‘denim’.

In the meanwhile, there have been technical advances in the classic cotton denim. New mixes of Lycra, which by adding stretch make denim so much more comfortable. The German range, Brand, has added its ‘sensitive’ fabric to denim; a new development designed to provide a much cooler wearing garment.

There are other advances, such as the innovation that LauRie, a Danish brand, has developed, with its clever tummy-support panel that makes its ‘magic Slim’ jeans incredibly flattering to wear.

So next summer, there is going to be a riot of different denim looks erupting on to the fashion scene. With the exciting designs, diversity of styles and aesthetics, innovative fabrics, and clever ideas, there is something here for just about everyone.

I’ve already got this season’s Brand dress, and I will be buying into the lovely Verpass linen denim looks for next season. In particular, I am looking forward to seeing a gorgeous Verpass linen soft jacket, which I have my eye on. It’s stylish, flattering, unique and sophisticated, and – like much denim – will slip very comfortably in among the other looks in my wardrobe.

It’s probably not a garment a teenage rebel would want to wear; but so much the better for that.

 

 Kim P    Monday 30 August 2010 at 14:46

 
Denim! That reminds me, have you got any of those pull on Brand jeans I like in stock at the moment?

 

 Emma    Tuesday 31 August 2010 at 12:38

Hi Kim!

Thanks for your question...the Brand jeans are on order, and we are expecting them momentarily! They may well come in today.

We are also expecting the new 'Magic Slim' Jeans from LauRie in shortly, which we are quite excited about. I would certainly be very interested in your opinion of them...

I have put up a picture of Jaq and I on our way to a party on Saturday, given by a dear friend to mark his 50th birthday. Jaq and I felt resplendent in our Anna Scholz!
 

 Kim P    Tuesday 31 August 2010 at 20:47

 
All sounds very exciting stock wise and what a swell couple of gals you look! The dresses are so nice on you and how clever of Jaq to have a necklace design that compliments the horsey print on the dress!

 

 Emma    Tuesday 31 August 2010 at 21:33

 
Thanks, Kim!

Yes, Jaq is indeed the accessories queen!

 

 Emma    Thursday 02 September 2010 at 16:33

Hi Kim!

Really looking forward to seeing you this Saturday...the Anna Scholz tunic top is here (and put by for you), as are a number of other tops that Kim thought you would like.

I'm glad to report that nothing dreary has come in this season....
 

 Kim P    Friday 03 September 2010 at 02:04

 
That's super!

 

 Kim P    Sunday 05 September 2010 at 11:50

 
Had a lovely time in the shop yesterday, lots of beautiful clothes it was very hard to choose which ones to buy! You have so many new things in store it was a real Aladdin’s cave. It was great to see some lower priced items too such as those Dominique trousers, they are ideal to mix and match with the more high end lines. The curved handles on the new design carrier bags are a big improvement, as you said they are more comfy to carry in the hand or arm. Like many others I now await the Brand jeans to arrive!

 

 Emma    Sunday 05 September 2010 at 17:04

Hi Kim!

Thanks for your kind words....I think you are getting the measure of our modus operandi now! We rush around, serving our customers, showing off all our clothes and generally being very business-like...then, once all the customers have been served, and all the clothes tried on, out comes the tea and cake!

Our cake on Saturday was wonderful: supplied by one of our long-standing customers, Lisken, who had baked it in a charitable cause (so it was OK to eat it!).

I loved those leggings on you. The way they fit is very flattering. It just goes to show that you never know what is going to be a favourite buy until you get to try things on!

I look forward to your next visit (once the Brand has come in).

I have put in a random picture of Pickle, for no particular reason...

 

 Emma    Wednesday 15 September 2010 at 16:24

Hi Kim!

You will be delighted to know that we have had the Brand trousers in.

Our Kim suggests you may be interested in a pair that is in the same style as one you had before, but a different colour. You had a purple-aubergine pair, and this new pair is a lovely turquoise-denim colour (it sounds not-so-good, but it's a lovely, subtle colour)....
 

 Kim P    Wednesday 15 September 2010 at 21:59

 
Thanks for letting me know! I will ring Kim, would def have to see the Turquoise as it's difficult to visualize them.

 

Emma    Saturday 07 August 2010 at 21:02

 Post #150 



 
Subject: Summer 2011...

Having returned from my usual buying trip to Germany last weekend, and after a week’s holiday (a staycation in the best place to holiday I can think of... Brighton!), I am just turning over in my mind what I have learned about the Spring/Summer 2011 season.

The colours, the fabrics, the silhouettes, the detailing... does it all add up to a change in the aesthetic? Are we going to see a continuing of the trends enjoyed this summer, or are we going to veer off in a whole new direction? Have there been improvements, or are we in familiar territory? Most importantly, are we going to like what is coming through?

I always start with colour, which is the key to understanding any given season. When I was at Art College I shared a house with students from the Fashion and Textiles course. One of them was studying in the hope of getting a job in colour prediction. This is a very specialized field in fashion, which involves predicting the colours that are going to be adopted anything up to five years ahead.

The really fascinating thing about colour prediction is how it feeds into all aspects of fashion. For instance, if the colours that are coming through are bold and bright - like hot pink, set against orange and gold - the chances are that the aesthetic of the designers is going to be from cultures where these colours are prevalent. So there may be influences from South America and India, for example. The designers may gravitate towards the shapes, fabrics and intricate, ornate embellishments characteristic of those cultures.

