A look from Chiara Kruza.

LOS ANGELES — Five years ago, Stephanie Boye, pregnant with her first child, was frustrated with the maternity clothes available to her.<BR><BR>"The collars were always high and really unflattering,'' she said. "I thought it would be nice to see...

LOS ANGELES — Five years ago, Stephanie Boye, pregnant with her first child, was frustrated with the maternity clothes available to her.

“The collars were always high and really unflattering,” she said. “I thought it would be nice to see a bust.”

After her daughter, Chiara, was born, Boye joined a fledgling cadre of mother-entrepreneurs looking to change the maternity category.

She hired a patternmaker and, instead of hiding the growing belly bulge, she framed it with strapless tops with ties that cinch under the abdomen and pants that ride low, instead of up and over. All were designed to make pregnant women look and feel sexy and glamorous.

She took her first samples to Baby Style, and the online retailer ordered 30 units of each of six styles on the spot. “I had to figure out everything from there.” Boye filled the order with a $10,000 wedding gift and launched Chiara Kruza.

The 40-look fall-winter collection and 15-piece holiday group wholesales from $30 to $45. The recent revolution in maternity fashion prompted Boye to shave prices — and it has benefited the brand. The company had retail sales of $2.5 million in 2004. Sales are anticipated to grow by 60 percent in the next year, particularly with the addition this fall of an e-commerce site and nursing bras.

“I’ve listened to mid-America,” Boye said.

Chiara Kruza counts among its fans famous mothers such as Cate Blanchett, and that has helped boost its retail base. “When Middle America sees stars pregnant and sees cute clothes on pregnant stars, Middle America wants the same thing,” Boye said.

The competition has grown more fierce, as Target and other mass marketers reinforce their maternity areas with trendier styles.

“But I don’t feel like it affects what I represent in the marketplace,” Boye said. “We all have our own individual look and feel.”

Last fall, Chiara Kruza introduced basics. These simple but flattering pants and tops now will become staples of the line. And because the collection includes maternity versions of clothes that women like to wear when they aren’t pregnant, the designs transition well into the months after pregnancy when new mothers are still losing their birth weight.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The girls I work with wear them every day because they ride low and are knits, so they can wear them from no belly to huge,” Boye said.

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