Big is beautiful

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Big is beautiful

Post  j_annn on Mon Jun 30, 2008 6:45 pm

Big is beautiful

Big news for fashion followers here who are on the large side: A retail queen has thrown her weight behind your cause.

Businesswoman Helen Read, 54, has a plus-size clothing line, Ms Read, at The Centrepoint's Robinsons.

It caters to size-12-and-above women.

Read, a mother of three, launched the line here last September. It's her first outlet here after setting up a chain of plus-size stores in Malaysia, where she is from.

Read, who is a size 12, told Urban during a recent visit here: 'My reason for catering to plus-size women is very simple: There were just no clothes, no sizes. For a long time, I couldn't just walk into a department store and find clothes in my size.'

She was here with her oldest son Benjamin Yong, 30, who helps to manage the business.

Started in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur with a humble space in shopping centre Jusco, Ms Read - which stocks sizes 12 to 24 - has expanded to 15 stores across the country, with plans to open more stores in Malaysia and also Jakarta, Indonesia.

Sales in Singapore have been encouraging, with profits comparable to those of their sixth most lucrative store in Malaysia, said Read, although she declined to give exact figures. Clothing prices range from about $50 to $150.

There's big business in plus sizes going by what Read said: 'We're looking to open two more stores in Singapore within the next year.'

How did Ms Read get started?

Jusco agreed to lease me a space to sell clothes, but wanted them for sizes eight to 12. However, when I was doing my survey, standing outside their store every day for two weeks before Christmas, I realised that 90 per cent of the people were size 12 and above. That's when I decided to go with plus-size clothing. Jusco was reluctant at first, but I told them: 'Well, if you don't let me make plus-size clothing, I just won't take the space.' Eventually, they caved in.

Besides those on the bigger side, what kind of women does Ms Read aim to cater to?

Our customers are just like other women. They go to concerts and parties and do all sorts of things. They are women who previously didn't have many choices in clothing, and used to buy only big blouses or voluminous dresses. But we've changed that. We have a diverse range of clothes, from loose to fitted cuts, V-necks, short- and long-sleeved pieces and lots of colours.

How do you make sure that your clothes are comfortable and stylish at the same time?

We follow trends to keep the looks up-to-date. We also spend a lot of time sourcing for fabrics of good quality. In fact, we just came back from a sourcing trip in London and Paris. Also, to make sure the fit is comfortable, we don't just put our clothes on mannequins. A size 16 model comes in twice a month to try our clothes and tell us which parts are too tight or where the clothes are pricking her, things like that.

What's the best thing about being on the big side?

I find that people on the big side are a lot more fun to be with. They're happy with themselves. I love eating cakes when I go to coffee places and with them, I don't have to deal with people who are dieting. It's not that it annoys me when people go on diets, but it does make me hold back a little.

What are some common mistakes bigger-size people make when dressing?

They shouldn't be afraid of wearing colours. When we first started, most of our clothes came in solid colours - black, white, red and blue. But over the years, we experimented with more patterns and our clothes did well. Even horizontal stripes, which are supposed to be a bad idea for plus-size women, sell. Skinny or not, you should wear anything you like. My daughter, Kristy, is a size 16 and wears all kinds of things and I find that interesting. You just need to look proportionate in your clothes and have the confidence to carry it off.

What do you think about women who starve themselves to become skinny?

I think every woman is beautiful whether she is skinny or fat. I had a friend who had cancer although you couldn't tell from just looking at her. She dropped from a size 12 to a size eight and one day someone said to her, 'You've lost so much weight.'. When we got home, she started crying, saying that she was ugly and that she was trying her best to put on weight but she just couldn't. A few months later, she died. This shows how we don't always know the people we're talking to well, so who are we to say someone looks good at this size or that?

What feedback have you received from customers?

A lot of them tell me that they're so happy and grateful to finally have clothes to buy. They also come to me with suggestions. Some have asked me to make pyjamas or exercise gear for them. At the moment, we have no plans to do so, but I might do PJs.

What are some dos and don'ts that plus-size women should adhere to?

I've been invited to seminars to speak on how women should dress but I've always declined. I'm not in a position to tell people how they should dress. I love it when people decide for themselves how they want to wear our clothes. It's how you carry the clothes, not how the clothes carry you.

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times on May 15, 2008.


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