By taking a quick peek at the colour palette of any given season, you can get clues to just about everything that's going on... So when I went into the fashion houses in Düsseldorf my first thought was of the new colours.

There has certainly been a sea-change in the colour palette for Spring/Summer 2011. The shades are cool and serene, sophisticated and neutral. We are seeing a lot of influence from the natural world... pebbly colours, with silver, taupe, steel, nude and aubergine. The prints are also echoing the natural world - with textures from the landscape and animal prints.

Usually when we see any kind of neutral palette, alarm bells begin to ring. Continental women look a million dollars in beige, but you really need that sun-kissed European hair and skin to look good in it - not to mention the warm Continental sun. And when British women see animal prints they tend to see ‘pub landlady’.

However, I have no such worries about the palette. The colours were softer, cooler and more sophisticated, and easier on the typical British complexion in the typical watery British sunlight. The animal prints are understated, and their subtlety would leave Bet Lynch perplexed!

The end result is a kind of luxe look. It’s expensive-looking... it’s grown up, sumptuous fashion. The key to this style (as ever, when the inspiration is the natural world) is texture. There are sandwashed silks and chambrays, metallised fabrics, and there was also a little bit of leather (unusual for a summer collection). This is going to be very popular, and these items are going to stand the test of time and will be worn for years to come.

The look is based on minimalism, luxury and sophistication. There is less embellishment: the fabrics are left to speak for themselves. In the main the ideas are from Western culture. There is almost an Art Deco philosophy.

The silhouettes are soft, and we are still talking about the ‘long top/short dress’, worn with narrow pants look. There are gorgeous long shirts (for heaven’s sake, if you buy nothing else during the Autumn/Winter 2010 and Spring/Summer 2011 seasons, please, please invest in a long shirt and a long jumper... If you miss the boat on these items, you will regret it, and have to wait years before they are available in stores again).

Luckily for the colour-junkies, there were still some brighter colours to be had, though. An honorable mention goes to Godske that had some lovely little silk chiffon dresses with drape detail in gorgeous blues and purples.

So what sticks out in my mind the most at this stage? Well, I have already written about the Anna Scholz collection (as ever, a triumph)... I was also blown away by Sallie Sahne - yet again. This German range (of which we are Britain’s only stockist, by the way) really caught the mood with a gorgeous collection mainlining on textures, fabric handles and finishes. We bought a beautiful metallised cami and jacket in pewter, which would take you anywhere, and just couldn’t resist the faux leather jacket (as soft as baby lambskin) and trousers in a steely taupe. We also shrieked with delight when we saw this wonderful little blazer with knot-detail at the shoulder (see picture above). Genius.

 

Emma    Tuesday 08 June 2010 at 19:05

 Post #139 



 
Subject: Permission denied

I have a confession to make... in my blogs so far I have been systematically avoiding a subject which has a very important effect on our attitude towards fashion. I have done this because, quite honestly, I get rather cross about the issue being brought up time and again with regard to larger women. For a long period I thought I would never talk about it; not because it is a taboo topic, but because I felt it was nowhere near as central to the issue of larger women’s fashion as many commentators would have us believe.

I am referring to the subject of self-esteem. If you read the mainstream press you would be forgiven for thinking that all larger women suffer from ‘low self-esteem’. Yet in my work I rarely come across women who have a seriously depleted sense of self-worth. The answer to why this is is obvious. If someone doesn’t believe she is an estimable person, it’s unlikely that she will find herself in a designer store like ours, rummaging through the very latest in beautiful clothing, and choosing her next stimulating and transformative look.

So if I knew I was only going to be read by the women who come to shop in my store, I doubt whether I would ever talk about the issue. To hell with low self-esteem!

However, I have become more and more aware that other women out there in cyberspace read this blog, and perhaps it would be worth talking about an issue that, in all probability, is keeping many women from entering stores like ours.

It is not, as some would have us believe, only larger women who suffer from low self-esteem. Why would a huge, multinational cosmetics company like L’Oreal use the tagline ‘Because you’re worth it’, were it not an incredibly widespread issue? I have sold fashion to large and small women alike, and I believe there are equal degrees of self-doubt and self-criticism in folk of all sizes. The way perfect images of womanhood are projected in the media is enough to make anyone feel inadequate!

I don’t really know how you get high self-esteem; it may be something you are born with, and it's certainly something that develops as you get older. What I am referring to must never be confused with arrogance - just as low self-worth should never be equated with modesty... it's much more negative than that. It is quite possible, for instance, for someone to be more than thoroughly acquainted with their physical shortcommings, yet still have a perfectly healthy level of self-esteem. I know I'm hardly a raging beauty, yet I am lucky enough to have it.

I will give you an example of what I mean. A few years ago a couple of the women from Emma Plus and I went out for a meal in a local restaurant to celebrate our end of year. We were just tucking in to our food, when one of my colleagues told me that she was put off eating. I asked her why and she replied it was because the couple at the next table (particularly the female half) was staring at the three of us. I pooh-poohed this instantly. (I have subsequently read that it is a sign of high self-esteem that you do not notice what other people are doing!)

