Around these parts, we like to learn about and from people who are running their own businesses – business we love and admire, and the women who are running shit behind the scenes. This week’s interview is with Melanie Love, who created a clothing line called Front Room for women who have trouble finding work-appropriate and well-fitting attire. She’s also an activator for SheEO, a group that supports female-lead ventures to address the systemic underfunding of women-lead business, despite making up more than 50 percent of the start-ups in Canada! We ask her about the importance of good clothing and why it’s so damn hard for women to find what they need in the fashion world – and I guarantee you will feel smarter after reading what Melanie has to say. Here we go:
milieu: Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m the least likely designer ever; I have no background in fashion. I come from finance—I was a chartered financial analyst and I worked on Bay street. I came into this business because I was tired of wearing clothes that didn’t fit properly or that needed extensive re-engineering. On Bay Street, I was working alongside men in ten-thousand dollar suits and I was wearing something that’s two sizes too big and held together by pins. So in 2011, I decided to do something about it. I waited for a while to see if someone else would first, but no one did, so I took it on.
milieu: Why do you think it’s still so hard for women with larger busts (or any women, really) to find clothes that fit them properly?
I don’t know. How is it possible that this is an ignored market segment? There are a couple theories, though: one, women in general are bustier than they used to be. And honestly, there is still a prevailing “skinny bitch” –for lack of a better term—attitude in fashion. A lot of fashion is meant to be aspirational. It’s not about who we are, it’s about the skinny people that we (supposedly) aspire to be.
milieu: How did you educate and prepare yourself to start your own business?
I’m a research analyst so I did my research and read a lot of books, like Fashion for Profit by Frances Harder. I used contacts in my search for a pattern maker; I went to tradeshows and met people and made connections, including people who could help me source fabric, which is generally a tough thing for manufacturers. My first pattern maker was in Calgary, then I had a bunch in New York/New Jersey which meant lots of travel back and forth, but eventually I hunted and found someone good locally again.
milieu: How do you promote your work?
I didn’t really promote the line. Manufacturing in Canada is tough – right now the factories are full of big U.S. orders, so smaller companies and smaller orders can be pushed back. I had an order that was ten weeks late, which is basically an entire season behind; I learned that as a smaller manufacturer you have to be way ahead of the big guys. It’s basically just been some social media, the website, and great organic word-of-mouth. It’s hard because all of our online search keywords are about being busty – so we’re basically competing with porn!
milieu: What’s next? Do you plan to make your products available in more shops? An expanded range of offerings, perhaps?
I actually hate shopping – I prefer to buy online, but this line really has a fit that has to be seen to be believed. And I know lots of women prefer to touch and feel and try things on; especially this group, who are already skeptical about finding something that fits them properly. So I’ve been doing lots of pop-up events so women can try things on and really have their “wow” moment. We offer tops and dresses for now, but folks are asking for skirts, pants, jackets…we’ll see.
milieu: What are your best selling items currently?
The best-selling piece is our miracle knot front top style, and we have three new colours for fall. We also have the cap sleeve that’s really popular in new colours.
milieu: Having clothes you feel good in is important, perhaps especially in a work environment. Why do you think that is?
The “why” of starting this company is this: I’m doing it for her. The customer who wants to feel good about herself and comfortable in her clothes. When people are dressed well, they stand up straighter, their eyes are brighter…they even make more money! We have enough to worry about in the workplace without worrying about our clothes. I want her to show up at work and be who she wants to be. I had a lady hug me at my first pop-up and say, ‘thank you for including me in the fashion conversation for the first time.’ And you know, we’re not for everyone. I would rather have a small tribe of fiercely devoted than try to please everybody.
milieu: Is there anything you’d do differently if you could go back?
I sometimes have a problem with doing too much at once; I’d work on six top sketches instead of perfecting one first and letting that inform the others. I tend to overcommit to fabric purchases. Occasionally I bite off more than I can chew, but I guess I’ll just have to chew faster!
milieu: Any advice for would-be business owners?
Be yourself. We get so concerned about being professional, but showing your unique story is important so people can relate to you and see that you’re human. Let people see who you are, flaws included. No one wants to hear that you’re perfect. And don’t be afraid to promote your work!