Friday, December 16, 2011

Adventures of an Accidental Fat-shion Designer: An employee of sorts!

I've been altogether too bad about updating my blog lately, but in my defense, life keeps interfering.

Fantastic bit of news, however: I now have an employee of sorts!  Sue is an Australian woman about 15 years older than me, who given when she grew up and where she went to school, had to take 5 years of sewing in school, including fitting and pattern drafting.  She has mad skills that have been in practice since she was quite young, as she was the oldest of seven kids, and her mom sewed and knit out of necessity.  She's been coming out to the workshop with me a couple days a week (when I haven't been sick), and has the great advantage of being willing to work for things like custom-made clothing and yarn out of my stash, at least until my business actually has customers.

Having someone to be responsible to and for is also helping me a lot with motivation to get out to the workshop and do stuff, plus there's a lot of things in garment construction where an experienced second pair of hands is just invaluable.  I'm positive Sue will be an unimaginably great asset to my business!

Friday, November 4, 2011

BookBlog: Time & Money

This is my first installment in a series on my blog which basically consists of book reports, though nowhere near as formal and organized as the ones you had to do in school.  Though I’ve always been widely read, my foray into entrepreneurship has had me delving into the business section at the bookstore for the first time in my life, and I’m learning many new things that I want to remember and share.

My first BookBlog is on Time & Money: How to Spend the Rest of Your Life, by Sonja Becker and Martin Sage.  You may recall this from a previous entry as the book I was supposed to sell as a part of my participation in the JCP.  While the book is deeply flawed, it is not totally without merit, and does pose some questions that are useful for focusing my goals, which I will answer here.

What are my values?
  • Improving the lives of women, both those close to me and those in the wider world.
  • Improving the lives of people I care about by helping them to become the best versions of themselves that they can be.
  • Helping fat women of all shapes and sizes to look and feel great about themselves, outside and inside.
  • To protect and improve the environment by striving to live and work sustainably.
  • To take care of my physical, mental, and emotional health so I do not become a burden on those I love.
  • To create a comfortable, welcoming home for myself and my loved ones, so that it nurtures and recharges us, and creates a positive feelings for the friends and family who visit us for shorter or longer periods.
  • To strive to be the best version of myself that I can be through self-knowledge and self-improvement.
Obviously, not all of these are related to my business, but these are my values, as nearly as I can sum them up.  On a more purely business related note:

What is my mission?
  • To help big, fat, and in-betweenie women to look and feel fabulous.
  • To create a company that is consistent with my values, which will positively impact the lives of both my customers and my employees.
That’s really about all from T&M that I care to blog about.  There will be more BookBlogs forthcoming, however!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Adventures of an Accidental Fat-shion Designer: DSD Reunion

Last weekend I went up to Denmark for the student reunion party at the Scandinavian Design College which, as those of you not associated with DSD may recall, is where I spent three months in fall of 2010 in the Fashion & Textile program.  Had Lars not gotten the job with Google in Munich, I probably would have been there all year, but even just those three months were amazingly rich with learning and networking and making friends, even though I was about 15 years older on average than most of my classmates.

The reunion was a great deal of fun, though probably even more so for the younger folks (after all, I can't really drink much anymore, which puts a bit of a kibosh on any serious partying).  I spent a fun bit of time getting a cartooning lesson from my friend Christoffer, though he runs such circles around me that I may end up just hiring him later to make the cartoony characters I want for using in my business materials.  I also spent nice amount of time in creative collaboration with my friend Anna Vester, a fantastically talented young graphic designer whom I've hired to design my logo and related materials.  Not only did I discover that she actually feels personally invested in my project, since most of the women on her mom's side of the family fit in my target demographic, but she also brought some fantastic feedback and ideas to the whole branding and logo aspect of my business.

To whit, one major sea change: I've decided not to call my label "Queen in my Own Mind", though I'll keep my blog address as such for now (after all, until such point as I start doing work for clients, my business really is "in my own mind", and the whole idea of being "queen in my own mind" works nicely for the fashion-diva persona I'll need to cultivate if I want to make it big in this business, no pun intended).  After considering Anna Vester's feedback and ideas, and then brainstorming a bit, I've decided that my primary design brand will be called "Queen Margaret", and my re-designs will naturally be "Queen Margaret II".