However, my other colleague confirmed that the woman was, indeed, staring at us. Of the three of us eating, I would say we had three different levels of self-esteem. I had high esteem, and had difficulty either noticing or caring what other people thought of me (to this day, actually, I genuinely think the woman was almost certainly only looking at us with admiration... frankly, the three of us looked gorgeous in our designer outfits which we had specially donned for our celebration dinner; had I seen the three of us, I would have stared - wondering where on earth we had managed to get larger-size clothes like those! Either way, I could not care less).

One of my colleagues had a normal level of self-esteem, and, unlike me, had noticed that we were being closely observed. She had no view as to why, but was irked by the woman’s lack of decorum. My last colleague suffered from low self-esteem all her life, and simply couldn’t eat her meal, so convinced was she that someone was judging her. This completely bewildered me. I couldn't understand why anyone could be upset by the supposed views of someone who was entirely unknown and unimportant to us.

I'm not saying that, as larger women, we don’t get looked at and occasionally judged because of our size - especially from a fashion point of view (often quite wrongly). I remember how, some years ago, I used to bump into my neighbour when I returned from my dog-walk every morning. She was habitually at the front of her property just as I strolled by wearing my walking gear of shorts and a casual top. ‘Wow, shorts!’ she cried, with great amazement, the first time she saw me so attired. She made a big show of nearly falling off her chair with the mock-shock of seeing me. I couldn’t help but wonder as to why she found it so surprising, as we were in the middle of a heat wave. What did she think I was going to wear to walk the dog, salopettes?

However, for the next month or two over that long, hot summer, I reckon I bumped into her, in exactly the same way, perhaps two-dozen times. And every time she exclaimed in amazement at seeing that I (a size 24 woman who as an apple shape had pretty good legs!), would have the effrontery to be seen out in shorts. Really, our conversation was like Groundhog Day, every day!

I can’t honestly say that this daily bludgeoning-home of her opinion (subtlety was not her strong suit, obviously) made me feel any differently about wearing shorts. It did, unfortunately, draw my attention to her own sartorial shortcomings, which I had not really noticed before, and very nearly resulted in my offering some fashion advice of my own to the unfortunate woman. However, I did find it funny, and took it in good part.

At no time was I tempted to trust this woman’s instincts more than my own. Had she been a glamazon style-diva, perhaps I would have considered her opinion as a valid one. But even then, I don't think I would have found it personally upsetting, just interesting. However, it was obvious this wasn’t the case. And that’s putting it mildly. As it was, even by our last late-summer encounter, I certainly hadn't begun to find myself feeling awkward in any way.

It has always seemed amazing to me that so many women are prepared to hand over an extremely precious and vital item, namely their self-esteem, to a person who they wouldn’t dream of lending their car-keys to. Surely, unless someone has shown themselves to be an incredibly adept arbiter of taste, probably your own opinion has more relevance when it comes to your own look?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission’. It’s a permission that I would not give easily, and my customers, in the main, seem to feel much as I do.

 

Emma    Monday 03 May 2010 at 22:49

 Post #133 



 
Subject: We've come a long way, baby!

Seems funny to think back on it now, but for some years I lived in a country where most of the women I sold clothes to tended to abide by quite a strict rule of modesty.

By this, I mean that it was not thought seemly for my customers to show anything much of their bodies, and very often they were put under powerful social pressure (and sometimes internal pressure!) to be extremely demure in their dress. Mainly dressed in black or other dark shades, they wore all-enveloping garments, which showed-off their shape to the minimum, and almost none of their flesh.

So the garments that we had to stock in that store were, in the main, dark coloured and rather shapeless. The main purpose of most of the clothing seemed to be to disguise the shape, rather than to express or flatter it. Skirts were as long as possible, almost floor-length, and wide... a long pleated skirt was a sought-after style because it expressed almost nothing of a woman’s shape and, even then, they were often worn with a slip underneath. Blouses were never low-necked (heaven forbid there be any cleavage on show), and sleeves were always either full- or three-quarter length. Jackets were baggy, shapeless and long. Many, many women considered it to be completely inappropriate to wear trousers at all.

The customers who did feel free to wear more revealing clothing were sometimes frowned upon, and some of them told me that they had to endure some kind of moral censure from friends and family when they ventured out in their (relatively tame, by our standards) less repressive looks in public.

I did try very hard to buy beautiful, sexy, relevant, fashion-forward looks for the store I was working in at the time, but it was an uphill struggle to come by the kind of clothing I was seeking. I wasn’t looking for anything too outré... I was just wanting to stock something relevant; not the new Lady Gaga wardrobe!

Time after time agents and designers told me I was on a hiding to nothing: no-one would want to wear anything that pushed the envelope. Even if the customer had enough self-confidence to be able to ‘flaunt’ herself, the social pressure would be too great, and she would be too uncomfortable to enjoy her more liberated look.

Wow, you may be thinking... where is this country, and what was it that caused this restrictive style of dress? We often find that different religions can expect such modesty from women. Fundamental Christians, strict Muslims and Jewish women often choose this sort of fashion language... did I live in a country populated by one or several of these groups?

Of course, the answer is that the shop I worked for was in Brighton, United Kingdom. It was actually in the exact location of the store I now inhabit. The date was 1990... only 20 years ago. My customers were large women then, as they are today. And at that time, whilst the slim girls were wearing miniscule tight skirts - showing their midrifts or in super-short sweater dresses with towering high heels - the larger women were expected to cover up.

