A WIN for Australian plus-size Designers

Finally I can spill the beans, I’ve been working hard and holding onto a secret for so long. But today I can share with you that three deserving Australian plus-size designer brands are available online at Autograph!

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H&H on Autograph ADD on Autograph

You may be asking yourself why is this such major news? Let me tell you.

In March 2015 I began a Wholesale Agency, United Curves specialising in Labels that cater to the size 12-26+ market.  My passion has always been in supporting the Australian plus-size designer Labels, and what better way to do that than to work with them on expanding the opportunities in our local market here in Australia, and beyond. Word spread quickly about United Curves, and before I could blink the telephone was ringing and enquiries were coming in thick and fast. It was such a surprise to receive an enquiry via the Hope & Harvest Website from Autograph who were enquiring about the H&H range for an upcoming project they were working on.  I picked up the phone and called Justine, who is managing the project.  She explained that she had been tasked with launching a “Brand Store” on the Autograph website to offer more choice for the Autograph customer.  Justine invited me to visit with her in Sydney and bring some samples of the Hope & Harvest collection with me.  Justine asked if I could recommend any other brands, and when I explained that I also represented other plus-size Australian designers, she encouraged me to bring samples from all the Labels.

There was a great effort from the brands to provide me with the sales tools I needed for this important meeting. I boarded a flight to Sydney with two suitcases of samples and landed on the doorstep of Specialty Fashion Group.

Our meeting began at 10am on a sunny Sydney day, and I was greeted by Justine – a gorgeous woman with an amazing smile. I was ushered into the meeting room where it was immediately clear that a lot of work and research had gone into this moment. Justine was so passionate about plus-size clothing and so very excited to be leading the Brand Store Project.

During my years of working in the plus-size Industry I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in a lot of offices and boardrooms talking with major retailers about what’s missing for the curvy consumer. I’ve often felt that my well researched and qualified opinions and suggestions have fallen on deaf ears, and that there is always an excuse for why something can’t change or can’t be done. I’ve felt that there is a disconnect with major retailers and the customers, not understanding their wants and needs.  With you, my loyal readers help, I’ve collected data, comments and images to back up my opinions and suggestions – this has helped immensely – thank you! I am so familiar with the same old responses that I was taken aback when I discovered the meeting room I was sitting in was covered in survey data and comments from a very well thought out survey that was sent to all Autograph customers a few months before.

Out of the data that they collected,  one of the key points was that the Autograph customer was looking for more choice and styles than sits within the usual offering from Autograph. The data also gave the team a broader understanding of their customer and her needs and wants.  The survey is a credit to the Marketing team who compiled the questions, I read through the survey when it landed in my inbox and remember being impressed that finally here was a survey that was serious about understanding the customer.

The meeting that day went until 5pm! I had the pleasure of meeting the team of people behind the scenes that make things tick, from the buyers to the marketing team, brand manager and so much more.  The work we all did that day was historical as it opened up an opportunity that has previously been out of reach for the smaller independent labels.

(L-R) Justine, Vanessa (Sonsee), Alexa, Lisa Lunch with the Autograph Team during one of our visits to Sydney

The initial opportunity to stock Sonsee Woman in Autograph happened quickly. First with the Hosiery range, and shortly thereafter with the incredible Seamless Intimates Range.  The Autograph customer was thrilled with the Sonsee range and we will shortly be launching a premium active wear range by Sonsee Active available with the accurate Sonsee fit for sizes 14-28.

Sonsee on Autograph

The opportunity for the other brands has taken a little longer to negotiate. In fact it’s taken just on 12 months of negotiating & planning the deal. It’s been a rollercoaster of ups and downs and a huge learning curve for myself and brands to position ourselves to meet the needs of a large retailer.

I’m so proud and thrilled to share that today the amazing Australian plus-size designer brands Hope & Harvest and Alison Dominy Designs also went live on the Autograph Brand Store. We are all so proud and happy to be part of this opportunity and want to thank the team at Autograph who made it possible sincerely for their efforts.  I want to thank Justine who has worked tirelessly and passionately to smooth the path to this point, bravo!

It’s time to crack open the champagne. It’s now over to you – YOU the curvy customer who is deserving of great designer fashion.  We’ve worked hard to make it more accessible and it’s important that you support these initiatives to ensure their longevity and success.  This is just the beginning.

HAPPY SHOPPING!

Love your shape!