I'm really happy with this change of track for a number of reasons, not least of which for sounding more serious and having more gravitas, but also since there are and have been some fantastic Queen Margarets through history, and Margaret is not only my name, but the name of my beloved favorite aunt, who was in turn named for my great-grandmother (and there may be more Margarets further back; I actually don't know).  It fits very nicely with my plan to have my logo look something like a royal monogram (AV is excited about all the possibilities that Q gives as a letter).  I can't wait to see what she comes up with!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BizBlog: Wailea Update

Today I emailed Wailea with links to my blog entries, as well as my list of demands (release from contract, refund for the non-completed portion of the program, re-purchasing of the books I still have, and the same terms extended to Lilly if she wants them). I got this reply from Sonja's husband, who runs her vanity press:

Subj: Fristlose Kündigung des Jahrescoachingprogramms

Sehr geehrte Frau Blake,
der Sokrates Verlag gibt Ihnen hiermit bekannt das Vertragsverhältnis Ihrer Teilnahme am Jahrescoachingprogramm nach § 6 unserer AGB's mit sofortiger Wirkung wegen geschäftsschädigendem Boykottaufruf zu kündigen.

Wir behalten uns ausdrücklich vor rechtliche Schritte gegen Sie einzuleiten im Wiederholungsfall und Sie wegen Schadenersatz zu verklagen. Ebenfalls erfüllen Ihre geschäftsschädigenden Aussagen und Androhungen den Straftatbestand der Verleumung.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Volker Wendel

I took down my second entry, since I hadn't run that one past a lawyer.  I got the primary thing I wanted, which was termination of my contract.  It remains to be seen whether I'll get any money back; really, I'm not holding my breath. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

BizBlog: Coaching and Selling

EDIT EX POST FACTO:  People associated with Wailea’s JCP have tried to get me to remove this post.  After consulting with legal counsel, I am convinced that my post is fully within the sort of speech protected by Article 5 of the German Basic Law (‘Everyone has the right to freely express and disseminate his opinion in speech, writing, and pictures and to freely inform himself from generally accessible sources.’), by virtue of being my opinion, and in no way libelous towards the named parties herein.  Therefore, my post will remain on my blog, and I will not remove it.

On the urging of my very convincing friend Johanna, I signed up for a Coaching Day event offered in April by Wailea GmbH, the firm of Sonja Becker.  It featured not only Sonja but Johanna’s coach, Irene Xander.  Sonja is the author of “Die Chefin” (The [Female] Boss), and apparently something of a giant in the German business coaching world (among others, she has coached Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister).

I was definitely at a very different place from all of my fellow participants, most of whom were still grappling with issues like “what do I want to do?”, “what is my bliss?”, etc.  I actually presented an overview of what I burn for doing right now, and got feedback and suggestions on how to get there.  Since it was only the day before that the DH and I found the money in our budget to supply me with 500€ in seed money, I hadn’t yet figured out how to go from there to my goal of opening a shop in a couple years.  Getting that suggestion (namely holding fashion parties, which I inevitably will refer to as FAT-shion parties), as well as all the lovely food they provided throughout the day was well worth the 150€ for the workshop.

After that, however, Irene started trying really, really hard to get me to commit to the one-month-long, 10,000€ High Performance Leadership in May.  I wasn’t keen on it at all, especially given that no way in hell do we have the money now.  I especially resented her attempts to brush off my statement that, even if I were interested, I’d need to discuss matters with Lars before committing to a sum that large. I told her that I needed to do steps A, B, and C on my own, but when I was ready for step D, I’d get in touch.  I’m still considering one of the HPLTs in New York as a way to expand into the American market, but not until I’ve already got a foothold in the German market and some online sales made overseas.

A while later, I found out that Johanna’s wife Beate (whose artistic name is Lilly Springer, of Prachtvoll Tattoo and Gallery, and my personal tattoo artist) is participating in Wailea’s Jahrescoachingprogramm (Year-long Coaching Program).  I expressed some interest, not fully understanding what it was, which eventually got back to Irene, who called me.  She invited me to come as a guest to the program the following Thursday.  I discussed the program, insofar as I knew anything about it at that point, with Lars and Christian, and I pre-secured Christian’s approval to front me the 1800€ for the program.  When I went for the guest evening, I really liked the energy I got from the group, even though I still wasn’t sure what all the program was about.  I was also concerned by how many of the other participants, when introducing themselves, described themselves as coaches or trainers.  

