I deal with weight issues in every aspect of my life, I am overweight and I design and produce clothes for overweight women. There I have said it, and I didn’t cringe. It is what it is! So when I get asked this question ‘do you not get grossed out making clothes for fat women’…quoted exactly as said, I feel the need to clarify a couple of things and to address this issue.
I like to use the words Plus Size, when referring to my speciality. It has a neutral resonance.
No I don’t get grossed out at all, in fact the exact opposite, I am 1000 percent inspired, by my need to provide ranges of clothing that give plus size women, and in fact all size women, a range of clothing that is funky, fashionable and MOST importantly comfortable. I know that because I am a plus size myself, I really understand how it works.
Let’s play open cards here…none of us plus size women are going to be thin today, tomorrow or at the end of the month. We all battle our weight demons for different reasons. My sole purpose is to provide ranges of clothing that enable all shapes and sizes to feel fabulous…because, yes, believe it or not, us plus size chicks can feel fab, as long as we are comfortable, and are wearing clothing that we know have been genuinely designed with us in mind.
When I opened Hayley Joy I only sized up to a 3XL, within a year I had started doing a couple of the styles up to 5XL, and then I realized that, actually, there was a very, very urgent need for 6, 7 and 8XL. This is the true forgotten market, these women have minimal or no access to any kind of fashionable clothing. It is a challenge on many levels to produce fashionable clothing in these sizes, but I would not be complete and fulfilled if I was to ignore this market. I have invested many long hours in developing styles that allow me to grade up to these sizes and after years of investment it is now truly starting to pay off. It is the most awesome feeling to put a new range into production and add in those sizes, so that when those size clients come in to the store, there are ready to buy pieces in their sizes. I couldn’t ever explain the amount of gratitude I experience from these sizes, it is the most rewarding feeling in the world, to know that I am changing women’s lives by simply going the extra mile with them in mind. So no, I am not, ever grossed out making clothes for ‘fat women.’
This message from a client, is my ultimate reward and makes me so grateful to be able to make a living and a difference, whilst doing what I love sooooooooo much.
I’m of that age where the simplest, smallest thing makes me stop and reflect on the amazing world we live in.
I subscribe to many different business and fashion publications, and over the last couple of days all I’ve read about is doom and gloom in the retail sector. I agree that fashion retail is facing challenging times, but I still maintain that as long as humans have a heart and a soul, they are going to want to interact with other humans. I think the secret is in creating an environment that is unique, special, interesting and most importantly welcoming.
The world is so much smarter, and so much more convenient, and so many more people are shopping online. How do you stay afloat in these interesting times?
You assume nothing and you stick to what has always worked. For Hayley Joy, it’s a combination of respectful sizing and exceptionally respectful service.
I had a moment today when I sorted out the paperwork with the courier who collects our online parcels. He was busy filling in the waybill slips, and I stood looking at him, thinking to myself, that this man is the amazing conduit between my clients and I. He seamlessly arrives twice a day, picks up my parcels, and magically they are delivered the next day, all over the country. I’ve never really stopped to think how far we’ve evolved in seamless service. Back in the day you would pack a parcel, get in your car, drive to a post office, stand in a queue, book it in, and have no clue when it would reach its destination. Now I’m pretty much guaranteed that it will be there the next day.
Taking Hayley Joy online has been a very interesting experience, and the ease that online affords you, to reach clients who cannot physically come to the store, is the thing that has really excited me. For so many years I would get desperate emails from all over the country, begging for access to real Plus sizes.
Creating an online store wasn’t easy, because this is not a run of the mill product that you put online and wait for somebody to buy. I suddenly had to start convincing new clients, that my sizing is genuine Plus sizes. The trauma around the lack of decent Plus size clothing has inspired me to keep creating, to keep honouring and to keep flying the flag for genuine Plus sizes, and in this very smart world we live in, that dream becomes easier and easier to become a reality.
The smart world excites me and at 52 years old I am in the perfect position to take Hayley Joy to the next level, and debunk all the doom and gloom about retail. I’m so up for the challenge.
