Lauren Chan, founder and CEO of newly launched Henning, dropped several truth bombs about the accessibility of fashion for women above a size 12 throughout our interview, but one stuck out above all others: "I was working in fashion, but I couldn't get dressed." Chan moved to New York City almost 10 years ago, when size inclusion was not in the fashion zeitgeist as much, if at all, as it is today. She cut her teeth writing for publications like Italian Vogue before settling into the role of fashion features editor at Glamour.
"I had these amazing peers who were able to wear current season designer clothes and I was shopping at Forever 21 and Asos, which were great for me at the time, but not for the environment I was in," Chan says. "I had really important meetings and high-brow events to go to. I would speak on panels and even appear on 'Good Morning America' and the 'Today' show and it was important for me, at least in those moments, to look put-together and look like the fashion features editor for one of the biggest fashion magazines. I always wanted one awesome power suit and one great dress that I could wear to an event and not be self-conscious about being photographed in."
In her three years at Glamour, Chan covered women's wear and had a personal beat of plus-size fashion, but she finally hit a point where she wanted to shift her focus: "I wanted to serve the reader who was above a size 12 but felt like I'd done all I could do as an editor through creating content and I wanted to do something more," she says. "This is deeply personal and an issue I'd had throughout my whole career." As a result, she launched Henning, a plus-size label — focused on office-friendly garments — that has been receiving buzz as early as last year and officially became available to shoppers on Tuesday.
The move from editor to designer still presented a steep learning curve for Chan, who recalls her extensive research to make informed business and design decisions, from speaking with founders and focus groups to knocking on doors in New York City's Garment District to get advice from pattern-makers. One major breakthrough came from Henning's social media presence and email marketing, which was launched about six months ahead of the brand's official debut. The extra time allowed Chan to learn firsthand what her (future) customers loved and hated about fashion, as well as what they were missing from their closets.
"The best way to make size expansion a continued effort is to include women or customers above a size 12 in the process," Chan says. "I can't tell you the amount of times I've put a garment on with a brand with extended sizes where there are glaring issues with it and anyone who has been a plus-size person would have been able to tell that brand about it and correct it as soon as the design phase. It's as simple as that."
She goes on to describe several fit tricks in the clothes, such as secret buttons between regular buttons in a button-down shirt, re-enforced inner thigh seams so the pants are less likely to rip from thigh chaffing and even hidden elastic back-waists in some bottoms. Chan also notes that everything in the collection is made from material with some natural content, like stretch silk, poplin and stretch wool because her previous experience with plus-size pieces taught her that polyester and viscose both looked cheap and felt cheap in comparison.
While there have been some recent strides in inclusive fashion — the rise of made-to-measure brands and an increased call for plus-size options on social media, for example — creating well-made, fashionable pieces for curvy women has been a slow burn. Henning shares many statistics on its Instagram account and one notes that 68% of American women wear a size 14 or above, yet plus-size clothing makes up only 2.3% of the selection at major retailers. This raises the question: Why brands are so hesitant to design for a vastly underserved market?
"I think that it's the way it's always been done and it takes someone motivated from a personal and emotional place to take it upon themselves to fix this," Chan says. "There are not a lot of mainstream plus-size brands being run by plus-size women. It's a huge financial undertaking, there's a steep learning curve and the way that clothes are made doesn't favor larger sizes."
Chan and her team chose to produce Henning in New York City because of the accessibility. "I've never made clothes start to finish before and to have everything essentially in my backyard was the best for learning," says Chan. "I needed to be able to go to the factory when we were deciding what size buttons to put on something, look at the garment and talk to people who worked there. I also wanted to make the clothes here because of the level of craftsmanship and the ability to check in on pieces as they are being made, because Henning definitely fills a white space in contemporary high quality garments for plus-size customers."
Producing domestically does increase the price point, which for Henning is $250 through $995. But Chan doesn't believe that poses an issue. "The price point for Henning is not off balance in plus-size clothing and part of the reason that Henning sits at this price point is because of the quality of fabric that we're using," she explains. "We also wanted to tell this customer that she is worth investing in herself at this price point. We see her as a powerful, expensive and put-together woman."
See more of Henning's debut launch in the gallery below, and shop the brand's collection at henningnyc.com.