I decided to take the chance and sign up for the program, at which point I noticed an additional cost I hadn’t seen before: 150€ a month for 10 wholesale copies of books by Sonja Becker, which we were to sell at 30€ apiece.  Of course, should we sell only half, we break even; if we sell all of them, we make enough for the cost of the program itself.  Additionally, we can sell other Wailea coaching products, from the fairly inexpensive Coaching Day up through the exceedingly expensive HPLTs, for a 10% commission.  I wish I hadn’t signed the contract at that point, but I did, so now I’m stuck with it.  I did, at least, arrange with Irene that I could sell Sonja’s old book “Time and Money: How to Spend the Rest of Your Life” that she co-wrote with her mentor, since it’s available in English. It sounds like “Die Chefin” will be available in translation soon as well, so I’ll have that title to sell to my English-speaking networks as well.  But I’m not keen about the whole situation of having to shell out money for books I either sell or am stuck with.

Here’s the thing about me and selling.  When I believe in something and I’m passionate about it, I’m a natural salesperson.  I just talk about things I’m excited about and people get excited with me; like my plans with my designs and Body Brilliance: when I talk with women in my target market, they want to sign on and buy stuff with me.  Ever since I got my tattoos, I’ve become Lilly’s #2 word-of-mouth marketer after Johanna.  I talk up cool Google services and products all the time, even though Google doesn’t pay me anything.  My home looks like an ad for IKEA.  According to a book I’m reading now (more on that later, as I plan to start a “Book Report” category on this blog as well), this is just the nature of how women function in the market economy: we want to be viewed by our friends and loved ones as indispensible, and one of the ways we do this is by being a reliable source of good information.

If I don’t believe in something, and I’m not passionate about it, it’s like pulling teeth to get me to sell it, and I feel icky inside, like I’ve compromised my integrity.  I can’t fake a smile; it’ll reach my cheeks, but never my eyes.  I can’t fake excitement about something I’m little more than doubtful about, either.  I’m just as likely to give you a long list of my concerns and critiques as I am to give you a list of its positives, as my chronic depression engenders as a side effect a fairly pronounced pessimistic streak, in contrast to my “natural” optimism.

And when it comes to Wailea, I’m not yet a believer.  Additionally, I have a fair amount of trouble believing in “Time & Money” as well.  The book reads as if it was translated from German by a non-professional translator, it’s typeset in a way that screams “fluff” (large font, large spaces between paragraphs, etc.), and although there is some truly good soft-skill information in there, there’s also a whole lot of things that made me want to throw it across the room.  I can’t sell something I can’t stand behind, and I can’t stand behind this book!  I have yet to sell a single one; all the copies I’ve gotten rid of are ones I gave away.

After signing up for the JCP, I found out that there’s a different program I probably should have signed up for, namely their “Entrepreneur School”.  From what I’ve read about the course, it certainly sounds more like something that would be useful for me right now.  It is, however, slightly more expensive, and I sure as hell don’t want to try to do it on top of the JCP.  I plan to make inquiries as to whether I can transfer my payment from the JCP to the Entrepreneur School, but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll let me.

I really hope this doesn’t just turn out to be a costly mistake...

My Social Values as a Businesswoman

First and foremost, I will never, ever sell a product or service that I cannot stand behind.  I have a very strong personal sense of ethics and integrity, and I will never run my business in such a way that I am not in accordance with them.

1. I will never seek to have a standard of living beyond upper middle class.  The greater my income, the greater a portion of my income I will dedicate to charitable giving, social business endowment, microfinance lending, entrepreneurship grants, and scholarship endowments.  The only reason I've ever wanted wealth beyond simple financial independence would be for the purposes of becoming a philanthropist.
2. I will always give back to my customers, and encourage and assist them in giving back to their communities.
3.  I will always give back to my employees through surplus-sharing, and will encourage and assist them in giving back to their communities.
4.  The aim of my compan(y/ies) will not be maximizing profit, but maximizing empowerment of women, both locally and globally.  Any surplus not shared with employees or re-invested in the company will be dedicated to the same purposes mentioned in #1.
5.  I will operate my company with maximum fiscal transparency, so that any employee or customer who wishes to do so can ascertain that I am running my compan(y/ies) with integrity and in accordance with my principles.
6. I will never, ever sell my customers' data to a third party.  If a third party vendor wants to sell to my customers, and I find their product or service relevant to my customer base and worth selling, I will either make it available in my brick-and-mortar shop or make them a partner on my website(s).

