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 

 

Vale Victoria

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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.

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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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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

Escaping Your Comfort Zone

I’ve always enjoyed being active outdoors and on a recent holiday with my hubby Pete in Ubud, Bali, we took the opportunity to rise bright & early (those that know me well know that I’m not a morning person – so this was commitment!) and head to the starting point in central Ubud of the Campuhan Ridge Walk.  We set off at 7am trying to avoid the heat, unfortunately the day was one of the clearest we’d had so far in this wet season visit to Bali, so the humidity and heat were not kind to us that day.  The trail starts at a beautiful temple and gently winds its way up the ridge between the two ravines and rivers that run through this area.

To say that the scenery is spectacular is an understatement.  The trail goes for approx. 3km before you come to a gorgeous village with art shops along the road.  The road is unpaved but if you keep going about 500m you’ll come to an incredible café, Karsa Kafe with a beautiful lotus pond full of frogs and lovely coffee, juices and snacks.  This is the usual “rest point” for serious hikers, but for us in the extreme heat this was our end point for our hike.

This is how I looked half-way through the hike…. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much! It was an exhilarating morning.ResizedJanineCampuhan

On another morning during our holiday, we also awoke early to the roosters crowing and decided to get up and do some photography. A gentle amble down the road through the village from our villa bought us to the top end of the Rice Paddy walkway that runs approx. 6kms to central Ubud through the most beautiful rice paddies, villages and views. That day we walked 13kms in total.  It was bliss, (including the incredible breakfast and views at Sari Organic on the way) and despite how much I despise humidity and being drenched in sweat continuously, I had an incredible time and loved every minute of it.

With the busy life that I lead as a mum, wife and business owner, it’s easy to prioritise things away from my own active enjoyment.  I LOVE my weekly yoga classes with the gorgeous Sarah Harry at Body Positive Australia (I’ve missed 3 weeks in a row due to my trip to Bali and the dengue fever I’m still recovering from since I returned – but that’s another story!), and my family and I regularly enjoy weekend outings walking, photographing our local countryside and being as active as possible.  I have to admit though it’s easy to not step outside of my comfort zone when even if the hectic life I live isn’t enough of an excuse, I find it difficult to schedule activities without having the security of like-minded or like-bodied women around me.  For example, I have never walked into my local gym and just signed-up for a Zumba or Boxing Class – even though these are two things I enjoy and would dearly love to do.  The thought of a room full of not necessarily body positive people puts me off.  My fear of not being able to keep up overwhelms me.  I know how stupid that sounds – and given that I AM body positive and highly confident, I still suffer from these restrictive thoughts. Hence when the opportunity came along for me to attend the Body Positive Yoga Classes I jumped at the chance!  I absolutely LOVE the opportunity to be guided by a teacher who understands that EVERY body is different and EVERY body is capable of different things. Sarah gives alternatives for every pose – oh the freedom of being able to have choice to participate and to enjoy.  Priceless.

This year I wanted to start creating some new habits for myself. My work often means I spend hours in my home office behind the computer and on the phone, often not moving far at all for most of the day, then other days I’m out and about at meetings and showings and I’ll do kms of walking.  The point is, I want to be as active as possible, because when I’m active, I feel better.  I can think straighter and I feel calmer – oh yes, and being an insomniac, I also sleep better too!  So I’ve actively put into place regular yoga classes, bought a walking machine for those days when my work dictates a low-activity day – I can just take my smart phone and walk a few kms in between work, and I’ve been incorporating some outdoor activities with my family.

But I still want more.

Guess you can imagine my excitement when just this week I stumbled across Escaping Your Comfort Zone – THE most exciting idea for plus-size women since, forever!

PLUS SIZE WOMEN CREATING ADVENTURES TOGETHER

A community of plus size women with a taste for adventure and exploring the great outdoors.  We want to inspire people. We want someone to look at us and say because of you I didn’t give up.  This is your community to share all the insights and inspiration you need to allow you to be the absolute best version of yourself.

Richelle Olsen

This photo caught my eye because I’m obsessed with clouds.  I have copious amounts of cloud photos, and I’m sure I drive my husband crazy with my constant comments on how amazing that cloud formation is!  Then I was drawn into the vista, then I clicked further into the website and then I read the words on the Facebook event I was looking at … Plus Size Women’s Hiking For Beginners – YES that’s me!!

