Like many companies, Exclusively Kristen was born out of personal need. Its founder couldn't find professional looking clothing to fit her larger bust.
Most clothing stores don't carry "big boob-friendly" clothing. Often a woman with larger breasts can't even find a button down shirt that doesn't gap at the front. And if something fits in the bust, it's often too big everywhere else.
Today's blog spotlights a newcomer in the clothing market: Exclusively Kristen. You'll find out how its founder, Kristen Allen got her start and what keeps her going, in spite of business challenges. There's also some personal wisdom in the interview on how to deal with sexism and challenging people in the business world.
Kristen Allen Founder & President, Exclusively Kristen
How long has the brand been in business and what was the impetus for launch:
Exclusively Kristen launched in 2014. I had the idea for a full bust fashion brand since high school due to my own frustration with shopping as a full bust woman. Clothes either looked inappropriate or were just plain ill-fitting. Prior to starting Exclusively Kristen, I worked in higher education administration. I worked with a lot of students and I heard through the grapevine that one commented that I dressed like an old lady. While the comment was mean-spirited, I felt like there was a grain of truth, but finding professional, stylish clothes that flattered my body was nearly impossible. As a full bust woman, I was relegated to knit pull-overs and cardigans, especially in the winter. As a go getter, instead of lamenting, “Why can’t brands make clothes for my boobs?” I decided, “Why can’t I make clothes for my boobs?” And Exclusively Kristen was born.
What makes it different or unique in the apparel market? What’s the niche you are trying to fill?
The difference between Exclusively Kristen and other mainstream brands is that our clothes are specifically tailored to fit DD+ women. There are four main issues that Exclusively Kristen apparel addresses. First, the dreaded tent look: flowy or fitted dresses/shirts tend to be pushed out by larger busts, which makes the wearer look 15 pounds bigger and pregnant. Second, Gaping button downs: if a busty woman buys her size, the buttons look like they are holding on for dear life but if she buys a few sizes larger, she gets the dreaded tent look. Third, Too short empire waists: this style never fully covers full busts so there’s either too much cleavage or the underbust band sits at the nipple line. Last, peek-a-boo tank tops: there’s either too much cleavage or bra straps are exposed.
Classic Short Sleeve Shirt in Black
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is any full bust woman who is tired of frustrating shopping experiences. Busty women have to try on dozens of shirts and dresses in one fitting just to find one that looks tolerable (not good, just tolerable).
In the last year, Exclusively Kristen has held a lot of pop-up shops throughout the USA and one in Canada. Customers from young women starting college to grandmothers look so confident in Exclusively Kristen apparel. The company even posted photos on Instagram. What people immediately notice in the photos is that no matter if she’s a size 6 or a size 20, Exclusively Kristen apparel is figure-flattering. The women in the photos exude confidence and joy because they finally have a shirt or dress that makes them feel good. They also feel sexy because they’ve finally found a garment designed for a body like theirs. It is reflected all over their faces and how they pose.
What’s been your greatest business challenge in establishing your brand, other than raising funds to launch?
As much as we’d like to think that we’ve progressed as a society in terms of how women business owners are treated, there’s still a long way to go. When I reach out to manufacturers and fabric/trim suppliers, I’ve found that men (not all, of course) who either owned or worked for these companies tended to act indifferent towards me and my business, even going so far as to cut meetings short and shoo me away.
One particularly egregious incident occurred when I reached out to a button supplier. My contact was an older gentleman in his 60’s who, at first, was very nice. However, he got nasty and condescending when...wait for it...I asked for an invoice outlining total costs. How dare I, silly woman, not blindly hand over the company’s credit card information without knowing the “what” and “how much.” Needless to say, I politely told him that I was no longer interested and thanked him for his time. (I was seething, but I’m a professional.) Even though that supplier was the only one, after looking high and low, that had the exact buttons and quantity that I needed. I refuse to work with someone who lacks respect and professionalism. I vowed to search harder or just change the buttons to a different style before allowing someone to disrespect me or my company.
Interestingly, a trusted colleague, who’s been in the fashion business for some time, highly recommended that infamous button company after hearing my laments about not being able to find copper buttons in small quantities. Upon hearing the story of the nasty employee, my colleague gave me the name of a different employee to contact. If Mr. Mansplain had been the owner, I wouldn’t have contacted them again; however, I saw it as an instance of a rogue employee with a serious need for an attitude adjustment and a reassessment of how he treats young women business owners. The new contact was professional and the transaction went smoothly. My advice is to never allow someone to treat you or your business in a disrespectful manner. How you start a business relationship is how you will finish it.
Is there anything you find frustrating about the fashion industry of which consumers have no clue?
Long manufacturing wait times are the most frustrating part about the fashion industry. I had a pop-up shop in Texas and a new mom wanted a fun shirt to accommodate her fluctuating breast size. She liked the polka dot short sleeved button down shirt. However, 14 was the largest size I had in stock, which was slightly too small for her (the silhouette was beautiful and I knew that one size bigger would look exquisite). I told her that I’d have a size 16 made for her but it would take a few months. She looked a little surprised that one shirt would take so long, but this is standard. It took exactly 3 months for her to get her shirt. She was so wonderful and patient, and I made sure to give her periodic updates on the status of her shirt.
There are a few reasons why it takes so long to manufacture. One is that the good factories work with lots of brands, so the queues are long. I was even told by a few highly recommended factories that they were not accepting new clients. The other reason is specific to small companies. The smaller your order, the more insignificant. Your order will keep getting pushed aside so that they can take care of their bigger clients. For example, one factory located in the Midwest was taking months to make one of my samples. I finally told them that I can no longer wait and to please forward my patterns and fabric to another factory. As I mentioned before, how you start a business relationship is how you finish it. I should’ve worked with a different factory the second they started ignoring my calls and emails.
Where do you want the brand to be in the next ten years?
In 10 years, I want to have at least one Exclusively Kristen brick and mortar store. If the store is located in a city that doesn’t have adequate full bust lingerie options, the store will sell DD+ bras as well.
What is the one thing you want customers to know about the brand?
Exclusively Kristen doesn’t just sell clothes, it sells comfort, peace of mind, and confidence. Full bust women no longer have to worry about wardrobe malfunctions, constant adjusting, and time-consuming bobby pin and double-sided tape placements.
Exclusively Kristen Recap:
Styles: Exclusively Kristen offers apparel tailored to DD+ women. Shirts, blouses, and dresses are made of quality fabrics and excellent craftsmanship and are made to last.
Price Range: $20-$149
Where to buy: At Broad Lingerie located in Toronto, Canada or direct from the website.
What do you think of Exclusively Kristen full bust fashions? If you wear a DD+ size, what drives you crazy about buying clothes?