I was particularly inspired by a book I randomly picked up from the business section at Hugendubel Bookshop, which harkened quite a lot back to my co-op days.  The book is entitled "Social Business" by Muhammed Yunus, creator of Grameen Bank and 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have chosen to espouse the principles he recommends for all businesses.
1.  I will not make this "world a riskier place than it would be without the business in it". (p.9)
2. My business "will contribute to making the planet safer than it would have been without the business". (p.10)
3.  My business "will be conducted within the framework of social and political responsibilities established by the state and local authorities". (p.10)
4.  I will never make a profit at the expense of the poor. (p.13)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fatshionista, makeover thyself!

Why do I stick with the more-comfortable but often-boring clothes in my wardrobe instead of the more daring and exciting pieces I own, some of which I even designed and made?  Why do I always gravitate towards the safe option?

Why don't I feel like shaving my legs so I rock a skirt more often (and yes, I know you don't have to shave to wear a skirt, but with my pale skin and dark body hair, I really can't stand the way my bare legs look in a skirt unless I do so)?

Why do I even own a pair of mom-jeans?  I mean really, what's up with that?  And worse yet, why am I wearing them while I'm sitting here typing this?

Why don't I have a cool pair of flats to wear with jeans or skirts?  This is a major lacuna in my wardrobe.

Why don't I feel arsed to wear the little bit of makeup necessary to make the difference between "meh" and "pretty nice"?  Why am I still, at the tender age of 35, so bad at styling my own damn hair?

None of these questions have easy answers, really.  On the one hand, I so often feel woefully underqualified to lead a FAT-shion revolution, given my own love-hate relationship with clothing and its accoutrements.  On the other hand, I guess there's nothing like a general who leads from the trenches, and knowing that you're not alone.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BizBlog: Team

Even though I am a hardcore Jill-of-all-trades and capable of amazing things when I get going, there will come a point where I won’t be able to do it all myself.  I’ve given some thought to who I will need on my team (in terms of job descriptions, and to a lesser degree in terms of who I’d want), and in roughly what order.  In the beginning, anything I can’t do myself or get a friend or family member to do, I’ll have to hire a consultant to do; eventually, however, there will be enough workload that it would justify taking on employees.

1.  More garment technicians (aka seamstresses).  Garment construction will be the most labor intensive part of my business in the early days, and it will probably the least effective use of my time for me to be sewing once the business really gets up and going.  At the outset, these will need to be people who are local, preferably women who have struggled with un- or underemployment, possibly those who have faced historic discrimination in the German labor market.  Once I’ve established a name for myself, but am busier with the Body Brilliance R&D and day-to-day business, I hope that my one-of-a-kind design/re-design pieces will become sought-after, expensive items that I can use for things like celebrity dressing to raise my profile, items to donate for charity auctions, etc.  I will also need someone with more training than I have as a seamstress and garment designer, likely someone who in Germany has the title of “Schneidermeister(in)” (Master Tailor, male or female), since I will no doubt hit a wall before too long with garment design and construction.

1a. When I get to the point that my garments will be mass-produced (and by that I mean in quantities where even a small sewing studio won’t be able to manage them), I’ll need to create a garment factory.  I’ve given some thoughts to this, and I’d really like to open a factory that employs and empowers women, in a country which has a fairly stable democracy, in an area where other industry closures have created unemployment or where employment has been hard to come by.  Were I to look to Africa, it would be in countries such as Benin, Senegal, Namibia or Botswana; India would naturally also be a possibility since it already has a garment industry.  Ideally, though, I’d really like to bring work to a place in the US that’s been hit hard by unemployment: someplace in the Appalachians, if I were to take the risk of creating a “company town”, or in a place like Flint, MI or Dayton, OH.  Regardless, any outsourcing I do would be on a fair trade basis; I want to empower my employees and fight poverty in my own small way, not exploit my employees and perpetuate poverty.