I want to introduce you to Richelle Olsen.   She’s an Aussie 30-something, plus sized, and she’s cycled 6,500kms from Canada to Mexico, hiked to Everest base camp, run a 25km mountain race in the Spanish Pyrenees, trekked the Inca Trail, scuba dived in oceans and freshwater caves around the world, raced over 20 triathlons, solo hiked the Queen Charlotte Track in NZ and had a whole lot of other adventures in between. I feel tired just listing those incredible achievements!

RichelleOlsenBut Richelle says she’s just an everyday woman, not overly fit, loves the outdoors, and  wants to inspire and support other plus sized girls to experience what she has, without limits.

Richelle says “You don’t need to be fit, you don’t need to “look the part”, it doesn’t matter what size you are, all you need is a sense of adventure, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone”.

Now that’s a woman after my own heart, and I’m guessing yours too right?
So will you join me at the upcoming event in Melbourne on Saturday 2nd April? Here’s all the details…. I’ll be there and I hope to see you too. It’s going to be fantastic and the start of some very exciting opportunities to escape my own comfort zone.  And it’s FREE!
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And if that isn’t enough to get you excited – how about joining me at this one? I will be attending this incredible weekend and am honoured to have been invited to add value with a presentation on Mindset and Curvy Women.  I can’t wait  for the upcoming PLUS SIZE WOMEN’S OUTDOOR RETREAT WEEKEND to be held on the Surf Coast in Victoria.

 

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Stay tuned for some (no doubt hilarious) photos of my first attempt at Stand-up Paddle boarding.  COME AT ME!!!

Whose in?  Join me…

Love your shape!

Janine x

Curvy Girl follows her dream…

Two weeks ago in a café in inner Melbourne, I had the pleasure of meeting two amazing women, Kelsey and her mum Sue.  The purpose of their visit to the “big smoke” was to source amazing garments for their customers and to tap into some Industry knowledge.  Over a cup of coffee we sat chatting about their business plan.

Kelsey is a 20 year old who knows what she wants and is willing to work hard for it.  It was such a pleasure to see her excitement and passion.  Kelsey has graduated from High School and has been running the local Royal Hotel Euston Pub Kitchen.  Her dream to run her own boutique has been brewing for quite some time.  She knows the pain of trying to find  great fitting garments to flatter her curves, and especially being in a rural setting, this becomes an even more difficult undertaking.  She loves her job running the kitchen, but there was more.. she talked about it for months, dared to dream and then decided to act.  Sue, Kelsey’s mum is a vibrant woman with curves who is clearly as passionate as Kelsey about her daughter’s dream. So much so that she’s thrown herself into the project with gusto.  Equally, Kelsey’s sister Juscinda was behind the dream too.  What happens when you have a dream, and you have all the love and support you could imagine – dreams come true, and the hard work begins!

So over coffee, In my usual style, I was more than happy to flood them with information on all things curvy fashion and curvy business and Kelsey soaked up the advice and added it to her bag of magic.

Flash forward a week and a half, and the KJSista’s doors opened for the first time late last week.

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How gorgeous are these two sisters?! The name KJSista came from K=Kelsey (owner) and J=Juscinda her sister.  Clever!  Decked out on opening day in gorgeous 17 Sundays, the two girls were inundated with locals who couldn’t wait to check out what was on offer and the flow of customers hasn’t stopped since.

It’s so amazing to see girls so young KNOW what they want, and go out and get it.  At 20 I was travelling the world, and I was learning to love my shape. It took me a lot longer than 20 to do that and realise there was a way to work and love what I do.

Congratulations Kelsey, and congratulations to your mum Sue and sister Juscinda for backing you and your dream.

IMG_0242 Sonsee Woman seamless bra and anti-chaffing shorts available at KJSista

KJSista stocks a range of labels available in sizes 8-26 including:

  • 17 Sundays – Boutique Plus-size Designer Fashion Label – Sizes 14-26
  • Hope & Harvest – Engineered for Curves Plus-Size Designer Fashion Label – Sizes 12-28
  • Love Your Wardrobe – On-Trend plus-size fashion – Sizes 14-24
  • Sonsee Woman – Ultra Stretch Hosiery & Seamless Intimates Range for the Curvy Figure – Sizes 14-28
  • Teaberry – sizes 8-16

You can find KJSista at 9 Perrin Street, Robinvale Vic 3549.

Opening Hours:

Tues-Fri:  9:00am-5:00pm

Sat:          9:00am-12:00pm

Also stocking a fantastic selection of accessories including beautiful jewellery and handbags.

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Click on the image above to follow KJSISTA on Instagram.

Shop local and support Australian designers.

Please tell Kelsey I sent you.

Love your shape!

Janine x