In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
Aimee Cheshire, founder of plus-size online shop Hey Gorgeous, always knew she wanted to work in fashion, but that the straight-size category wasn't for her. With a college degree in psychology, Cheshire was always drawn to "that moment of confidence that you get when you put on a great piece of clothing." She moved from Virginia to New York City, where she earned another degree in fashion merchandising from LIM College, which led to internships with stylist Patti Wilson and a plus-size company called One Stop Plus, formerly known as Full Beauty.
"I really got a good idea of how big companies address this woman and the sort of limitations that they work within," remembers Cheshire of One Stop Plus, where she eventually landed a full-time job. But, she found herself craving more when it came to creating new products. (According to Cheshire, One Stop Plus collections were based more on market data than high-fashion trends.) By 2009, she left her job and started the service-oriented fashion blog Madison Plus. "My take was showing women how to use what was available at the time to get the celebrity looks or trends of the moment," she explains. She launched an e-commerce offshoot called Madison Plus Select, which she later rebranded to Hey Gorgeous, offering an exclusive range of designers from sizes 8 to 24.
At the Hey Gorgeous showroom in New York City's Garment District, where customers can try on and purchase items (it's also the company's HQ and distribution center), we chatted with Cheshire about how she gets brands to expand their sizing for her site, her growing fleet of showrooms and a new business venture that will launch in April.
How do you find the brands that you offer on Hey Gorgeous?
When I was launching Hey Gorgeous, there were about five companies who were able to sell to me. In an industry where we represent about 60 percent of the population and to really be able to pull from five to eight brands is kind of insane to me. But they come to me through relationships or sending their line sheets and catching my eye. I go to small fashion shows or boutiques that I like. That's what happened with one of our brands Line & Label. They're based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and I started talking to the owner Kate and she made a line for us and it's done really well. It's just trying to find the people who are open to expanding their size range and also having the ability to do small production, which is key for us.
I'll also go to Coterie and Intermezzo and basically ask everyone who has things that I like if they're willing to do plus-size. We've gotten really creative with some of the brands who don't normally think they could have this customer. Lauren Moshi, her larges run huge, and so we've taken that and called it one size and it generally fits sizes 12 to 18.
When you're picking out clothing, what exactly do you look for?
I like items that are well-made and well-tailored. I want to find people who have a really good technical design background and know how to grade for sizing. Because that's usually where it all comes apart — once [designers] start getting into the higher sizes, the dimensions and proportions all fall apart and stuff just doesn't fit. In the end, fit is the most important thing when it comes to our clothing. The most successful brands that we find work with a size 18 fit model, versus an 8 or a 10, because with the plus body, things change and it's not the traditional hourglass and there are so many more variations. If you work from a size 18, you have a stronger idea of how to fit the item.
Are there any designers or brands that have caught your eye recently?
[Aysegul Ilter of] Shegul is one incredibly talented designer. She worked at Maiyet and her items are stunning and beautifully made with thoughtful details. Another exciting brand that we're exclusively offering is Persona by Marina Rinaldi. It's probably the highest-end brand in plus and it's just a huge success. So many women come to us now wanting those pieces. We also offer Slink Jeans, which are $98 each and from the founders of Joe's Jeans.
What's the price range for your site?
We start in the high $50 range for a top and we've charged up to $600 for a cape coat. We had a beautiful cape from Persona and it sold out like that, which just proves that stereotypes of plus women not wanting to spend money on clothes is totally wrong. If we're willing to spend $600 on a novelty item, then that shows the power of this market. They say it's a $17B market currently but I believe it's [potentially] more than a $100B market because most of that money has been spent on $9.99 tops, very budget items.
Tell us about your showroom in New York City.
We've had over 60 people come from all around the world, mostly New York-based, and they shop in our showroom with us. They spend two to three hours here and we put together a tailored rack of what they want and should try on. A lot of women haven't tried on the brands that we offer. So we get them in a piece from Persona or Shegul or Ply, and they put it on and the bells go off. They come out of the fitting room going, 'I've never been able to wear an item like this before.' Seeing that over and over again is the most powerful thing that could happen to me and for the company.
Are you considering a brick-and-mortar location in the future?
One of our main initiatives for this year is to open up little showrooms in a couple of spots in the country. Initially we were focusing on our big markets — Los Angeles and Chicago — but we've had some interest in secondary markets like Charlotte, NC, too. It'll be great to get out of New York City and get to where most women are.
Do you have anything else exciting coming up?
We're launching our private label of T-shirts in April. One of the great things about being a multi-brand retailer is that you learn where the holes are in the market. T-shirts are the hardest thing. There was no such thing as a beautiful modal T-shirt with a great neckline, and so that's what we're starting with.
We really hope to grow that portion of the business because we can really make a difference with offering fabulous, well-made basics. It was nice to exercise that muscle that I developed while working at One Stop Plus and be able to do what I wanted versus what fit in the guidelines.
This interview has been edited and condensed.