The truth is, when I first started in plus-size fashion in this country, larger women were expected to be invisible. Or I should say, the shape and flesh of their bodies were not considered to be decorous enough to be on show. Most of the styles we sold at the time were demure to the point of being yashmaks. Quite seriously, most of the looks could have been worn by community nuns.

Nowadays, we have got used to the fact that the shape of larger women can be beautiful, and that their flesh can be as lovely as any human flesh. And (perhaps more importantly, for most of us women) even when we are not beautiful, we are lovely, and it is our birthright to be as visible as anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel the need to show myself off, warts and all. Actually, in my opinion, a lot of the skill of a fashion stylist is to hide or disguise those parts of one’s physique that are not (shall we say) in prime condition. I, for instance (in common with many women over 40, whether they be large or small), would rather stick pins in my eyes than show off my upper arms.

However, there are certain assets that I am more than happy to display, and I have found a way of showing my figure to its best advantage. There really is no need for any woman to try to 'anonymise' herself by draping her physique in what amounts to a dust-sheet!

Consumer pressure has brought many of the designers on line, and new, sexy collections have erupted on to our scene. Now that there are more larger, younger women, social pressure has been turned on its head, and women are not only allowed, but positively expected to make the best of their looks.

Larger women are seen as sexy, sassy beings, and there is no need to hide themselves away unless they choose to do so. We have come such a long way, in such a relatively short space of time.

 

Emma    Tuesday 06 April 2010 at 01:10

 Post #128 



 
Subject: Turning back the clock

Not all expensive clothes last longer than cheap ones. Expensive designer clothes are often made of tender, gorgeous fabrics. They can have fine, delicate surface finishes... or construction details that speak more to aesthetics than utility.

For example, an invisible hem can be a fragile way of finishing the bottom of a garment. The ultra-fine thread is carefully drawn across the hem, catching tiny pieces of fabric at regular intervals. It’s possible that this hem will last a lifetime. However, if you are unlucky, you can break the thread and the hem will need to be replaced. The designer has not chosen this method for its durability. If that had been the intention then a good, robust double-seam would have been used. This hem has been carefully selected as the perfect way of making a garment look 'effortless' and 'pure'.

Expensive fabrics can also have a shorter life than cheap ones. Let’s face it, if you would like a garment to last a lifetime you would construct it from thick polyester. Something, say, like crimpeline (a heavyweight knitted polyester) would be perfect. I once watched a Marks and Spencer staff uniform, made from such a fabric (the sleeve of which had got caught in the door of a giant industrial washing-machine), spinning backwards and forwards at enormous speed for an hour or so. It came out of the wash in perfect condition. This would not have been the case if the garment had been made out of the finest cotton lawn.

Yet, despite this, designer clothes do tend to last considerably longer than high-street clothes. This is because they are much better made, and the fabrics have been developed to perform as well as possible, within the confines of their natural limitations. Designer clothes are also 'fashion forward', which means than even after several years, they will not look dated.

Many of the clothes that I sell will be worn many dozens of times while they remain ‘smart’, but there is more to them that this. They may go on to have several lives.

The first life is that of the treasured, beautiful, trendy garment. This is the ‘go-to’ item when you want to look good, and you need your clothes to make a statement about yourself. It is your top look.

Then, after several years, the garment becomes an everyday staple. You would wear it to the office on a normal day.

Inevitably, the item then becomes the ‘old friend’: something worn around the house. It is so comfortable that you are happy to do the gardening in it.

Eventually, the garment is sent off to the charity shop, where another larger woman swoops on it and takes it home as a treasured find, and it starts a whole new existence. It's perhaps not surprising to learn that the ecological pressure group, Friends of the Earth, has done research that has found better-quality fashion items to be kinder to the environment over time.

I was rummaging through one of my cupboards the other day and pulled out an old treasure that had fallen on hard times. It was a Persona knitted jacket, from about six or seven years ago.

It had had rather a hard life. I'd loved it when it was new, and wore it often in the shop. Persona is an Italian range whose quality is legendary. It is a cashmere mix - as light as swan-down, and warm and soft as puppies’ ears. The colour is incredibly fashion-forward, a kind of pinky-purple. Even the embroidery on the back (in a petrol blue and lime green) was prescient of the embellishments that have come into vogue over the years since its creation. It came with a matching silk shirt (long since given to one of my friends) and shawl.

It has never looked unfashionable in all the time I have had it, yet it suffered from something for which it was in no way to blame: I put on weight, and no longer felt that I could carry it off at work. But it was so beautiful I couldn’t rid myself of it, and it was so comfortable I felt it calling me as a snuggly (perhaps a little too snug!) everyday warmer to wear around the house.

So that is exactly how it has lived its life for the past four or five years. I have done the housework in it. I have walked the dog in it. I have (it seems from the available evidence) cooked and eaten spaghetti bolognaise in it!

When I took it out of my cupboard the other day it presented a rather sorry sight. There were dog hairs... there were stains... and bobbles. It looked as if the charity shop was calling for it.

However, it is such a beautiful garment and so on-trend at the moment, that I just couldn’t bring myself to let it go, particularly as - now that I had lost the weight - it fitted me again. I decided to try to turn back time.

It was too late to gently wash it by hand with a wool detergent: that horse had bolted. So I washed it in my washing-machine, with plenty of Vanish on the marks. When it had dried I carefully removed the dog-hairs using Sellotape. Then I used my trusty de-piller, bought from John Lewis, to remove the bobbles. I carefully pressed it, and then looked at my handiwork.

