Recently, Phyllis Westerlund found a navy blue dress with polkadots that she really liked at Lane Bryant, but for $89.95. As a single mom, she says she cannot afford to drop $90 on dresses all the time, a regular occurrence as a plus-sized woman with few options. She says this experience got her thinking about what she herself could do to change the market.
“I looked at several places and there was nothing that really appealed to me or that I could afford,” said Westerlund. “Even though I’m 45, I still want to dress trendy. I started thinking about it and realizing there wasn’t anywhere for me to shop except a few chains.”
Westerlund reached out to her friend Coral Crook to ask if she would be interested in opening a plus-size boutique, and Crook jumped on the opportunity. Neither had seen anything like this in Winston-Salem, and both had experienced a need for it as plus-size women themselves.
Together, they started the Curvy Fox Boutique, which they hope to have a storefront for by November. Currently, they do not yet sell clothing, but use Facebook to gather a following and showcase their merchandise with the live feature.
In the interim, Westerlund and Crook have been working on things like figuring out how to pay taxes on a business, buying the appropriate equipment and decorating the store.
Few stores cater to plus-size women, even though nearly 70 percent of women wear clothing size 14 and up in the United States, a statistic cited by a number of outlets. Alchemy Market Research found that the plus-size market was worth more than $181 billion in 2019.
Additionally, last year Statistica reported that 22 percent of millennials — currently the largest generational market in the United States — prefer shopping from brands that specifically include plus-size models. Still, few retailers have plus-size options at all, and the ones that do have few of them and tend to keep them in the back of their stores.
“We want a place where no one feels ashamed,” said Westerlund. “We’re all built different, and we know that.”
They have gotten overwhelming positive feedback in advance of their official opening, everywhere from the moms in the Forsyth Girl Scouts troop to their Facebook group, which has nearly 200 likes. The comments are full of women expressing their excitement about finally having a place to shop.
“Many of them have said there’s nowhere else,” said Westerlund. “They’re really glad something like this is finally coming to Winston. A lot of women are excited to be in a place where they don’t have just one rack in the back.”
Westerlund is a teacher and a single mom, while Crook is a stay-at-home mom to two teenage daughters. They have vastly different styles: Westerlund says her friend is more into hair, makeup and animal prints while Westerlund just wants to wear cute shirts.
But this has been an advantage when it comes to buying different items for their store. Just last week, the two women were in Atlanta at a AmericasMart to tour a collection of showrooms and order pieces for their store.
“We have very different aesthetics, so between the two of us we’ve got some beautiful, beautiful pieces coming in,” said Westerlund.
While their Atlanta trip was fun and productive, it was also frustrating at times. Not all stores carried plus size clothing, and the ones that did were often too expensive or poor quality. Westerlund says one store specifically stood out in her mind, one she said was maybe 200 square feet. It stood out because in all that space, there was just one rack of plus-size clothing.
“It was really overwhelming and daunting at times,” said Crook. “We can’t walk in and spend $100 on a dress, but obviously we don’t want our customers to come in and buy something that falls apart on first wash.”
Both women say they are motivated by their daughters. Westerlund says she has trouble buying clothing for her 18-year-old daughter, who is also plus-size, and Crook says she is able to find much cuter clothing for her older daughter, who is 15, than her curvier 14-year-old.
“There’s a lot more trendy things I can find for my older daughter,” said Crook. “The designers live in this world of skinny models and they forget that there are thicker women out there.
“Most of our friends are considered plus-size,” Crook continued. “It’s really an untapped market because of the way society views plus-size people in general. I just feel like every woman should go into a store and leave feeling beautiful and attractive.”
Learn more about the Curvy Fox Boutique on their Facebook page. Westerlund and Crook will be hosting a Facebook live to show off some of the purchases they made in Atlanta on Aug. 24.