To most people, the thought of plus-size clothing having limited availability IRL (and most of its presence online) is
maddening, but for serial entrepreneur Christine Hunsicker, it was an opportunity. After all, she's been involved in a handful of tech start-ups since 2001; and was president and COO of Right Media and the COO at Drop.io, which were bought by Yahoo and Facebook respectively. It's no wonder that when she turned her attention to the plus-size fashion market in 2011 and launched , it became a huge success.
Sure, there are lots of businesses jumping into the plus-size retail space as of late—which is
amazing—but Hunsicker stands out because, while most seem to be driven by emotion and personal experience, she's mostly motivated by the numbers. Case in point: It's exciting to see "outsiders" recognizing and capitalizing on the giant business opportunity plus-size retail provides. So, we sat down with the company's leading lady to talk retail, rental wear, and how best to resonate with customers. > Pinterest
Glamour: Tell us a bit about the company's background.
Christine Hunsicker: In 2011, we started Gwynnie Bee with the mission of giving women an unlimited wardrobe with a limited budget—and make clothing synonymous with possibility and confidence. That's definitely not always the case with women and their experiences with shopping. With our model, we can really make fashion a 100 percent joyful experience for women, and in particular, women between sizes 10 and 32.
Glamour: What exact things were you looking to change to make the shopping experience for women of those sizes more positive?
CH: The sole access to clothing today is an ownership model, meaning anything you want to wear you have to buy. That's exceptionally limiting. There's only so many things you can buy and you're limited in experimentation because you'll want to invest in basics and things you're going to get a lot of use out of. Of the things you do buy that are exciting additions to your wardrobe, 80% sit unworn in your closet for over a year. If you can give people unlimited access to the equivalent of a department store as their personal closet, they would be able to experiment and wear trendier things outside their comfort zone, because it's not a commitment.
Glamour: So, how did you decide to target the plus-size market? CH: Size 10-32 is 75 percent of the adult female population, so it's the overwhelming majority of adult women in the U.S. It's a demographic that fashion, for the most part, has served incredibly poorly. The bricks-and-mortar experience is exceptionally limiting. We thought it was kind of obvious…You have a demographic that loves to dress well and wants to look great and doesn't have as many options as they should have. The entire reason for focusing on this size demographic is because it made sense.
Glamour: What challenges have you faced thus far, and what have been the standout successes?
CH: When we started it, we knew that there was an economic benefit for our members. You pay a fixed fee, and the average member wears more than ten times in value what they pay per month. We also believed there would be an emotional benefit to giving women a way to experience clothing in a more positive way, they would feel better. That's what the experience is about: feeling confident and recognizing that you have a huge world of possibility through fashion. The biggest, most meaningful success is the overwhelming amount of emails and phone calls we've gotten saying that we've impacted women's lives in a meaningful way.
As far as challenges go, there's 150 of them every day. It's a pretty massive logistics undertaking and that alone is challenging. Making sure we have enough, fresh, well-fitting styles for our members is constantly challenging. And we're going super fast—and any kind of rapid scale introduces challenges to the basic service.
Glamour: What are the customers asking for now? What patterns do you see in your feedback?
CH: One of the most interesting things for us is how much they've pushed us to getting more fashionable and statement pieces. A lot of the members are going into an office environment every day and even that group wants blazers with interesting zipper detailing or peplum tops in a print. The diversity and variety of styles in continuing to grow with us launching close to 200 styles per month. We're trying to get that number up to 300 to 400 styles per month over the next quarter. We also had a lot of demand for an app and we launched that in September. We've moved into more pants and denim.
Glamour: What have been their points of dislike? CH: They wish there was more guidance on products similar to the ones they like—recommendations. Because the catalog is getting quite big. How can we help curate individualized collections for members? Like with all online clothing, fit is a big one. So, what can we do to help them figure out what will fit them best? And they really wanted us to have robust reviews at the time of launch. They asked for photos in reviews. Reviews have to be there on day one, so on our city tour, we took all the clothing with us and had the members try it on and then write reviews for us so that when pieces launched, they came with member feedback.
Glamour: What are the most popular brands? And items?
CH: About 10 percent or 20 percent of the clothes get the most attention (mostly shift and fit-and-flares dresses with unique themes—like super bright colors or a retro vibe), but because it's an experimentation model, you don't see one thing blowing everything else out of the water too much. When we look at the data, something new to the site that's different than what we've had before, gets more people clustering towards it because it's new.
Glamour: What has surprised you in the data?
CH: How many different things people are willing to try—how far people are willing to expand their style horizons. We expected people have closets of 20-25 things that they like and what we see is that they have closets of hundreds. I think that has to do with it being no commitment and no risk to you, you're going to try it.
Glamour: That says a lot about how the customer behaves. She wants fashion. CH: The fact that these brands that are refusing to make clothing in the size range—I think to us, it's showing how much they're leaving on the table by not working on providing stylish fashion-forward options for a customer who's really, is not just into the basics, really wants to show her individuality through what she wears.
Glamour: What does the future of Gwynnie Bee and the market hold?
CH: We are trying to bring more and more products into the market. Especially by working with a designers to bring their products into our size range. We want to continue to do that. For us, it's all about expanding the amount of access our members have. That's the big focus.
Glamour: What's next for the industry as a whole?
CH: Brands need to figure out distribution. It's one of the key challenged in plus, because a lot of things are systematically set up against the plus size woman. There are very few brick and mortar stores and most of them are vertical retailers. And then you have the department stores that carry the top 10-15 brands that have been carried for a really long time and don't have floor space to experiment and don't take the risk on new up-and-coming brands. So it's hard for new designers to find distribution and it's hard for department stores to take risks on all of the new designers. There are no other real brick and mortar options.
To me, the more we get online, the more brands that can go direct to consumer or use us to reach their consumers and build their brands, the better it's going to be for the members because there are so many structural things that the industry has to overcome. The fact that the market is huge, everybody knows. Everybody's know that for years and years, the fact that now people can make a lot of money in the market, is making the brand start to come around to. It makes no sense for this not to happen and it would be completely absurd for people to continue to ignore the overwhelming majority of women. To me, that has to change and there's been a ton of groundwork laid by the trailblazers in the body positivity movement.
Glamour: Why do you think now is the time?
CH: The plus woman shops online three times more than her straight-size counterpart. And that's not because she loves the internet. That's because there are no real other options. She's already online. This wave of fashion bloggers in the plus space and body acceptance is just starting. I think we're going to see a lot more of that. It shouldn't be so shocking when a plus-size woman wants to be fashionable it should just be normal. It's a woman, it's not a plus size woman wanting to be fashionable, it's a woman wanting to be fashionable.
Glamour: What would you say to someone who wants to start a plus size or full range clothing line? CH: Talk to us!
Source : https://www.glamour.com/story/meet-christine-tk-the-ceo-chan