Vale Victoria

Vic&Janine

This week the curvy ladies of Melbourne lost an important contributor to our Plus-size Industry, and I lost a friend.

About 12 years ago I discovered Big In Black.  I was looking for a dress for a wedding and a friend of mine recommended I check it out.  As I pulled up outside I could see from the garments hanging in the window that there was at least something in my size. The Betty Boop image on the window was quirky and curvy, but until I opened the door I wasn’t convinced I was in the right place.  I was immediately greeted by a booming voice – “Hi, I haven’t seen you before, want a cuppa?” BigInBlackAnd so began my association, and friendship with the most lovable, loud and vivacious woman I’ve ever known.  That day I did find the outfit I wanted. I left happy, and I left knowing that this was somewhere I would visit again.

Flash forward to 2009 when I opened my first business Real Women Have Curves. When I was formulating my ideas for how to structure the business, Victoria was one of the first people I contacted.  She was so supportive and encouraging and she added significant value to my business over the years.

Victoria opened Big In Black in 2000, she was plus-size and one of the most confident women I knew.  Her knowledge of what the customer wants was vast.  Victoria’s husband Clotaire was a regular in the store, his wide smile and warm manner coupled with his great knowledge of garments added value to the store.  In fact, Clotaire is a brilliant dressmaker and the store offers custom made garments.  Big In Black is renowned for being able to cater to all sizes, and I’ve been in-store and witnessed first hand a bridal party consisting of women ranging in size from 12-36 all being fitted for dresses that flattered and worked. The beaming smile on the Bride’s face, and the look of relief on the Bridesmaid’s face as what may have seemed like an insurmountable feat – turned into something quite perfect. This is unique and not something any other store can offer.  There are many stories like this that I’ve seen and heard over the years and there is no doubt that Big In Black has an incredible following of loyal customers to be proud of.  In fact the wall behind the counter is covered in photos of beaming brides, mother of the Bride/Groom and women in beautiful after-five wear all thanking Victoria and her team for their help in making them feel beautiful on their special day.

Vic&ClotaireVictoria & her husband Clotaire

On entering the store, you could be forgiven for being confused – the space is jam packed with thousands of garments ranging in size from 8-34 and interspersed between these treasures are some odd offerings such as golly wogs and witches, bejewelled shoes and accessories.  The one constant is that Big In Black – overseen by the vivacious Victoria – remained a treasure-trove (or wonderland as she says on her website) for the woman with the fuller-figure.  The staff too are amazing, Heather who has been a loyal member for many years and Kelly who make up the great customer service that you can expect from BIB.  Last year I actually worked for a month on Saturdays at Big In Black to get some insider understanding on the retail aspect of how things work. I really enjoyed my time there and learnt a lot from Victoria and Kelly.

biginblackbettyOver the past 7 years of working with styling customers I have NEVER taken a customer to the store and not found THE perfect outfit.  Big In Black has been my go-to store for after-five, special occasion and bridal outfits.

Victoria has shared a million stories with me over the years, having started out in 2000 well and truly prior to the social media revolution, she worked hard to get the word out about her business. She had a great story about a well known women’s magazine who approached her for a story and visited the store to interview Victoria and take some photos.  Victoria, (as am I) was pedantic about not being associated with anything weight related when it came to dealing with customers – so she wanted to be sure that the magazine understood this – she even went so far as to insist that the magazine send her a “proof for approval” prior to publication.  The magazine did this – and then when the double-page article was published Victoria picked up the magazine to find that they had printed exactly what they’d provided her with in the proof – BUT they had inserted an ad for weight loss products in the border of the article.  I would NOT liked to have been there when Victoria had that conversation with the magazine – Victoria wasn’t one to mince words – and I admired her greatly for that. She was a woman who saw it and said it as it was. A woman after my own heart.

Over the years we formed a great relationship, and when in 2011 my dad passed away she was one of the first to contact me when she heard the news.  Not a year later her own beloved father passed, he’d battled cancer but unfortunately passed due to a heart attack.  Together we chatted about how this felt and understood each others grief.  In 2012 when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was sitting with my mum at her first chemo session, terrified and attempting to be a good support when we suddenly heard a commotion at the door of the chemo ward.  In walked Victoria, bold as always, with her mother Margaret.  They were coming to visit the chemo nurses and thank them for the great care they had taken of Victoria’s father during his earlier treatment.  Victoria spotted us and came over immediately.  Her energy and fun manner immediately shifted our mood as she sent us all into fits of laughter with her antics.  It was a terrible time for them, and for us, but as always she led the way with her amazing approach to life.

Not long after Victoria received the news that she had a battle of her own on her hands. She too was diagnosed with breast cancer. I couldn’t believe it, and I believed if anyone could beat it, she could.  She fought an incredible battle, I remember for a woman so bold and outward she was also private, letting a select circle of people share her journey. During that journey I watched Victoria, her husband Clotaire, her two beautiful sons, her mum and friends love and support her – always with her outwardly hilarious sense of humour (one that sticks in my mind is Victoria and her friend Jean dressing up in Pokémon costumes during the chemo treatment phase entertaining the other patients) and ultimately when she had the all-clear – Victoria worked tirelessly raising funds to support the hospital that treated her and donating important equipment to help save more lives.

Through it all, I thought she’d won the battle. I was wrong.

About 3 months ago she went very quiet.  I had frequent contact with her, but it became via Facebook Messenger rather than phone conversations or face-to-face. I had no idea that things were not good. She kept this very quiet.  Just 4 weeks ago I heard she was in hospital again and tried to arrange a time to visit. She said she was “taking bookings” and I laughed, not realising how serious things were and said “of course you are – you’re so bloody popular”.  That was the last I heard from her until I got the awful news early Monday morning.