It had returned to what I would call ‘excellent vintage’ condition. When I put it on I was so glad that I had my lovely old friend back again. I will really enjoy wearing it to work once more with pride, and I will be happy to watch it start its life all over again.

This jacket was an expensive garment: Persona is one of our highest-end collections. I doubt if it was any less than £150 when I bought it. However, if you were to tot-up how many times I have (and will) wear this garment, it works out at just a few pence per wear. And each time I was spending that few pence, I was enjoying a beautiful, fashion-forward, comfortable work of art.

I would rather be wearing that than a garment that was cheaper to invest in at the outset, yet which would have a much shorter, less comfortable, less aesthetically pleasing, and ultimately less economically sound life.

 

Angie    Wednesday 02 December 2009 at 23:03

 Post #96 



 
Subject: leather coat.

 
I have searched the web far and wide to find a decent leather coat in the U.K.
I am looking for a hooded 3/4 length parka, or duffle style, and although I found just what I was looking for in America, do you think I can find one here?
We have places like Simply be, who offer fashionable leather jackets that end just under the bust. Could you imagine what I would look like in one of those, with my size 48 boobs???
I am a good size U.K.22

 

 Emma    Thursday 03 December 2009 at 15:13

 
Hi Angie

Thanks for your post. The simple answer to your question is no, I am not aware of anywhere in the UK that you could rely on for buying a coat like the one you describe - or, in fact, any really nice leather items in larger sizes - and I find this very disappointing. If an online supplier of good leather coats in larger sizes exists, then I have not heard of it. Perhaps if any other user of this forum has some information on this subject, they will reply to this post...

You really would think that what you are looking for (a good, useful, stylish leather coat, in what is actually not a very large size) would be readily available in the UK. I guess the Americans are ahead of us in some areas!

Designer stores like ours are one of the only ways to source a really good leather coat, but they are a fringe item in our ranges. We would commonly only stock a very small quantity of styles, and finding the one that ‘lights your fire’ and is available at any one given time, is a bit of a long-shot. We don’t have any leather coats in stock at the moment, I’m afraid.

In general terms I do feel that you have touched upon a real difficulty - i.e. the problem one encounters when trying to get something quite specific in larger sizes. When customers contact us with this kind of enquiry, the way that we deal with it is to try to source something specifically for a customer, but I would be the first person to admit that this is a far from perfect system.

What we would do is find out exactly what it is that the customer wants (it could be anything from a corset to a leather coat to a sweater dress), discuss details such as price point, colour, size, etc., check our stock, and then, if we don’t have it, note the item down in our ‘Wish List’. Then we would see if there is anything similar available from our suppliers.

Sometimes it can take up to two seasons to actually get the desired item, so it is a good idea to opt for a belt-and-braces approach, and still actively search online even while you are waiting.

I would give a word of warning, though. With items like a leather coat it is best to buy a very good quality item, spending as much as you can reasonably afford. Mail-order items are often a real let-down in this area. This sounds like the kind of thing a designer shop-owner would say, of course, but truly, I think it is all too often a false economy to choose the mail-order option.

I think you may have already pinpointed one of the problems of mass-availability items: design. Many of the larger companies show a shocking ignorance as to what suits a larger woman (no, by the way, I don’t think a short jacket usually looks good on a larger bust!). The other thing that is supremely important in an item made of leather is the quality of the hide. A stiff, cardboardy leather is never going to be a pleasure to wear, no matter how many times it gets an outing. In fact, it will only usually look worse with wear.

Alternatively, if you were able to wait, reach out to your favourite designer large-size store, and buy a really good quality item as soon as it is available, it will be worth it. A quality leather coat is a real investment. It’s a very practical piece of apparel that's wonderful come rain or shine. A designer coat will be fashion-forward - giving you a great deal of aesthetic satisfaction, and is likely to be in a classic or individual style that will not date. Best of all, unlike other materials, the leather will improve over time.

Unfortunately, I am only too aware this is one of my replies that goes all round the houses without actually helping you with your specific problem - for which I apologise! The only bright spot is that I truly believe that availability of a wide range of items in our size range is improving. It is up to all of us to keep on asking for what we want - we need to drive home to the manufacturers out there that the demand for these kinds of items exists!

 

Emma    Thursday 26 November 2009 at 00:58

 Post #95 



 
Subject: Fussy?

 
So I found myself in the nightwear department of a well-known chain store, looking for some new pyjamas. You may be able to guess the store I was in - it’s the one that supplies undies to the nation! Unfortunately, for me, the experience was bringing on ‘shopping rage’. I just couldn’t find what I wanted, even though there were hundreds of pyjamas on display. Why on earth was I being so fussy?

It was an odd set of circumstances that had brought me into this store. After having a bit of a health problem, I found that I needed an operation (I’ve since had it, and some of you may have realised that there has been a bit of a hiatus in my blogs whilst I have been recuperating). True to any surgical procedure, the operation seemed to require a massive loss of weight, so I have recently lost 4 stone, and gone down from a dress size 24 to a teeny-weenie size 18. This brings me into the very smallest size in our range - so I’m the Emma Plus version of size zero at the moment!

