When Qiana Allen, 36, constantly heard “you’re so stylish for a big girl” in her younger years, she didn’t take it as an insult. She used it as a business model. The owner of the Chicago based Curve Culture Boutique just recently celebrated opening a second location of her wildly popular clothing brand and attributes her almost instant success to her formula of ‘providing confidence through clothing.’ It took just three years for the expansion to happen, which beats the bleak statistics that often predict failure for plus size clothing stores. In 2013, the Daily Mail reported that the plus size sector is the most neglected in the fashion industry with less than 9% of retailers carrying larger sizes in the US. Although this is understandable due to it’s higher production costs, it doesn’t make it any less unfair. “I knew that my store was going to be a hit because it tapped into a market that was desperate for attention,” Allen said. Neglect and ambivalence from retailers is commonplace to the plus-size consumer: separate stores and/or shopping sections, poorly stocked inventory, ill-fitting garments and higher price tags all face women who are bigger than a size 14.
Allen took all of this into account when creating her company’s brand in an attempt to combat those feelings of hopelessness consumers often feel, even down to the minute details. “I wanted to create an inviting, aesthetically pleasing space for my brick and mortar site and I also wanted the clothes that occupied the space to be just as beautiful,” she said. The wife and mother of two said that she chooses all of her inventory based on what she herself would like to wear on any given day of her busy life, which bodes well for her customers in the long run. “It is fairly costly to produce a quality piece for plus sizes and as a result, it drives up the price point,” she said. But she also pointed that higher costs don’t deter her customers from investing due to her effective marketing strategy. “My shoppers know exactly what they’re going to get when they walk out of my store with a purchase,” she said. “I invest heavily into social media marketing to present my stock in the best possible light.” With more than 145,000 international Instagram followers and nearly 52,000 Facebook ‘likes,’ it’s safe to say her strategy has been effective.
How It Started
While working as manager of a call center, Allen knew that her place was in fashion.
“I have always loved fashion and had a basic knowledge style elements even without a formal fashion education,” she said. The Phoenix University graduate earned her degree while working her full time managerial role but decided that that wasn’t enough. “I picked up consignment jobs with local stores after noticing I had a penchant for identifying items that they were missing and could benefit them if they included it in their inventory,” she said.
This soon turned into a part time job, which turned into a full time business. “I didn’t take the route of most clothing boutique owners of today that tested the market with an online store and after years of building their online presence, finally feel safe enough investing in a brick and mortar site,” she said when addressing her traditional approach of taking all her knowledge from her years of working in consignment and moving straight into owning and operating her stores.
Tips For Aspiring Clothing Brand Owners
Tip #1: Know Your Market Like the Back of Your Hand
As a curvy girl, Allen often injects empathy into her business decisions which has helped guide her marketing practices when targeting her consumer base. “I not only gained great insight into my target demographic market by studying it from a macro level, but I’ve also been able to understand from a smaller scale since I am living it as a curvy myself,” she said.
Tip #2: Invest Heavily In Your Marketing
Allen she said spares no expense when it comes to presenting her brand in the most authentic way and communicating it her customers. “I have a team of professionals that cover my brand from every angle: photographer, videographers, social media strategists, PR etc,” she said. “When starting out, if you can’t afford to hire a team, develop relationships with those that have the skills necessary to drive your brand forward, and swap services,” Allen suggested.
Tip #3: Attend Trade Shows
“One of the most important things you can do as a clothing brand owner is to attend trade shows,” Allen said, referring to large clothing and accessory conventions that shop owners utilize to purchase and price inventory.
Tip #4: Fully Believe In Your Brand
“This may sound cliche’ but belief is EVERYTHING,” she said. “Your passion has to align with your trade in order to make it work.” Qiana said she encountered many naysayers that reinforced the flailing plus size fashion industry statistics, making her journey that much more challenging. But she her vision wouldn’t allow her to give up.
“I knew there were other curvy fashionistas out like me, that needed me,” she said. “And I refused to let them down.”
For more information on Qiana Allen and her Curve Culture Boutique, visit CurveCultureBoutique.com
MADE by Jasmine Browley