Sometimes, you enter a business because you're passionate about the industry; other times, you enter the family business.
But for Fashion to Figure co-founder and CEO Michael Kaplan, entering the plus-size apparel industry really wasn't a choice. As the great-grandson of Lane Bryant founder Lena Bryant, who kicked off the plus-size apparel business, he spent his formative years meeting plus-size shoppers and listening to their problems. When it came time to embark on his own career, he wanted to pick up where his great-grandmother left off, and Fashion to Figure was born. (He might have entered the family business, but Kaplan's father sold Lane Bryant in the early '80s.)
"I think they've been treated so poorly," he explains of his passion for plus-size customers. Even the name, Fashion to Figure, is an ode to his great-grandmother, who once told Glamour magazine, "You should never ask women to conform their figures to fashion, but rather bring fashion to the figure."
The store operates on a fast-fashion track; its closest counterpart is probably Forever 21, a retailer that offers a variety of low-priced clothes and accessories that it refreshes frequently. Fashion to Figure offers sizes 12 through 26, and most of its items clock in under $40. The company has also tapped a team of buyers from high-end retailers like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, many of whom don't come from a plus-size background, to find product.
But if other retailers are the hare, popping into the plus-size industry to take advantage of a rapidly growing market, Fashion to Figure is the slow-and-steady tortoise: In the 10 years since its debut, it has opened just under 30 stores across the country, choosing to focus instead on building a strong base on excellent customer service. "My favorite part of the business, where we're most driven, is the passion part," Kaplan says. "I know mass market stores don't typically have this white-glove treatment, but this customer deserves it."
So Fashion to Figure focuses first and foremost on creating an elevated in-store experience. By investing in his retail associates -- who are called "stylists" -- Kaplan creates a unique experience for his customers. And then the stores themselves are designed to feel more high-end than fast fashion. "Our fitting rooms are these big women's boudoirs, it's a really plush, aspirational place," Kaplan explains. "Our customer, she's been so relegated, somebody who has been conditioned to expect the worst, she deserves this experience."
This focus on creating an in-store experience does mean that digital has been slow; the website is far from perfect, but improvements are in the works. Kaplan is savvy to the fact that his business needs to grow into the digital market. "It's naive to think in today's landscape that you don't have to become an expert in the digital landscape," he says. "You have to do what your customers want you to do."
As the plus-size market expands, Kaplan is glad that the customer has more options than she did when he launched Fashion to Figure. With retailers like Asos Curve and Eloquii offering plus-size customers trend-driven options on a fast fashion model, however, the company may need to sharpen its offerings (like Forever 21, not everything that Fashion to Figure sells is particularly stylish). Still, with 10 years in the industry -- and a lifetime with the customer -- under his belt, Kaplan is confident that Fashion to Figure has what it takes to stick around.
"For me, this business is our DNA," he says. "I don't know who else is coming along and innovating or providing something to that level or to that degree, but I am glad there's more out there."