Janine x 

 

Haute Couture… my experience

Every girl has an image in her head of that special dress for her special day. When Pete proposed to me on my 40th birthday in July 2011, I suddenly I realised I had to start thinking about what MY special dress would be? Our plan was for an intimate wedding with close family & friends, in the bush in Western Australia. What style of dress will best reflect me and our marriage?

I started googling dresses, typing in the words “plus size wedding dresses” bought up thousands of options, but as I scanned the images hopeful for some inspiration I didn’t see one dress that looked like ME.

I was keen to have a more relaxed, less formal style dress, I knew I wanted some type of lace detail and I was keen for it to be white, but I wanted something say, boho. So I started googling BohOriginal Ideao wedding dresses.  This image caught my eye. I loved the casual cool cotton with relaxed detail, chic and beautiful, but relaxed. Obviously the dress was designed with a non-plus-size figure in mind, but my mind was adapting the feel and working out how to apply it to myself and what would work for me.

I was grateful for the kind offers of a dress from many Australian plus-size retailers and brands, very grateful. But to be honest, none of the designs were what I wanted for ME.

Then suddenly it hit me, I needed to have my dress made, for my body. Mmmm, took me a while! So I made a call to my girls at Hope & Harvest. Now most of you will know Hope & Harvest have their own amazing plus-size designs, but I was really asking a huge favour, would they do me the honour of designing a dress just for me?

A phone call later and the gorgeous Harvest was almost more excited than me that we were designing a dress together! YAY!

The first step was to share the images I had sought with the girls, and we talked about roughly what I was hoping to achieve. The wheels were in motion and the excitement was building.

Step two was to select the material. I had already decided that I wanted a simple white cotton for the main part of the dress but I was looking for some lace embellishment to make it special. Harvest & Ainsley met me at Clegs in Brunswick one warm Melbourne morning in April and we spent a lovely morning exploring the options.

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Ainsley holding up the lace I chose.

Funny thing is, during this process of choosing material, the original design I’d had in my head had already started to morph into something else. I remember I had butterflies during the whole morning, it was really difficult to pick fabrics for my idea, to be honest, I didn’t even know if it was going to look good on me or not.

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Harvest explaining to me the options within our design with this lace

Reflecting on this whilst I was walking around Clegs, I realised something. When you walk into a store there are usually more than 2 garments you are attracted to and want to try on. Often, I try them all on, and often the one I thought would suit is the one that didn’t or vice versa! So to be smack bang in the middle of a process that was making a dress from an image of a dress style I’d NEVER tried on was really a little crazy! I started to relax a little and went with my gut. Harvest was amazing, she truly understood what feel I was after, and she understood my body shape. Even more impressive (and I wasn’t to truly understand this til further down the process), Harvest has an incredible talent for haute couture, it’s like the design just flows out of her.  The lace I chose that day was calling to me, I fell in love with it, and it became the foundation of the design with the dress evolving around it.

Janine

With my lace – very excited!

There was plenty of time, so we planned the next stage. I would visit H&H HQ for my first fitting a week later.

The first fitting day was quite an experience, not only was it FREEZING COLD, but I really didn’t know what to expect. When I arrived, the girls had made a “toile”, which is the beginning point of a Haute Couture design where you make a “test garment” sewn from the same material. The toile was hanging on a hanger, it looked like a bag or sack with pieces of cotton loosely threaded at different points around the pieces. Quite confusing for someone who had never been through this process before.

I peeled off my warm clothes and subjected myself to the elements. Goose bumps appeared – not only because I was cold but because I was nervous! Don’t get me wrong, these girls are amazing, and I KNOW that they knew exactly what I was after, but I just couldn’t get my mind around this sack of material turning into the dress I had imagined!

Trust the process I kept telling myself… and boy am I glad I did.

The process was amazing. In front of a mirror, the talented hands of Harvest fluttered around me as she placed, pulled and prodded the material into place around me. We tried this and that, gathered, ungathered etc. and finally we all agreed that this wasn’t it! Slowly, I began to see in front of me, with the help of this toile and the talents of two amazing designers, what would look great on me and so in front of my eyes the design evolved into something completely different! I went from wanting an unstructured dress with a boho feel, to a very structured dress with a boho feel! I GOT IT! This process of Haute Couture although quite scary, was truly remarkable. Harvest worked tirelessly and seemingly effortlessly to draw all over the toile and pin here and there, until she was satisfied. Then it was quite an effort to get out of the toile without pricking myself! Reassuringly, the girls told me they’d work their magic and see me in two weeks!