I get asked this question all the time…please open a shop in Pretoria, please open on the East Rand, West Rand, please open in Durban, Cape Town, P.E., Bloem, please open in London, Sydney, Germany, New York etc. etc. I get emails requesting agencies, and so it goes on. I’m going to attempt to explain the ‘why’ behind my decision…here goes…
I could never in my wildest dreams, have imagined how crazy things would become at Hayley Joy. I opened a store, in a small centre, doing something nobody else was doing. I set out to create a beautiful, safe space, that all the forgotten women out there, could claim as their own. Being Plus size myself, meant that I knew exactly what was needed. I also quickly realised, that the need for realistic regular sizes and odd sizes, was a very real need, so I went from setting out to open an exclusive Plus size store, to having a store that supplies all sizes. This decision has proved to be incredibly rewarding.
Not only do I have the store, I also have a full production facility, that supplies the store. Hayley Joy production, supplies Hayley Joy retail with 99% of it’s stock. I wear many hats at Hayley Joy, but my main job is to develop the shapes and styles, which are unique to Hayley Joy. I have developed a unique size curve, exclusive to Hayley Joy, based on true body measurements. This is what really sets us apart, the Hayley Joy, Plus size range, fits and flatters like a true Plus size range should. The Hayley Joy range is all about respect and honesty. I was determined that when you come shopping at Hayley Joy, there will be enough variety that will afford you choices, you won’t just have to buy something, because that’s all there is.
So to the dilemma of expansion. Because I wear so many hats at Hayley Joy, I have had to accept my limitations. I cannot be everywhere all the time. The two most important factors to me are the quality and styling of the garments. It takes a huge amount of my time to develop a new style, and I can never delegate this. A lot of the designs come together while I am working in the store. I’ll be chatting to a client and we’ll start thrashing out ideas and I will take that with me to production the following morning, and it’s there that my production manager Tina and I, will start planning a new concept. I’m hands on in production and am militant about quality. I never, ever waiver in my quest to put out beautifully designed, perfectly manufactured garments. It says so much about who and what Hayley Joy is about, good quality shows that we respect ourselves and our business. Once again time is a factor here. Because I insist on such stellar quality, our production is a bit slower, this means that unless I give work out, we can never open more stores. I have attempted to give work out, unfortunately it’s always a disaster, as the quality is never up to ‘my’ scratch. I have an awesome production unit and am really loathe to mess with it. It took a huge amount of input to get it to where it is today. There is such a fine line between growth and reality.
The reality is that I absolutely love what I do, I have more passion now than ever before. I want to always feel this way, and I honestly believe that the day it all becomes overwhelming, is the day I will stop loving what I do, and it will show in the final product.
In my search to find a way to offer Hayley Joy to women all over the world, I took Hayley Joy online, because this is an expansion that doesn’t require me to be too involved. All the background aspects are taken care of by a team, and I only get involved when I need to liaise with a client in connection with size. It will never be as effective as opening bricks and mortar stores, but it carries so many fewer risks, and it allows me to take care of what is most important, and that is constantly creating new styles and shapes, that fit and flatter all of us.
In a bold move, I opted to remove all the sizes from the labels in my garments, and replace them with shapes.
After many years on the shop floor at Hayley Joy, I felt that it was time for me to lead the way in eliminating body shaming, with dignity. I’ve spent many hours in one-on-one consultations and it always comes down to the same thing – low self-esteem – which isn’t helped by having to buy clothing with a 5XL, 6XL and 7XL label in it. Removing sizes from my garment labels, seemed the most obvious thing to do, after the umpteenth call from a client asking us to cut out the labels from their clothing, because their husband, son, son-in-law or boss were coming to collect on their behalf, and “they absolutely couldn’t have them see what size she is buying.” The final affirmation for me was when a client sent me a picture of a Hayley Joy garment belonging to her mom, that had the corner of the label cut out, where the size normally is.
I’m never one to play it safe, so I decided to go where no other clothing designer and manufacturer had really gone before. I allocated colours to the various sizes, and it felt so good to say you’re a yellow, or a pink, or a green. And then at 3am one morning, which is when my brain tends to decide to have it’s real moments, I woke with absolute clarity…I needed to have coloured labels with shapes. This would mean that instead of clients referring to their size as a 2XL, they become a pink heart (which is the new label for a 2XL HJ garment). As a shapely women, it made perfect sense to me, and I knew it would make perfect sense to my clients, and in turn, would eliminate the stress of a number in a label.