2.  A business manager, native or near-native German speaker, familiar with the German business world.  If she starts off life as my client and wears my designs, so much the better.  Probably half-time at first, moving up to full-time as the business grows.  She would have to wear a lot of hats at first, but would eventually need to be complemented by:
  • An Accounting/Finance person.  I’d probably start off us doing our basic books ourselves and hiring an external accountant, but if the company gets big, we’ll need someone in-house.
  • A Human Resources person.  I know little to nothing about German labor laws, hiring and firing practices, etc., and having someone who can do all those nuts and bolts things will be greatly needed.
  • A Marketing person.  Advertising is a must, I admit.  Double bonus if she can function as my:
  • Web designer and programmer.  Once my online selling goes beyond the realm of what I can do on Etsy or Dawanda, I’ll need a virtual storefront.  Hopefully this person can also function as a maintainer for our customer database, or else I’ll also need:
  • A database programmer and maintainer, to develop and maintain the back-end to my virtual storefront, and the systems that will ultimately be used in the brick-and-mortar stores.

3.  A personal assistant (ideally my BFF Maria) and/or a German-speaking secretary (gender unimportant; actually I think it’d be a cool role reversal to have a male secretary, especially since German is a gendered language).  There will come a point, probably sooner rather than later, where my (lack of) German skills will catch up with me, and I’ll need someone who can do telephoning and correspondence in German for me.  Also, there will also come a point (soon I hope!) where I’m so busy with creating and running the business that it’s an inefficient use of my time to do things like fetch lunch, pick up my dry cleaning, track my correspondence, research things online (especially because too much time on my computer leaves me really drained), etc.

4.  A software developer with CAD and graphic programming strengths.  There’s a lot in the garment designing and pattern drafting end of my business that will require custom software.  And as Joel Spolsky said in “Joel on Software”, if it’s a core component of your business, it should be developed in-house, rather than outsourced or done with pre-packaged software.

5.  A creative partner -slash- “real” fashion designer.  I’ll readily admit: from a design perspective, I’m not an artist, I’m a problem solver.  I’ll probably never come up with the kind of wacky shit that would make Lady Gaga say “IT MUST BE MINE!”, let alone the kinds of gorgeous prints that Missoni and Diane Furstenburg create.  However, in this vastly-underserved niche of plus-size design, there’s plenty of room for problem solving, because there are most assuredly problems to be solved.  That said, though, ultimately I’d love to get a young, up-and-coming, fat-friendly (and ideally fat herself!) designer to be the dreamer to my planner, the artist to my engineer, the Oscar to my Felix, the Cecily to my Gwendolen, the Marianne to my Elinor, the... well, you get the idea.  Someone who can run circles around me creatively; for as creative as I am, I know genius when I see it, and know I will never be it: therefore I must hire genius.

And let us not forget: MODELS!  Ideally, I’ll find clients whom I would love to have model the things I make for them, and there are always modelling agencies (although their idea of “plus-size” corresponds to my idea of “normal woman”), but I would love to have the reason and opportunity to approach one of the lovely fat women I see on the street from time to time, introduce myself, and ask them if they’d like to model for me.  I also have a little dream... a dream of a FAT-tastic spokesmodel, a woman who is a star of stage and television (will someone please get this woman a major movie role already???), the lovely Brooke Elliott.  Look at this woman!  Would she not be incredible as the public face of my company?  I’d swoon with fangirlish squee if I even got to have a meeting with her to broach the topic... *sigh* *crush*

Friday, August 26, 2011

BizBlog: Step 1 to Success!

My "Adventures of an Accidental FAT-shion Designer"-titled posts are the ones for more fashion-y stuff, for my personal thoughts and processes, etc.  I also am basically having to learn business from the ground up, and that is reflected in my posts where the title starts with "BizBlog".

Step 1: Finding Ideas in Your Network

I’ve been working with a book called “10 Schritte zur erfolgreichen Existenzgründung” (10 Steps to a Successful Startup).  The first two chapters have checklists I have used to focus my thoughts.

What is your idea like? What do you want to develop and produce, what service do you want to provide?

My idea is multi-layered, but each layer has a name, which helps distinguish them.

First, and to my mind most interesting, is Body Brilliance, my idea for a body trend based garment prototyping system.  If it works the way I imagine and hope it will, it could revolutionize how clothing is designed for and marketed to big and fat women.

