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B & Lu: If you design it, they will come

4th December 2007

B & Lu: If you design it, they will come

B&LuBeing the fashion-unsavvy simpleton that I am, I had never heard of B & Lu until Kate started singing their praises.

But, according to an article in the StarTribune, it appears as if I’m in the minority. In eight years, the company has gone from one order a day to bringing in almost $1 million annually.

B&Lu owners and sisters Chris and Lucie Sholl started the labor of love in 2000. The company originally began as Benina&Lu, a reference to the sisters’ childhood nicknames for one another.

The company’s background is truly a case of women hoisting themselves up by their stylish bootstraps; the sisters went from waitressing nightly to make ends meet while running the business out of Chris’ home, to finally buying a place for it in St. Paul.

But perhaps most curious is this: Neither of the Sholl sisters are plus-size.

The Sholl sisters, rather, displayed an amazing sense of business acumen in realizing the underrepresentation of the growing plus-size market. As they tell it, when the sisters started their clothing company, plus-size women’s fashion had two categories — frumpy or pricey.

Their clothes are fun rather than frumpy, inexpensive rather than pricey, they say. But they’ve gone further: “It’s boutiquey style,” Lucie Sholl said. “It’s one-of-a-kind things you can’t find anywhere, much less in a size 5X.”

The designs are theirs, sometimes tweaked versions of styles they’ve seen elsewhere. Everything carries their label.

The biggest learning curve came early. The sisters ordered some skimpier items they were unsure would be popular, such as tanks with spaghetti straps, and some tube tops. And they sold — well.

“Just because you’re plus-size doesn’t mean you want to blend in,” Lucie Sholl said. “Or maybe you do want to blend in — but with cool, hip-looking people.”

B&Lu modelThe sisters not only recognized a niche market that needed filling, they also appeal to plus-size shoppers by using truly plus-sized models. Because the shop is exclusively online, using models that better represent its demographics allows customers to see realistically how B&Lu clothes might appear on them.

Most plus-size models are a size 10 or 12, “but we don’t even sell clothes that size,” Chris Sholl said. So the models featured on the site range from a 1X, size 14/16, to a 3X, size 22/24.

And B&Lu prices are competitive with stores like Lane Bryant. A top might sell for $24 to $46; jeans from $24 to $46. An average customer spends $90 to $100 an order, which might be two to four items.

Plus-size shoppers are so used to having to settle for fashion: We settle for second- and third-rate selections not because we like them, but because they fit. We passively accept that the hottest styles of the season will not be offered in our size. We weakly protest when stores remove plus-sizes entirely from their stores, and vanquish them to the anonymous netherlands of the internet.

So, here’s a chance to put our collective buying power to action. By patronizing fat-friendly stores like B&Lu, we are making not only a fashion statement, but a political one, too.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2007 at 12:44 pm and is filed under Body Image, Fashion, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 16 responses to “B & Lu: If you design it, they will come”

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  1. 1 On December 4th, 2007, Kate Harding said:

    You know, the main designer for Igigi isn’t plus-sized, either. Kudos to them for having the business sense to recognize and respect an underserved market. Especially since there are so many “straight” designers who are plus-sized themselves and can’t wear their own damn clothes, but still don’t want to sully their brand’s image with a fat girl line. *headdesk*

    B&Lu is also famous for semi-annual (I think) warehouse sales, where every single item is ridiculously cheap (like $3-$5). I haven’t managed to get to one yet, but at some point, I WILL plan a trip to Minneapolis to coordinate with one of those.

  2. 2 On December 4th, 2007, Chris said:

    These guys have some cool T-shirts for those of us who are not (and don’t want to be) size 0!
    http://www.cafepress.com/proudtobefat

  3. 3 On December 4th, 2007, Rachel said:

    Chris – I let the blatant spam go, despite my usual policy of deleting all spam related comments, because it’s ostensibly pro body-acceptance. But after looking at the shirts offered, I don’t see anything remotely funny or empowering about them at all. Most seem to just reinforce stereotypes of fat people, and one promotes animal cruelty.

    Perhaps you should rename the store “Proud to be a slothful glutton.”

  4. 4 On December 4th, 2007, Colleen said:

    Looks like “proud to be fat” is making the rounds today, huh? How gross.