Many clothing brands have dropped the plus-size from the description of their ranges, and are seeing a marked increase in profits, but nobody has gone as far as removing sizes completely. Practically I think it’s difficult to remove sizes if you are a store carrying multiple brands. For Hayley Joy it makes perfect sense, because we manufacture all our collections in our own production facility, exclusively for our retail store. It’s easier for us to educate our present and future clients on how to buy the ranges. It also allows for us to demonstrate our respect for the issues around sizing. I’d spent months on the internet reading comments on anything Plus-size related, and the recurring gripe is this, “Why do we have to be labelled, why can’t we just be part of the consumer chain?”
I had given it much thought, and was in agreement. It was time to start offering fashion in all sizes, with no stigma. Hayley Joy is known as a Plus-size brand, but the reality is that we cater for all sizes. I have many clients who buy Hayley Joy small, because they like the styles and the look and feel. They are really not fazed by what size we go up to. In fact, they are often in awe, that there is a brand who is taking a small pattern, and sizing it all the way up to a 7XL.
As a small independent boutique, attempting to do something that radical, within the clothing space, was risky. But for me, I believe that the time was right for somebody to make a move in this very maligned area of fashion.
Plus-size clothing has a stigma, there is no denying it. I’m hoping that by making the changes and removing sizes completely, HJ has created a precedent, and at the same time, demonstrated to women out there, that somebody has taken heed of all the feedback, and come up with a fun, quirky way to limit the stigma and remove the trauma of shopping by size. I think we’ve been so fixated on size for so long, that we’ve forgotten that we have a shape too, and it’s our shape that defines the clothing we wish to wear.
I hope that this will revolutionise the way women are marketed to in fashion, globally. It’s time for women of all shapes and sizes to be honoured. I want this to become a global undertaking. We the designers, who are claiming to know a thing or two about Plus-size fashion, need to realise that our clients needs are not that complicated, they just want respectfully designed, well fitting, fashion forward clothing, without stigma around their size.
I want to be that designer who changed the way women of all sizes are marketed to. In my own small way, I hoped that this would revolutionise the way women were marketed to in fashion, globally. It was time for women of all shapes and sizes to be honoured. I wanted this to become a global undertaking. We the designers, who claim to know a thing or two about Plus-size fashion, needed to start realising that our clients needs are not that complicated, they just want respectfully designed, well fitting, fashion forward clothing, without stigma around their size. I believed that the first step in taking the trauma out of sizing…and the first step for Hayley Joy towards this, was to make fashion about a Shape, not a Size.
2016 was a year of learning for me. In my 52nd year I went back to school for the first time in 35 years. I chose to do an online digital marketing course with Getsmarter…yes me…the once VERY technologically challenged girl!
I ran my business and I studied for 10 very intense weeks, and I passed…proudly.
I learnt how to REALLY delegate. Yes me the one time control freak. And how did it feel I hear you asking, it felt sooooooo liberating. If you’re not good at it, try it, it is life changing. Hire right, my business coach Brent Spilkin from Growing Pains said, never a truer word spoken. Delegating allows you to dream big, and deliver even bigger.
I learnt how to take a random chance and I signed up for an online iPhone photography course, that has completely transformed my life. It has unleashed a creativity in me that I never knew was there. It has taught me patience, it’s taught me to be so much more observant, it’s connected me with some of the most amazing humans all over the world. It’s awoken my creativity on an explosive level.
I learnt how to expand my business without stretching myself thin. I took Hayley Joy online and have enabled women all over the world to have access to true Plus size fashion, designed by a genuine Plus size designer. To date we have not had one garment returned for a refund, and have only had two size changes. That is an enormous achievement in the online sales world.
So how do I top 2016 in 2017?