Secondly, but almost as importantly, is my design label, which goes under the name Queen in my own Mind.  A side line to this is QM II, my label for unique re-design pieces.  These garments, particularly at the outset, will likely form the primary channel of income for continuing to work on the R&D phase of Body Brilliance.

When I’ve reached a point where there is enough turnover that I can open a shop, I want to start with a small place in Munich that carries QM, QMII, made-to-measure service, BB, and plus-size Tracht (German folk dress, dirndls and the like).  So long as the shop is Munich-only and boutique-like in nature, I want the name to be some interesting German synonym for fat, possibly “mollig”, “saftig” (especially since I could use this with a “z” in English-speaking countries), or “fleischig”.  (I plan to do some polling on the positive or negative connotations of various fat-synonyms with native German speakers.)

The BIG dream is to have a full-on multi-level multi-department store catering exclusively to big and fat women.  It would have everything you’d find in a clothing store for regular-size women: daily wear, formal, bridal, maternity, sleepwear, lingerie, sportswear, shoes, accessories, etc., but all chosen exclusively to cater to the larger woman and her aesthetic.  But above and beyond that, I want the shop to help large women undergo the same journey towards self-acceptance that I’ve gone through the last several years, something that would come about by interactions with the carefully-selected and -trained staff, affirmations in beautiful script on the walls, and perusal and sales copies of books like “Health at Every Size” and “Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere”.  The shop would be called BFF, which stands for “Big, Fat, and Fabulous”
, but which of course also resonates with the term “Best Friends Forever”.  This is quite intentional, as I want my store(s) and employee(s) to be like dear friends to fat women, the friends they’ve been waiting all their lives to have.

Are these or something similar already on the market?  Do you need to bear trademark rights in mind?

Not as nearly as I can tell.  There are some systems that identify three or four body types, some that adjust for height, but none that would be anywhere near as encompassing as Body Brilliance, as far as I can see.  There are certainly no plus-size labels that would begin to measure up to what I have in mind.

Can you formulate unique features of your product or your service?

Fat does not mean ugly.  Fat can be fabulous.  Big can be beautiful.  Women deserve to have clothes they feel attractive and comfortable in NO MATTER WHAT THEIR SIZE.  This is the core value of my products and services, and it is one that is drastically different from the overwhelming majority of clothing labels.

Who are your potential customers?  How do they think and feel?

Women who are fat, or big, or both.  Women who are in that nebulous in-between zone, where regular sizes are often styled too tightly, but the range of most plus-size stores doesn’t extend down far enough, often called “tweenies”.  Women who are under-represented and under-served by the mainstream fashion industry.  Women who feel alienated, ignored, or outright persecuted by most clothing stores and designers.  Women who have waited far too long to feel like valued customers and valued people in their own right, and who have had to settle for less selection, poorer available possibilities, and being badly dressed by the very industry that sells them clothing.

What use do your customers have for your product or service? What needs are being satisfied?

The need to look and feel beautiful, to have clothes that fit and flatter the body, no matter what its size.  These are needs that the plus size fashion industry is not meeting, no doubt in part by employing designers and buyers who are not themselves fat women, who do not know what fat womens’ bodies really look like, and who really don’t like fat women.  The average size fashion industry doesn’t even try.  The need here is HUGE.

What is of interest to your customers about your product or service? How will they use it?

That a clothing designer actually IS a fat woman herself, who knows and loves fat women, and who will take their desires and complaints to heart.  They will wear my clothes and look better than they ever thought they could.

How does the market for your product or service look?

Wide open.  Despite the fact that so many women are in the plus size range, the clothing market is abysmal compared to the “regular” sizes.  If you get into designer boutiques and high end clothing, the situation is even worse.

Here are a few links out of the hundreds I found:

Which distribution channels, which contacts, could you use for sales?

I can definitely start with women I know, as I have many, many fat and tweenie friends .  I also plan, once my website is up, to get cards made that I can hand out to friends, family, acquaintances and women I meet to recruit new clients.  Every time I’ve discussed my business idea with women I’ve gotten to know, I either end up with an eager potential client, or a non-fat woman who says “my mother/sister/best friend/partner/etc. would love to be your client!”.  