For my five-night stay in the hospital I wanted some nice pyjamas, and although I have collected some beautiful ones over the years (I haven’t worked in a large size store for nothing!), they no longer fitted me. I needed new ones. In our store we do sell pyjamas (although we don’t always have them in stock) but we certainly couldn’t be relied on to have a size 18 pair available. Most of our range goes from a size 20 upwards, with a smattering of 16s and 18s. My colleague, Jaq, ordered some beautiful ones from Nanso, which does lovely colourful jerseywear, but they had not arrived, and it was just a couple of days before my operation. In my new smaller state I felt confident that for once in my life I might be able to find what I wanted on the high street, so I strode forth.

On that particular shop floor there were so many different pairs of pyjamas; it was enough to make your head spin. Thick ones, silky ones, flimsy types and fleecy. Bright and dull coloured. Traditional and jazzy. There was just one problem... I didn’t like any of them. This was because each pair had a very short top. Held up against me, I could see that the jacket part of the nightwear ended just below my waist, at about navel level. They did not cover either the tummy area, or the bottom.

Bizarrely, this was the case for every style, no matter how they differed in other ways. Not a pyjama in the entire store had a top that would cover one’s derriere. Someone had taken it upon him or herself to decree that a longer top just wasn't allowed.

Now, pyjama trousers are not a thing of beauty around the bottom region. Why would anyone spend their hard-earned money buying a garment that was so incredibly unflattering? Honestly, who, other than Jennifer Anniston, would actually look good with their bottom hanging out of the back of their jym-jams?

However, this problem is particularly irksome for larger women. It's my belief that if one asked just about any woman over a size 16, she would confirm that, if she is wearing trousers (either during the day or at night), she will need a top that covers her bottom - it's hardly rocket science! So this is yet another example of a range of items being bought by a major store with inadequate knowledge and no consultation about what larger women want.

I roamed the department with my friend, getting more and more angry. The lone sales assistant I managed to wrestle to the ground (as she tried to dodge her way across the shop floor) obviously thought I was being incredibly fussy. But I wasn’t, actually. I just happened to know what I needed, and was not prepared to put up with something less.

In our store customers often apologise for being 'fussy' when they are merely being prescriptive about what they are looking for, and it usually makes me smile. These are women who have spent ages trying to find a specialist designer store. They have managed to track Emma Plus down. Then they have quite often travelled some distance to get here. They have been prepared to pay higher than high-street prices to buy our wares. Finally, they have often been happy to wait until the item has been altered to make the fit absolutely perfect, and sent on to them by mail.

In short, they have built the Emma Plus business in the likeness of what they really, really want. And they have kept us successfully trading for 20 years. If they had not been so 'fussy', then they would have given up and just bought items from the high street that they were not happy with. And the result would be that we would not exist.

Call it what you like, but fussiness is not a word I would readily use. I would prefer to call it taste.

Well, I had the operation and it was a success. I’m hoping to get back to work by Christmas – just in time for some very exciting new developments that I will discuss in a subsequent blog.

And, as luck would have it, my gorgeous Nanso pyjamas arrived just in time. They even had a beautiful matching dressing-gown (which Jaq had kept as a surprise). And the style of the top was long enough to cover my bottom - and then some!

 

Rosemary Milmine    Wednesday 04 November 2009 at 20:28

 Post #86 



 
Subject: Skinny Models

 
Why are all the models on your web pages skinny and young? Lets have some real women strutting their stuff! I am planning to come in and spend my £10 voucher soon..Thanks very much

 

 Emma    Thursday 05 November 2009 at 10:40

 
Hi Rosemary

I have a feeling this issue is going to run and run!

Actually, someone else has also posted a remark very similar to yours (see post 84), and I have to say, I heartily agree with it!

If you read my reply to that post, you will see why we put these images on our website.

However, I really feel that the more comments like yours the better - any kind of pressure on our suppliers to provide more realistic images has got to be a good thing! I would love to be able to get my suppliers to take one look at our forum and then try to explain why they continue to use small models!

 

Susie Grant    Friday 23 October 2009 at 21:07

 Post #84 



 
Subject: Size

 
Just found your site - your clothes are fabulous but surely your models do not reflect the size of ladies that you are catering for.

 

 Emma    Saturday 24 October 2009 at 15:11

Hi Susie

Thank you for your post. You make an interesting point that I have always felt would arise on this forum sometime!

As with a lot of interesting questions, although on the surface the subject appears simple, it is in fact quite complicated.

The images that we have on our site fall into two groups. One comprises pictures that we or our customers have provided, and represents the clothes that we have had in our store. These photographs are mainly on our forum, and are usually of either happy shoppers wearing our outfits, or our own shop window mannequins modelling our styles. We have two mannequins, one of which is a size 20 and the other a size 24 (and so are at the lower end of our size range). However, by definition these images are of clothing in plus sizes.

The other set of images that we have on our website are those provided by our suppliers, and are posed on professional models. We have little influence over our suppliers in their choice of women sporting their looks. (It would not be practical for us to take our own photographs on models-we can only really do it on our mannequins.) If you have not already done so, it may be a good idea, at this point, to check out the pictures that are on our ‘Our Range’ pages. Believe it or not, these women (in the main) are considered to be ‘plus-size models’!

This is because the models for any particular size range are always far taller and slimmer than the average woman. Thus for ‘mainstream’ fashion, the models can be six feet tall and a size eight (surely no-one can deny that is a freak of nature). In the plus size range, the models would be size 16 or 18, six feet (or more) tall women. These plus size models often do not have a single scrap of extra flesh on their frame, and are perfectly proportioned.

