These Women Entrepreneurs Are Redefining Plus-Size Shopping in Philly

A slew of size-inclusive designers and business owners have started a homegrown fashion revolution.

Photography by Adam Barnard

The purpose of my trip to Target wasn’t to buy clothes — it never is. But I took a lap through the clothing section anyway, then hesitantly but hopefully toted my finds to the dressing room. The tunic-style cotton dress, which looked so airy on the rack, got stuck around my shoulders. The long-sleeve oxford shirt seemed promising until I got to the buttons, which gaped in a way that was definitely NSFW. I abandoned the jeans mid-thigh.

Sixty-eight percent of women wear a size 14 or above, but mainstream retailers simply don’t make clothes in sizes that will fit us. H&M tops out at a size 14, Forever 21 only offers a small selection of plus items in-store, Lane Bryant is dowdy and overpriced, and I’d have to travel to the suburbs to find a Torrid store — a popular if overly youthful plus brand. I’m a size 20, but even Target’s 3X women’s clothes don’t fit me.

Despite the huge economic potential, big brick-and-mortar retailers still aren’t serving my demographic. Instead, women like me are reduced to shopping online, which can be rather annoying. Not only do I have to pay for shipping, but I can’t run out on my lunch break to grab something new to wear on date night.

While Philly has never been known as an innovative fashion capital, it turns out that some savvy local entrepreneurs and creative makers are leading the way in this untapped space.

Three local female business owners — who happen to be plus-size shoppers themselves — are changing the Philly retail scene for the better. Adrienne Ray of Curve Conscious offers an ever-rotating inventory in sizes 12 through 28 at her consignment shop in Brewerytown. Over in East Falls, Mary Alice Duff designs size-inclusive (0-28), ethically sourced made-to-order apparel for her label, Alice Alexander — and manages a growing e-comm business serving customers as far away as New Zealand. And Imani Johann, founder of local size-inclusive, sex-positive brand Deviant Bodywear, creates unique, audacious leather pieces with a healthy dose of fat positivity.

This retail trend is making a big difference for Philly’s plus-size women, who can now shop in stores for clothes that actually work for them. The last time I was in a dressing room at Duff’s shop, I was dumbfounded to try on a vibrant marine tie-back wrap jumpsuit — a garment I’ve longed for for years — that fit flawlessly.

“I think body positivity and plus-size fashion are having a moment in our culture,” says Ray. “That’s created an opportunity for entrepreneurs in a place like Philadelphia, which is often not considered a fashion-forward city.”

She has a point: Philly is a town with an independent and homegrown streak a mile wide, so maybe it’s no surprise this movement is picking up steam locally rather than in more established couture capitals like New York or L.A. Here, we often don’t feel constrained by convention, and we’re not afraid to go after a good idea.

And that attitude just might be exactly what’s putting us ahead of the curve.