In all truth, my primary fear is that my business could grow so big so fast that I wouldn’t be able to manage it, especially since I have very little practical business knowledge.  I will have to be very intentional about cultivating mentorships, asking for advice, and reading the right books to make sure that I stay on top of things.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Adventures of an Accidental Fat-shion Designer: Motivation

When I go shopping for clothes, most of the time I end up wanting to scream and throw things.  Given that I’m on the low end of the plus size range, it can only be even worse for women who are bigger than me – and I’ve read plenty of horror stories of women crying in the dressing room out of sheer frustration, women being humiliated by horrid sales personnel, and women generally having an awful, disappointing experience in trying to find clothing that fits and flatters them, something that in a just and fair world should be a relatively easy process.

When you consider how the acquisition of clothing and the fashion industry have changed in the last 100 years, this is hardly surprising.  Clothing used to be made to fit the body that would wear it, whether by the wearer herself or by her seamstress or modiste.  The rise of off-the-rack clothing has resulted in poorly-defined clothing size standards that do an abysmal job of addressing the variety of shapes and sizes that women come in.  In addition, the dominance of the fashion industry by gay men has resulted in an increasingly de-feminized female beauty “ideal”: a barely-curvy, stick-thin human clothes hanger, devoid of the lovely fat deposits that that the overwhelming majority of women are blessed with (especially those who have given birth and those who refuse to starve themselves).  Sadly, so many women buy wholeheartedly into the lie that, if an article of clothing does not fit them, the problem is not in the design of the clothing, but in the size and shape of their bodies.  Average women are subjected to a campaign of unachievability that erodes their self-esteem and denies them the knowledge that they beautiful at the size they are.  

The situation is even worse for fat women.  Whether by their actions or by their own words, mainstream fashion designers tell fat women that they hate us.  They don’t want to see us in their designs; they don’t want to see us in attractive, well-fitting clothing (let alone exert the effort to figure out how to design such clothing, a skill most mainstream designers are sorely lacking – see Episode 7 of Season 3 of Project Runway to see how badly that season’s winner dressed a competitor’s mother!); and, all in all, we get the message that they don’t want to see us, full stop.  When I peruse the offerings available from most plus-size clothing chains, I get the impression that they don’t even like fat women; sure, they might want to sell us clothes, but they don’t want us to look nice, let alone offer us clothes that reflect current fashion trends (for those fatshionistas among us who might actually want to do so).

I, on the other hand, love fat and big* women.  Not only am I one myself, but as a bisexual woman I can say that, save for the first girl I experimented with in college, every woman I’ve ever been attracted to was either big or fat or both**.  I love big and fat women, both generally and, in many cases, personally: I have many, many beloved friends who are big and/or fat.  I have heard and shared in their frustrations in finding attractive, figure-flattering clothing.  We have been denied the ability to do that most girlfriend-y of activities: having fun by going clothes shopping together, since clothes shopping for us is usually an experience that falls far short of being enjoyable.  Years of complaining online and in stores has had little result, so it’s up to one cussedly determined fatshionista to stand up and say “No more!”  

Ladies, I am that fatshionista.  Though my idea of “what I want to be when I grow up” got changed as often as my underwear when I was a kid, and I’ve had no great direction settling on a career as an adult, I never imagined until just a couple years ago that I might want to become a fashion designer.  And indeed, I don’t want to be a fashion designer, I want to be a FAT-SHION designer: I refuse to design for skinny women***, as there are plenty of people falling all over themselves to do just that.  I’ve heard it said that there are jobs, then there are careers, and above all that, there are callings; although I am an accidental fat-shion designer, it was nothing less than a calling for me, a calling from both within myself and from all of my big and fat sisters.  

The best efforts are those with are motivated by love, driven with will, tempered with intellect, and seen through with competence and skill.  It is my considered opinion that no one has yet applied all of these to designing clothing for plus-size women, so it falls to me to do so.  I accept the challenge, and will do my utmost to make you happy and proud.

*My definition of “big”: If you’re tall, but slender or average in build, you’re not big.  If you’re fat and tall, or you’re built like an average-sized person but scaled up to a height where people start using words like “Amazon” or “Valkyrie”, you’re big.

**The only exception I can think of is Lady Gaga, ‘cuz she’s too fierce and sexy not to crush on.

***Though if Lady Gaga wanted to commission something from me, we could talk.