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Norma Kamali is on a mission to empower women.
This story first appeared in the May 24, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“It’s not the Seventies feminist movement anymore. We need to help change behavior so that all women can be successful and wonderful partners,” said Kamali, chief executive officer and designer of Norma Kamali Inc., during a panel — moderated by Christopher West, partner and managing director of Marvin Traub Associates — where key themes included entrepreneurship and empowerment. “I was this big red lipstick girl with red nails [before 9/11]. I thought I’d die with red lips and nails.”
Alongside Kamali sat Claire Chambers, founder and ceo of lingerie store Journelle, and Michael Kaplan, cofounder and ceo of plus-size fast-fashion retailer Fashion to Figure. All three are on a mission to empower women, whether it be through highly trained sales associates and customer service or products at an approachable price point (Fashion to Figure has an average $50 price point, and everything in Kamali’s Kamali Kulture line retails for less than $100).
Chambers agreed with Kamali, noting that beauty from the inside out is one of the fundamental beliefs of the three-store company she founded in 2007. Obsessed with lingerie since the age of 14, she found herself in a department store lingerie section after outgrowing Victoria’s Secret “simply because there was no other place to go.”
It was at this time that Chambers decided to create a Sephora for lingerie, a multibrand, omnichannel lingerie company that she describes as a beautiful environment that curates the best designers and provides great service. She said the store’s mission is to give women the first thing they put on every day — and to make them feel good about themselves. She witnesses firsthand how hard women are on themselves and said shopping for lingerie is often a “hyper-emotional” experience.
“There’s not a woman who can’t be taken down by a bad hair day, but when she feels good about herself, she’s invincible,” said Kamali.
For Kaplan, who cofounded Fashion to Figure in 2002 (and is also the great-grandson of Lena Bryant’s plus-size clothing chain Lane Bryant), the fashion and retail channel hadn’t caught up with the revolution of self-image. A real market for fast fashion in this space stems from consumers “not wanting to hide from a mainstream fashion experience.”
“[We have] fast fashion price points — [like] Topshop or H&M for large sizes. It’s an intimate store experience — a high-touch experience with personal stylists in a contemporary, trendy environment,” Kaplan said of the stores, where clothing starts at size 12.
Customer service is equally important for Journelle. Chambers said it’s the foundation of her company, and all sales associates undergo three weeks of training, followed by three weeks of on-floor training.
“Service consultation not only drives transactions but helps customers get the right products,” said Chambers. “We surveyed women about shopping for lingerie, and one thing I didn’t realize until our second year in business is that the number-one element that defined whether a woman had a great or poor experience was the service she received.”