Being 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.”
The 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.