    I’m eagerly awaiting a dress I ordered from b&lu a few days ago :D

  5. 5 On December 4th, 2007, Kate Harding said:

    Yeah, I deleted Chris’s blatant spam without even looking at it. Sounds like that was a good call.

  6. 6 On December 4th, 2007, Patsy Nevins said:

    I am glad that I am not the only one who recognized that those tees are not fat-positive or empowering but that they reinforce every stereotype about fat people & our ‘gluttonous’ appetites & of course the belief that we are fat because we eat huge amounts & prefer food to sex as well, apparently. I am an omnivore & do enjoy meat, but that tee is still offensive. I find it rather sad that someone went to all the trouble of setting up a cafepress store for no purpose other than to spread fat hatred. Though I have to admit, when I have searched Cafepress for fat positive tees, among the good ones they do have, they also show me many which say things about eating a lot & at least one design which proclaims, “I hate fat people.” Makes me wonder if they will actually print ANYTHING, & would print a shirt proclaiming such things as, “I hate black people” or “I hate Jews”, etc. I guess it is just considered okay & normal to hate fat people.

    And, back on topic, the B&Lu clothes look great, I will check out their site. Thanks for sharing.

  7. 7 On December 4th, 2007, Corinna said:

    I also removed that same post about the t-shirts. Looks like they just went through your blogroll!

    I have been writing a post about B&Lu after seeing that article in the Star Tribune and it is almost exactly what you posted! argh! Well…I’m glad someone did it. I love B&Lu! Great clothes, excellent prices, and now larger models. I have a crush I swear.

  8. 8 On December 4th, 2007, Rachel said:

    Haha, Corinna – great minds think alike!

  9. 9 On December 6th, 2007, Beth said:

    Thank you so much for this blog. I have looked at B&Lu and they have the cutest stuff. I can look cute and in style and not go broke. What a great find.

  10. 10 On December 6th, 2007, JP said:

    I LOVE b&lu. I’ve ordered several skirts, all beautifully funky, and (so far) one sweater-y cardigan. I get compliments all the time about these items of clothing. They are unique and well-made with quality fabrics and design. The patterns are a little retro, a little punk rock, and not at all matronly or mumu-like. And, the sizes are true. Kudos to the b&lu ladies for filling a gap felt by fashionable larger women!

  11. 11 On December 13th, 2007, Caro said:

    Wow, that’s so nifty! And I’m glad that they actually use real people who fit into their clothes! There are so many lovely plus-sized people out there who just don’t get the nice clothes they deserve. Clothes that fit makes for fabulousness! I’m um… Wonky-shaped (that’s the best description, really – I’m an odd collection of very small and very big parts) so nothing ever fits properly, but with more sizes available it’s easier to find something that fits reasonably.

    I wonder when they make fashion to fit tall women (*points to too-short sleeves, trouser legs and hems*). One thing at a time, I guess. Just gotta accept that the average woman is four to six inches shorter than me and buy unisex :P

  12. 12 On December 14th, 2007, Sandra Howard said:

    I am tall and about a size 22 ish, and I get some things at luxuriouslytall.com. A lot on there goes up to 22 or 24, it is a mixed bag.

  13. 13 On December 14th, 2007, Caro said:

    Oh wow, thanks Sandra! And they even ship to Norway. Wow :D I must check that out further.

  14. 14 On May 24th, 2008, Anna said:

    I just bought two dresses from B&LU and I love them! the cut is FAB and the style is very trendy! i have to say they stick to the actual sizes (there not junior plus sizes) so i noticed i got one of them a little on the extra roomy side! but I think the site is glorious and I want to say Thank you B&LU!!!! making real women look amazing isn’t that hard right!

  15. 15 On July 23rd, 2009, Elle McPherson weights in on plus-size clothes, feminism » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] wear a size -14 or higher indicates a hefty long-term return on investment.  Just look at the Chris and Lucie Scholl.  The entrepreneurial sisters, neither of whom are plus-size themselves, recognized that the [...]

  16. 16 On January 27th, 2010, Tanya said:

    One of the sisters of B&Lu just opened up her own online shop for plus-size fashions. I was a fitting model for some of her launch clothes and they are really cute. If you liked boutique-style clothing of B&Lu but you’re ready for something a little different, you should check out Lucie Lu at lucielu.com.

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