I know that some doubt that these models are in fact a size 16 or 18 (they certainly look very slim). For most of the speciality plus-size ranges, however, I can personally vouch for the fact that these extraordinarily perfect looking women must actually be this size, because the clothes they wear in the photographs are. I have seen and checked over the sample clothes provided to the models, and I promise they are ‘plus size’. That is always supposing that you consider plus size to be 16 or 18.

Which leads us on to a whole other can of beans! I personally think it is ridiculous (and a scandal) that women who are size 16 or 18 are considered ‘plus size’. This is patent nonsense, because the average woman in Britain today is 5 feet 4 inches tall and a size 16. By definition, size 16 is average-sized, and in no way 'large'. In fact, taking the models' height into account, they are actually much slimmer than the norm. (You may have gathered by now that this is a bit of a hobby-horse of mine!)

This is, in a nutshell, where fashion and ‘real life’ collide. It could be argued that the fashion industry is at present living in cloud-cuckoo land. One day, I feel sure, larger women will be considered just another current in the mainstream. All we can do for now is to express ourselves as the women we are (beautiful and fashionable) and ask over and over again to be realistically represented in this industry.

So I applaud your question, and hope that you continue asking it of every fashion professional you encounter! I will certainly continue to bring this up with our suppliers, and - as I know for a fact that some of them read this forum - am very happy that you have raised it here!
 

Emma    Monday 18 May 2009 at 14:09

 Post #45 



 
Subject: Fashion democracy

Yesterday I had an email from a woman in Norfolk mentioning that she would be coming to visit the shop to buy an outfit for a family wedding. So what’s so unusual about that? Nothing, as it happens. Nowadays we have women from all over the country travelling down to buy clothes at our shop, all the time. Suddenly Norfolk seems close.

This has not always been the case. Years ago (before the internet), the only people who knew we existed were from our local area. We used to serve the people of Brighton and Hove, as well as Sussex and the surrounding counties. Occasionally women would travel down from London to visit the seaside, and stop by to shop with us.

In those days shops like ours were like Bonsai trees. We had limited root space, which meant that we were unable to grow properly. Local people got to know about us through advertisements in the local papers, special events (like charity fashion shows), county lifestyle magazines, and word of mouth. There really was no way that we could make ourselves known further afield. National advertising costs thousands, and would not be affordable, even if it were effective.

Press advertising for larger sizes is a very hit-and-miss area. The few times we splashed out and advertised in national fashion magazines, the response was disappointing. It’s not hard to understand why this was, at that time. To be honest, if you were looking for womenswear in large sizes, the very last place you would look for it would be in a fashion magazine! Larger women found the process of trawling endlessly through style journals, trying not to fall in love with beautiful clothes they would never find in their size, very depressing. Most gave it up as a bad job, more frustrated than ever.

So local shops were just that - with a small, local customer base. But the problem with having few clients is that you end up with a very small stockholding. And a very small number of suppliers, with very little choice.

In the bad old days, if a woman telephoned me from, say, Kent, and asked whether it was worthwhile driving down to see us, it was a worry. Often I would take all the details I could from the customer (size, height, colour preference, what she was looking for stylistically), then run round the shop looking at what I had, before I could give an answer. I am not, and never have been, in the habit of encouraging someone to spend a morning on the road travelling to us if it is just for a disappointment. So there were times at the tail-end of the season when I had to tell a depressed customer that the answer was no - it really wasn’t worth her driving for an hour to get here, because our choice didn't warrant it!

How the world has changed. Now, when a woman telephones me from Kent and asks me whether it is worthwhile coming here, I don’t consider it is any distance at all. In fact, these days, I’m a little surprised that she even calls, because she is so ‘close’! This is not, as you can imagine, because the country has suddenly shrunk, or that the roads have magically become clear and easy. It is because the internet has had a wonderful, and (for me at least) completely unexpected affect on my business.

All of a sudden our customers, wherever they are, are finding out about us. And this is having a profound, exciting and positive effect on our shop - and I believe, on the large-size fashion business as a whole.

A virtuous circle has started, and it goes like this... More people, from further away, have heard about us through the internet. Then they have come and shopped here - creating demand. So we get to buy more clothes, with greater choice. This makes it worthwhile for women travelling even further afield to visit us. So we can stock yet more clothes.

And this is a highly interactive process. Of course, we are only interested in stocking what customers want enough to warrant embarking on their trip!

Having been on the internet for years now, we have established a reputation for really being worth a long trip, and women come from all over. We get them travelling from Ireland, Wales, and across England. It’s really not that unusual for us to have someone who has specifically travelled down from, say, Yorkshire. This enables us to grow more. The little Bonsai tree has been removed from its restrictive pot, and has been planted out in the earth. To mix a glorious metaphor - we’re now free-range! The limit to which we will grow now depends entirely on our customers’ choice.

Of course, I'm only speaking about our shop - it's the only business I know anything significant about. But I would imagine this process is happening to all specialist shops that have a good internet presence and a stockholding that excites interest nationally.

I don’t know where this will end. But I know what it has begun. It is democratising fashion. What I mean by this is that the process has not just benefited us - it has benefited the customer. No-one wants to have to travel great distance to buy in a shop. But if you can’t obtain what you want locally, then you will seek it out and make the effort to get it if you can. In the past women have complained that no-one seems to know what it is that they want. Now it is possible to speak up, using a language the fashion industry knows well - the language of sales.