I go back to school to do an online graphic design course, to realise a 30 year dream, to design and print my own exclusive ranges of fashion fabrics. They say that the only way we are going to make it in business, going forward, is to stand out. I have every intention of taking my new found love and knowledge of photography, and creating collections of fabrics that have never been seen before. I am going to listen to the future predictors, and I’m sooooooo going to stand out. I want to be that girl that at 52 took on the world and did it her way.
I get really, really irritated when people tell me how lucky I am to have my own business, be my own boss, have my own choices blah, blah, blah. I’ve decided to become ‘unirritated’ and choose to accept that I’m incredibly blessed with luck. Blessed to do what I love, blessed to make a difference, and especially blessed to work with some of the most amazing women.
I’m going to be featuring some of those amazing women through 2017. I thought I should kick off the initiative by featuring a woman who inspires me, who makes me so proud to dress her, and a woman we should all know about because she embraces who she is…very proudly.
Mari Lee is the founder and CEO of DevCom, a company that prides itself on creating a direct link between effective communication, and achieving business objectives. Mari has 18 years experience in development, project management and strategic projects.
Dressing Mari is inspiring on so many levels. I’ve dressed her personally, I’ve dressed her team for corporate events, and every time I work with DevCom, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to have such grateful and loyal clients…and very lucky too!
Mari shared these photos with me, and has graciously consented to me sharing them with all of you.
I’m so proud of this incredibly rewarding shape. It allows me to accomodate all shapes and sizes, with the confidence that I need, to be able to convince my clients that I really do understand their needs.
So what exactly are the needs of a Plus size women? They’re actually pretty simple if you understand the requirements of a Plus size shape. Being Plus size myself, qualifies me to REALLY understand the needs.
When I started out designing this shape, the first thing that I created was a basic shape that had shape. In my experience on the floor in the store, I came to understand that we don’t put weight on in our shoulders, and we have a waist, yes we really do!
I’ve taken this basic shape and interpreted many different styles onto it, and I love the response that they all get. This past Saturday in the store, really affirmed for me, how perfect this shape is for my market. I’ve built shape into the waist, and given the tummy, hips and behind the correct amount of swing, in order to flatter all shapes.
My reward for the commitment to attempting to accomodate all shapes and sizes is the gratitude received from all of you who wear this wonderful style.
We have a variety of different styles of the Miracle Shape top in store, and online at www.hayleyjoy.com. I’m sharing some of my favourites with you.
It’s emails like this that make me so incredibly sad. I can only imagine the desperation, and then the guts to actually write and send this email. I still cannot believe that no other stores get the need for respectfully designed Odd and Plus sizes. Surely I cannot be the only designer, with her own weight issues, that gets it…that thought defies logic.
I am constantly pushing the design boundaries for Plus sizes, because the needs are very different to normal sizes, and you cannot think that you are just going to upsize normal sizes. When designing collections for Hayley Joy, I insist on incorporating styles for all occasions, because this is not the first email like this, and it certainly won’t be the last.
The good news is that T arrived, tried on two different styles, first one was definitely not right, second one was amazing. She shrank in front of my eyes. Her relief was inspiring, and so was her gratitude.
Being able to make a difference and make a living…once again, my gratitude knows no bounds.
I am so privileged to have my own factory. Manufacturing my own collections, allows me so many freedoms to do things that I would never be able to do, if I was bound to outsourced production.
I am able to respond to the needs in my retail store, as and when they occur. When I bought this range of prints, it was this red print that really stood out, and I knew it would sell out fast, I just didn’t expect it to sell out in a day!
I was lucky enough to be able to get more fabric, and the next morning, all other production was put on hold, and we cut another range of Miracle shape tops, and they were in store two days later. It still gives me goosebumps, 30 years later, that we can respond the way we do.
I often feel like a live in a fashion dream world, because in the real world you wouldn’t be able to repeat on demand. I have geared my production, so that there is always room to change the plan. I like that we can, it may not always make good business sense, but it sure keeps things interesting.
Walking into Hayley Joy production, is like walking into a sweet factory for me. Seeing the stock hanging on the rails is a moment I always cherish. I have a wonderful team, a beautiful working space and a job that I love with everything I have. I make clothes and I make a difference, my perfect combination.