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 Existenzgr├╝ndung” (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:
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/bodymeas.htm
http://articles.latimes.com/2009/mar/01/image/ig-size1
http://www.cleveland.com/style/index.ssf/2010/08/size_14_is_average_american_wo.html
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/aprilholladay/2006-12-04-size-age_x.htm
http://shopping.aol.com/articles/2008/10/30/is-plus-size-the-average-clothing-size/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plus-size_clothing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plus-size_model
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/designer-says-plussize-models-are-a-joke-2001677.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/no-one-wants-to-see-curvy-women-german-designer-1801469.html
http://www.newsweek.com/2009/08/25/america-s-war-on-the-overweight.html

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.