by Elizabeth Wellington
Many people think women over, say, a size 12, really couldn’t care less about style.
So they come to the erroneous conclusion that women of a certain size simply don’t like to shop.
Because of that, most consignment stores and vintage-clothing boutiques don’t like to accept lightly worn blouses, trousers, blazers, and bathing suits in bigger sizes, leaving many women who would like to trade in their size-16 skinny jeans for a strapless floral maxi totally bummed.
Enter Curve Conscious, a consignment store that sells and resells contemporary clothing — as in not vintage — in sizes 12 to 24.
“When I saw this store was opening, I was so excited,” said Karissa Patberg, a 32-year-old teacher from Philadelphia who was leaving Curve Conscious with a white Bisou Bisou Maxi, size 14. “I would go to other stores in the area with my clothing, and they would look at me with their noses all up and say, ‘We don’t take that.’ ”
This week, Curve Conscious is celebrating its one-year anniversary, and its racks are packed with trendy pieces from online stores like Eloquii, as well as affordable Gap basics. Many of the items have tags on them. I saw a blue-and-green floor-grazing wrap maxi from Quum for $16 that I really wanted.
“All women who aspire to wear stylish clothing should have a place to shop, a place where they feel comfortable,” said Adrienne Ray, Curve Conscious’ 34-year-old owner, who wears between a size 12 and 16. “We are fly, and we are stylish. And we should have options: florals, sheers, all of it.”
It’s clear that Ray, once a copywriter for Bank of America, believes in her core flyness. On this recent Friday afternoon, she’s wearing a chili-pepper-red Old Navy frock. Her naturally curly bob is defying 90-degree heat. She begins her story in super-corporate tones, but the longer she talks, the more bubbly she gets.
There are a handful of similar stores throughout the country, including popular Two Big Blondes in Seattle. However, aside from Abundant Style, a department-store-brand consignment store in Doylestown set to close at the end of May, Curve Conscious is the only one of its kind in the Philadelphia area. And, Ray says, her Brewerytown location is slowly emerging as a gathering space for the city’s most fashionable women. That night, PlusSizeMePlz, a local event-planning company, sponsored a wine, cheese, and shopping party at the store.
Still, Ray is acutely aware of the challenges. Women’s brick-and-mortar retail is suffering. To date, Ray has invested about $20,000 — $10,000 from her own savings, plus a $10,000 grant from the Enterprise Center — and she has yet to turn a profit. To make ends meet, Ray drives for Lyft when she’s not working at the store.
Still, says Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, Curve Conscious has potential, especially in an up-and-coming neighborhood, because it taps into issues millennials find important, such as affordability and sustainability.
In 2015, Ray decided she wasn’t passionate about her work as a copywriter. She was, however, passionate about clothing. And finding affordable clothing in her size — that she also liked — had always been a challenge.
When she was a kid, her mother ordered her clothes from the husky section of the J.C. Penney catalog. It wasn’t until she began shopping at Old Navy that she had the same looks her friends had, a big deal to a teenager who wanted to fit in.
As she got older, she eschewed mall staples like Torrid, Lane Bryant, and the Avenue for online-only stores like Eloquii. She has also found inspiration in fashion bloggers like GabiFresh — yes, big girls can wear bikinis — and Nadia Aboulhosn. Even Ashley Graham is inspiring to her, although she finds the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model more aspirational than realistic.
Then one day, she realized she had lots of clothing in her closet that was barely worn, as shopping for clothes in her size is about trial and error.
“Even women who wear a size-16 pant sometimes just don’t get around to wearing the pants,” Ray says. “Then what does she do? Does she just give it away? She should have a chance to make some money, too.”
In 2015, Ray began visiting Pennsylvania consignment shops and buying their larger-size clothes with the dream of opening her own store. She put out a call on Facebook to collect pieces as well. These days, women bring in bags of clothing that Ray pays for in cash. Consignors get one-third the retail price or a 50 percent store credit.
Desiree Easter of Mantua is a shopaholic who likes to wear her outfits only once, max twice. So, basically, after her friends see her in anything on social media, she’s ready to give it up. The 32-year-old would usually just give her clothes away. But now she stops by a few times a month to drop off items she knows she won’t wear anymore.
“I like to take the cash,” said Easter, a solid XL. Two of her summer dresses were on display as she picked up her money. “Then I can just shop around and get something new. It’s a win-win for me. Before this, I never played in the consignment world before.”
Curve Conscious is at 2719 W. Girard Ave., 215-309-3400.