A Look at the Small Business Side of Plus Size Fashion

Recently I spotted a very interesting post while scrolling through my facebook feed. It read ” I want to slap people who say “I know you make your clothes by hand but that’s way more than I was expecting to pay.” Thank you Forever21 for making clothing so cheap (price & durability wise) that people don’t know what ethical and quality apparel really costs.”, and it was written by fatshion designer Shawn Farmer of the brand Chubby Cartwheels.

Let's talk abou the small (business) side of plus size fashion. That post garnered quite a bit of attention and generated some really interesting conversations. In my opinion, she made a very good point, Having spent decades in fashion (in a variety of roles, in a variety of business models), I can attest to the the validity of what she’s saying. I felt like it was a conversation worth digging into. So, I reached out to Shawna and Tracy (of Domino Dollhouse) to see what they had to say. Without further ado, here we go!

Me: How many people make up your companies?

Tracy: “Our company is myself and one part time employee.  Very small!”

Shawna: “There is just me however I have a team of amazing people I work with continuously for shoots, creative sessions and more.  So while I do the sewing and making of the clothes, there are other people who I get involved as well. “

Me: Are your brand goods made by you personally?

Shawna: “I make everything from the patterns to the clothes myself.  For a while I even made accessories but not anymore.”

Me: How long does it take you from the start of an idea for a garment all the way through production? 

Tracy: “We start conceiving and researching a collection 5-6 months before the items are launched for purchase.  We source fabrics and gather inspiration, plan out designs, then create samples with our factory.  After fitting and shooting the samples, we make any tweaks before production. Then, production takes about 6-10 weeks, depending on styles and time of year.”

Me: Do you get hit up for discounts and free stuff often? How do you handle it? 

Shawna: “I do get asked to do collaborations a lot with bloggers yes. And as much as I would love to work with anyone who asks it’s just not possible.  I try to write them back thanking them for their interest in working with my shop but at the time don’t have any openings for partnerships but I usually keep them in mind for possible future partnerships which I have done many times.”

Tracy: “We get a large number of emails requesting free items to review. About .5% of those people have the statistics that make financial sense, so unfortunately we have to do a lot of explaining of how our products work and how small we are.  If we only have 20 total of a dress, giving away even 1 is a MUCH bigger deal then when a larger company does so. We do have discount codes floating around, so for the most part we do not get a lot of requests for this.”

Tracy (left) and Shawna (right) are total babes, smart business owners and pretty rad chicks!

Me: You two seem to have a great respect and affection for each other. Do you find other indie designers to share your sense of camaraderie?

Tracy: “This is a very small community and an often uniquely stressful situation…we all know what each other is going through!  Because we need more options as fat women ourselves, we very personally understand the importance that each other exists! The other great thing is that we are all so different and bring something else to the table. While we share customers, we each have something to offer that the others don’t. Competition doesn’t really come into play.  Plus, Shawna is amazingly sweet and supportive…it’s super refreshing in the cutthroat fashion industry.”

Shawna: “I totally do.  I love meeting other designers and supporting them.  We all go through the same stuff and like being in any community you want to surround yourself with people who know where you are coming from and the struggles you deal with.  Plus having met Tracy I know she’s just a rad chick on top of being a great business woman.”

Me: With companies like Forever 21 under pricing and Torrid over pricing (my opinion) the water is murky on fair pricing. Can you explain your thoughts on this as it relates to your business?

Shawna: “Both companies can get away with it because who can pass up a plus size shirt for $3 or a $45 Harry Potter top that literally no other plus size retailer will sell.  You just have to hope that people will research a bit more into who and what they buy.  Supporting smaller businesses that source locally and if the price is a bit higher know you are paying for quality and humane production.”

Tracy: “Pricing is one topic that all of us indie plus designers are faced with on a daily basis.  I try to offer a variety of brands, including my own, to offer cool clothes at a variety of price points and quality levels.  Because we are a home based business without a lot of overhead, we actually use a much smaller mark up that a majority of other retailers.  Yet, we still get a lot of angry messages about being “overpriced” (which is SUCH a subjective statement, as everyone has different views on this).  I have a FAQ written for such messages, as it is hard emotionally to constantly have to explain that you are worth being paid for.  Imagine working in a place that several times a day, people came up to you and said they love your work but you aren’t worth being paid for it.  It’s emotionally draining!”

Me: As owners of small businesses, if you were to calculate how much money you personally make on an hourly basis do you think it is a living wage?

Tracy: “I have done this! I actually make well below California’s minimum wage.  I survive solely because my husband makes enough to support our family.  I have been accused of “taking advantage of fat people” with my pricing and it hurts.  I absolutely understand that this is an underserved market, so we are far more visible to customers than if we were operating in straight sizes. However, what this means is that we get all the anger and hurt that customers feel as oppressed people.  It’s hard, because we ARE the oppressed people too!  I have always said that plus size clothing is emotional…there is so much more tied up into purchasing clothing than just function or fashion.  It’s got so much power and soul that translates in how we are treated sometimes, whether it be elation or anger. Hopefully someday, we can cater to customer’s based on desired quality, price point, and personal style rather than just size.  I think that is when we’ll really see a positive reaction to our work.”

Shawna: “I do make a livable wage but it’s not a lavish wage at all.  Slowly it keeps growing as my business does but if I were living on my own rather than with my husband I don’t know if I could do this and live quite as I do now.”

After reading their responses, I hope some light has been shed on the topic of pricing for indie designer fatshions. It bears mentioning that about a year ago, I actually reached out to Tracy requestion product for a shoot I was styling. Her gracious and thoughtful response explaining that she couldn’t help me, made me an instant fan of hers. She’s so cool that while declining my request, she won my heart! This is, after all, their livelihood. They owe us nothing. I think sometimes we forget that. Their work is oneof passion & creativity and we reap the fruits of their labor. Tracy and Shawna, I adore you! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, and being so candid.

 

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9 thoughts on “A Look at the Small Business Side of Plus Size Fashion

    1. Why thank you, Kobi! I’m flattered you took the time to read. 🙂 It’s a conversation worth having, I think. We are so used to fast fashion and flimsily made products in general, that we (as a whole) balk at the cost of craftsmenship and conscientious shopping.

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