I am gutted to the core. The outpouring of grief from friends & family has been massive, not unexpectedly for such an incredible woman. Victoria’s contribution to the plus-size Industry, the curvy customer, and to me personally and professionally is immeasurable. I want to say THANK YOU Victoria for being you and for having such an amazing impact on my life. I’ll miss you.

Big In Black is open for business as usual except for this Friday 6th May for the celebration of her life.

Please continue to support this incredible store.

Love your shape!

Janine x

Plus-size outdoor adventures…

Exhilarating and empowering – those two words best describe my experience at the 1st plus-size women’s hike held by Escaping Your Comfort Zone.

The morning was overcast and drizzly, yet mild. I packed my small back-pack with some water, my phone and a rain coat. I tied my shoe-laces and was met at the door by my hubby Pete who had made me a coffee “for the road” – now that’s a man that understands me and my relationship with coffee 🙂

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I pulled into the car park at Lysterfield Park and immediately saw a group of women chatting to Richelle, founder and leader of Escaping your comfort Zone.  Richelle had her favourite Pink hat on –  as promised, so she was easy to identify 🙂

IMG_2282The mood was excited and calm all at once, it was just so comfortable to arrive to some familiar, and some new faces.  I was thrilled to see Kate, who also attends yoga with me of a Wednesday, she always has the most amazing smile and hug ready every time I see her.

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I LOVE how this hike was planned, not only were we with like-bodied and like-minded women, but we ranged in experience and ability.  Richelle, with years of her own outdoor experience under her belt, had cleverly planned the trail the week before, and had a team of 4, including herself, who were tasked with being spread throughout the pack to ensure no one was struggling and we were all supported.  This worked so well because all 4 of the team were super friendly and engaging women who ensured you felt at ease immediately. Perfect.

With a group of 12 curvy women including the team, we set out at 9am on the pre-determined trail.  One gorgeous lady bought her son in the pram – he was such a cutie, and he enjoyed the ride too.  Richelle had planned alternate routes for the pram in two areas where the track changed into single track and wasn’t accessible with the pram.

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We headed around the lake, across the “beach”, up the small set of stairs onto the bridge, across the bridge and around a corner – then we headed UP a hill – by the time I got to the top I was feeling puffed and my legs were telling me that was a long hill. At the top we stopped for 5 mins to enjoy the scenery and catch our breath. From that moment on I got the most amazing burst of energy and adrenaline and I felt like I could walk for ever. We continued along a wide path, then split off down to the lakes edge to stand on the jetty… the views were spectacular.12924525_992708964153323_1530378829849557446_n

From there we enjoyed a trail that was single file with the added excitement of lots of fallen large tree branches which just added to the fun. There were kangaroos everywhere and we had a lot of fun taking “kangaroo selfies” along the way.

Richelle put together this video that shows our adventure – I just love it!

The two hours went by so fast. As we rounded the corner to the car park I was disappointed. I didn’t want this time to end.

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I want to be active. I don’t like exercising on my own. I don’t like walking alone to exercise.  I know, I know – it’s “me time” etc. and that’s true, but it’s just something I’ve never enjoyed. When I walk with someone, or a group, I feel like I can walk forever.  I feel motivated and happy. When I walk alone, I feel like it’s a chore. Does that make sense?

We walked just over 5 1/2kms in 2 hours, the pace was comfortable, the scenery was beautiful and the company was friendly, fun and supportive.

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Escaping Your Comfort Zone is a brilliant idea, I’m so excited to be part of this exciting group.  I’m really looking forward to regular outings and exploring our countryside.

I’m thrilled to be presenting at the upcoming Escaping Your Comfort Zone – Plus-size Adventure Retreat where I’ll be finally able to try stand-up paddle-boarding! Click here for more information and to book, there’s only a couple of places left.

Richelle has planned more exciting hikes and adventures, make sure you sign-up to the website here and follow the Facebook page.

If you’re reading this and wondering if it’s for you – feel free to give me a call or drop me a line, I’d be happy to encourage you and chat to you about it.

If you’re not in Melbourne, Victoria and you’re interested in events in your area, please contact Richelle as she’s looking to expand this across the country and beyond.

Join me on the trails?

Love your shape!

Janine x

Feet Solutions…

Wide Feet, shoes to fit orthotics, bunions? I get asked often about where to find quality shoes for problem feet, but not just any shoes – shoes that look GREAT!

Here’s the solution. Kolourful Kati designs and produces beautiful shoes that tick all the boxes.

KolourfulKati

Kati has an incredible collection of styles available. Her designs are ethically hand-made in Mexico where she visits regularly to oversee production. Kolourful Kati footwear is designed and styled to support you, help with your posture, help you to feel safe, and stylish and attract compliments like “Where did you get those shoes?” They are made of high-quality cotton-based elastic straps and offer slip resistant soles and cushioned inner soles for safety & east of wear.

Just take a look at her contemporary timeless designs to dress up and dress down.

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KolourfulKatiBlack

Available in sizes 5-11 (in most styles), these amazing shoes and boots are super light-weight and super comfortable and a must-have for any wardrobe.

Kati is having an Invitation Only Exclusive Winter Private Showing at her Shoe-Dio in St Kilda, Victoria on Saturday 2nd April from 11:30am-3:30pm.  To RSVP, please click the link here.

Where can you buy Kolourful Kati?

You can shop online at www.kolourfulkati.com.au

or shop in-store or online at Peter Sheppard Footwear stores in Melbourne and Sydney.

Please tell Kati I sent you.

Love your shape!

Janine x