Visit three saw me arrive to a more complete toile, which was sewn in the structured design we’d come up with. I was amazed at how a sack with lots of pins and pen marks had been transformed into a toile that fit like a glove! I turned toward the mirror and realised this was IT! Hooray, the design was taking shape. I gave the ok to go ahead and MAKE the dress! That felt incredible. The next step was to work the lace into the dress once the base was complete.

Fitting four took place the morning after my Hen’s Night. We were all very tired but excited to weave some magic with the lace.

Arms

Harvest working on the sleeve with the lace. This part of the process was all about looking at what worked and how I felt.

Fish Tail

Harvest & Ainsley working on applying the lace to the skirt. I just LOVE how they made it flatter me, there was a beautiful “tail” at the back where the lace kicked out, and it draped over my hips to a point at the base of my back.

WOW, This was looking amazing. I was so excited, and couldn’t believe how different, yet how perfect this had all come together. Off the girls went with my dress pinned and ready to be completed.

The final stage was another visit to H&H HQ where we had the big reveal.

One of the important steps to having a dress that is made well and fits well is to chose correctly fitted foundation undergarments. I did a lot of research on foundation undergarments and spent a lot of time trying to find the right fit for me. In desperation I even purchased two control wear garments online from overseas, but when these arrived I had to contort myself into such strange positions to get them on that I just knew that that wasn’t going to cut the mustard! Interestingly, even after visiting some specialist stores I still couldn’t find THE perfect fit – that was until I visited my local Autograph store. I know right, not where I was expecting to find what I was looking for in undergarments, but I was wrong. I’m happy to say that I found exactly what I needed and left the store with a beautifully fitted Rita Lace Underwire Bra in Pearl (oh and I bought one in red too because I loved it so much – but that was for the honeymoon!), and the Essentials Panty Girdle in Café. Now I ummed and ahhed about the Girdle as I just think it’s not that attractive right? But I hate having separate garments with shapewear, I’m a bodysuit girl (but that’s another story). The Girdle is beautifully made, very comfortable and the wide elastic silicone trim on the waist sat perfectly under my bust and bra band and didn’t roll, not even once (and the lace detail at the top of the leg made it feel a little less ugly)! It felt as though I was wearing a bodysuit and it worked well to create a great silhouette under my dress. So for me, this combination worked a treat and added value to my dream dress. Having the foundations in place BEFORE building the dress was an important part of the process.

Two weeks before our wedding I very excitedly drove to H&H HQ and picked up my dress. The feeling I had when the girls helped me put it over my head and zip it into place is indescribable! We put everything into place and then I turned around and looked into the mirror – HOORAY! I felt amazing, I felt beautiful, this was my dream dress! All three of us cheered and hugged with tears of joy.

 
Ainsley, Harvest and I celebrating – the finished product!

JANINE WED

Mum gifted me a beautiful citrine & diamond pendant for my birthday this year, it’s just stunning, exactly the same setting as my engagement ring but it’s oval instead of diamond shaped. I found my string of pearls and the pendant clipped perfectly into place, the most gorgeous adornment for my dress.

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The beautiful pendant given to me by my mum for my birthday and as a wedding gift.

Flash forward to our special day, surrounded by family & friends, I walked down the “bush” aisle with my gorgeous son Zac and beautiful mum Dianne, I felt amazing, special, beautiful, curvy and loved, but most of all HAPPY. I did my own hair & make-up (and after many hair trials with curls, and all sorts of do-dahs, I decided I wanted to look like ME so I went for my usual style!).

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Entering the ceremony walking down the aisle with my son Zac and mum – so happy! (Image by David Entz)

Bottom of Dress & Shoes

I loved the detail of the tail of my dress! We stood in a heart shaped with rose petals (Image by David Entz)

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Married to my Superman Pete and wearing “Janine” by Hope & Harvest, Dryandra Village, Western Australia 14th September, 2013.  My bouquet was specially made for me by my sister-in-law Donna out of native flowers from my parents-in-laws’ garden. My shoes were purchased on e-bay and are Beige Leather Bernardo Farfalla – just loved them! – Perfect x (Image by David Entz)

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to have such an amazing wedding dress made just for me. THANK YOU Harvest & Ainsley, you were both incredibly amazing during this whole process and I am forever grateful for the experience and honour of wearing one of your designs.

Thank you.

Love your shape!

Janine x

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