Lauren Chan, a former plus-size model with Ford Models and a fashion features editor at Glamour, is making the leap into fashion design. She will launch an online plus-size collection called Henning on Sept. 3 on the brand’s web site, henningNYC.com.
Chan has worked on the business for over a year, having started her research in spring 2018. She did the designing herself and conducted focus groups in the beginning to see what people would like to buy.
For the fall launch, she is offering 10 styles in sizes 12 to 24. Fabrics come from the U.S., and everything is made in New York.
“It’s all very men’s wear inspired, which is a personal preference of mine,” said Chan, who herself is now a size 14, having been up to a size 20 in her life. While she has no formal design training, Chan designed the line for Glamour x Lane Bryant and did 10 collections. “That was my first foray into product,” she said.
The Canadian-born Chan was signed to Ford Models’ plus-size division right after she graduated from college. She also did freelance writing and several years later, landed at Glamour. She spent three years there as fashion features editor, and left in 2018, when the magazine industry was going through rough times, to pursue this.
Chan said she feels confident in her designs having had the experience of being plus size. “I really want elevated, well-made, work-ready garments that are designed and fit and engineered for plus sizes. All of our stuff is made in New York and is made of fabric with natural content, which is extremely hard to find in plus sizes,” she pointed out.
The impetus for the line came from her time working at Condé Nast from 2015 to 2018. She would be at meetings with her bosses there and they were dressed in current season designer labels and she’d be in Forever 21. “More than just feeling like you’re in a fast-fashion brand, the function of those clothes affects your work. If it’s rayon, your body odor is stuck in the fabric, even if you wash it, and you don’t want to put your hand up in a meeting. Or you’re pulling at your shirt in a meeting because the buttons are gaping,” she said. She also recalled she was on her way to her first cover interview when her pants ripped up the butt. She continued on to the interview.
“There are tangible effects of clothing not being well made. It’s not like you need to wear something at this level every day, but I just wanted one great suit for my very important meetings. I wanted one knockout dress to take from work to ‘Women of the Year ‘where I knew I would be photographed. And I didn’t have that. That’s what this is,” she said.
Now, when she makes a shirt, it’s poplin cotton, anti-wrinkle, and there are secret buttons inside the placket in between the normal buttons. “Because when you’re big chested, your button down will pull open when you sit in a board meeting,” she said. Another feature is inside the inner pant thighs, there’s a gel tape along the seams to prevent ripping along the seam from chafing. On the trench, there’s a self-fastening button to fasten the belt loop.
Asked whom she’s targeting with Henning, she said, “It’s a corporate creative, someone who works in an environment where they need tailoring.”
Among the looks are a trenchcoat, wide-leg trousers, a double-breasted suit, a green dress, a satin pants suit and a satin robe. The collection ranges from button-downs for $250 up to $800 for a trenchcoat. The sweet spot is the blazer, which is $400. A suit would be under $700. She’s also carrying For Days T-shirts on the site.
“We sit below Marina Rinaldi and 11 Honoré. We sit on par with a Theory, Tibi, Rag & Bone,” she said. She said Universal Standard is nailing basics. “They do a great denim, T-shirt dress, lovely essentials line….We’re not basics. It’s really tailoring. I think we complement each other really well,” she said.
She said she’s self-funded with a friends and family round. She has one employee: a director of brand development.
The brand has been teased on social media the last few months to build interest. After going on sale Sept. 3, Henning will be shown at Curvy Con Sept. 5 to 7 and on the West Coast in mid-September.
Chan has hired several women to promote the brand. She’s featuring Mama Cax, a curvy model and disability activist who’s a size 12; Rachel Cargle, an activist in the women of color space and lecturer, and a size 20; Precious Lee, an actress who’s a size 16, and Molly Constable, a model who’s a size 14. “We did our best to show on as many sizes as we could, but also something really important to me, was if we’re having four models, to have three or four be women of color,” she said.
She noted that if you look at the demographics of the plus size market, it’s two-thirds women of color. “But if you look at the advertising it’s mostly white women,” Chan said.
The word, “Henning,” means women coming together, she said. It’s a play on the word, “hen,” she said. Red Antler, which has previously done branding for such firms as Casper, Allbirds and Birchbox, did Henning’s branding.
Henning will offer four collections a year and will see how it goes. She is currently shipping from her apartment, but is working on warehousing.
Does she ultimately hope to wholesale the line? “Yes, it’s a customer acquisition tactic as well. The more people we can talk to the better,” she said.
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