It’s an exciting and frightening time to own a store, because this process is double-edged. Pre-internet, stores that were not really meeting the challenge of buying and selling what their customers desired, would at least make a living. In my mother’s generation, everywhere there were stores that had rather lack-lustre collections yet were still able to continue because local larger women had such a dearth of choice. After all, one has to wear something!

Now, all over the country, these disappointing shops are being bulldozed away (speeded by the credit crunch), and their customers are hitting the search engines. Now, for the first time in large-size fashion history, we have real Darwinian democracy in our business. The survival of the fittest.

Those stores that take a real interest in what the consumer desires - those stores who are prepared and able to provide the aspirational clothes that women will travel for - will prevail. And those who disappoint their customer base will have no way to survive.

Maybe I’m being wildly optimistic, but I believe that there may be a sea change in fashion in our size range just around the corner. In fact, if there is, then it has already started. At last women are able to decide exactly what they want, and have the economic power - accessed through the vital information they have always lacked - to drive their own fashion forward.

 

Emma    Monday 27 April 2009 at 18:58

 Post #31 



 
Subject: Chain store massacre

 
Why is it that chain stores seem to do such a poor job of providing larger-sized womenswear? Recently, a local chain store on the high street in Brighton (I’m not naming names because this is not a story particular to this one retailer - it’s something that seems to happen with all the chains) started to stock a range of clothes going up – theoretically - to a size 28. They also have an out-of-town superstore that carried the range. The whole venture was trumpeted with much excitement by the media. At last, we were led to believe, affordable and desirable large-size clothes.

I think there may have been problems from day one, but after a year or so, noticeable things started to happen to this range, and the signs were not good. It was removed from the high street and women had to travel to the superstore to get it. Then it was pushed more and more to the back of that store - shrinking all the while. Now it has been quietly removed altogether (I think it may only be available online). It must have been an expensive, humiliating and disastrous failure for this business.

Which leaves us with the question: Why on earth is it that large sizes are so difficult for the chain stores to buy and sell? We are all getting bigger, so there is a very large and growing market out there (as it were!). Surely they can cater for it? Many of these stores have a wealth of experience in fashion retailing.

The reason is larger-size fashion is such a difficult and complex business. And it requires people who know, not just fashion buying, but large size fashion buying.

When we go buying for our store, for instance, we have so many things to think about, it makes your head spin. First and foremost there's fashion. We are a medium/high-level designer store, and people travel across the country to get to us, expecting a directional collection.

Then we have to think about the different shapes of women’s bodies. All women - large and small - have differently shaped bodies that can be categorised into rough groupings. For instance, there is the apple-shaped woman, the pear-shaped woman, the hourglass, etc. With slim women these differences are relatively minor, and many can get away with wearing more or less the same styles as women with completely different body shapes. This cannot happen with larger women, where the differences are far more pronounced. With larger women, not only the styles, but also the fit must be radically different - according to body type.

Then there are the usual considerations (which I believe all fashion buyers should be conscious of) about obtaining clothes in the colours that suit the four main complexion groups (winter, spring, summer and autumn). Add this to the necessity of trying to cover all the bases in the matter of different clothing usage (casual, smart casual, formal, workwear, etc.), and you start to get a picture about what is involved. Every one of these groups has to be bought across the complete range of body shapes.

Very often we have to deliberately work against fashion. For example, if the latest trend is for short skirts, we have to find suppliers that are able to make the longer skirts that we need. It can feel like swimming upstream.

As independents, we do have a lot of problems that the chains do not. One is that we do not produce our own clothes - we have no design department. We have to go out into the marketplace and source what we need, spending days and weeks looking for, and occasionally failing to get, what we want. It is like mining diamonds. Finding treasured solutions is the most satisfying thing for us. It’s a wonderful, rewarding, interesting and exciting, yet highly frustrating part of our work.

As we are quite small, we simply don’t have the capacity to carry everything we would like. Added pressure is actually placed on us because there is so little competition. This means that we really have to try to get as wide a variety of clothes as possible, because women cannot find co-ordinating items elsewhere. It’s no good, for instance, selling a woman a superb suit, if we don’t carry the top to go under it. She may well have the greatest difficulty in sourcing that herself. She certainly won’t get much help on the high street.

The problem with the fashion industry in Britain is the dearth of specialist knowledge in this specific area. Sadly, this is all too obvious. The chains probably employ experienced fashion buyers who are the best in their field. Unfortunately, their field is not large size fashion - it’s ‘mainstream’ fashion. It’s a vicious circle: the high street has no experience because it has never done it successfully. It can never do it successfully because it has no experience. The stores fail because they simply have no idea how incredibly complex the subject is.

Chain stores love simplicity. The one generic shape of jacket, tailored to look different in a hundred different ways (that’s fashion!). The same fit of trousers, in many, many different styles. They all look incredibly different, but in fact they are all cut from a certain block, and assume the human body is a regulation shape.

The irony is that the big stores have such a vast benefit to gain, and such a huge contribution to give, to the larger-size clothing market. If they could develop a way of really finding out what was needed in this field, they are in fact well equipped to satisfy it. If only they were able to accept that the solution is far from simple. They would have to not only understand and accept the diversity that exists in their customers, but learn to embrace, create, and provide it in their own collections.

 
 

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