If you’ve been shopping busty for a while, Kristen Allen needs no introduction. But if you’re just getting into the small world of busty clothing, read on and read closely. This woman and her company, Exclusively Kristen, may very well change your life.
I highlighted Exclusively Kristen in one of my first articles, so I was pretty damn excited when she contacted me to discuss busty girl problems.
I didn’t just feel this way because THE Kristen knew who I was. Oh, no. I was going to use this opportunity to learn more about the world she and other brilliant, busty designers have created.
You see, I enjoy discussing busty girl problems, but I have the perspective of someone who has never worked on the production side of fashion. I can appreciate a well-constructed garment (and you should know that Kristen’s garments are, by all accounts, VERY well-constructed), but I am very much operating as a consumer. I can talk about busty girl problems all day long, and occasionally solve them for myself by buying clothes.
But Kristen and her small cohort of female business owners are concerned with providing SOLUTIONS to these problems. So that’s what this interview is about: the work and research that goes into designing busty clothing for the masses.
Could you introduce yourself and your company for those who aren’t familiar?
My name is Kristen Allen and I’m founder and president of Exclusively Kristen, which is a Brooklyn-based fashion company that specializes in shirts and dresses for DD+ women. Exclusively Kristen apparel is designed with precise proportions and fabrics that provide stretch, and eliminate pulling and gaping. Also, most shirts and dresses look like an unflattering and weight-adding tent on busty women. However, Exclusively Kristen apparel contours around the bust, which eliminates the tent look and has a slimming effect.
Where did you shop before founding your own company? What did you do to ensure your clothing would fit properly?
When I started Exclusively Kristen, I was a 32G (now I’m a 32HH), so shopping was a nightmare. I constantly had to worry about wardrobe malfunctions and I gave up on even trying on structured shirts. I mostly shopped at TJ Maxx because I refused to pay a lot of money for something that didn’t fit properly or was a simple knit pullover or sweater. I’d also wait for sales at Banana Republic. I mostly bought dresses from them. Ann Taylor’s curvy cut pants were a favorite for work. Not only am I top heavy but I have full thighs and most pants don’t fit me. As a result, I owned very little structured apparel and belts and wrap dresses were my best friend. I mostly wore cardigans, sweaters and other knit tops and dresses.
What is the R&D like for each Exclusively Kristen item? Do you design them by yourself, or do you work with your employees?
I am the sole designer for Exclusively Kristen apparel. I hire a freelancer to make the technical sketches that I give to the manufacturer. I am also the fit model so during my visits to the manufacturer, I inspect and try on samples. After inspecting the overall construction of the garment for quality, I will put on the sample and move around in order to check for comfort. Exclusively Kristen is not fast fashion, so quality craftsmanship as well as comfort and good fit are a must.
You could have dramatically reduced your overhead by outsourcing labor, but you choose to produce your products domestically. Can you give some background on why you made this decision and how it impacts the quality and cost of your products?
First, I would like to state that just because something is made overseas doesn’t mean that it’s poor quality. Brands can dictate the cost (and quality) of the manufacturing process and will sometimes tell the factory to cut corners and use cheap materials in order to reduce cost. I’ve seen garments made in the USA that are poorly made and I’ve seen garments made in China that are meticulously well done. I even received sloppily made samples from manufacturers located in the Midwest.
I chose to manufacture in the USA because I wanted more oversight in the manufacturing process. Due to Exclusively Kristen garments’ unorthodox measurements, it is imperative that I carefully inspect the garments’ fit, especially during sampling. I live in Brooklyn and my manufacturer is located in Brooklyn, so it is easy for me to be present every step of the way. Also, overseas manufacturers have high minimums and since I was a new business, I didn’t want to manufacture large quantities of garments with little oversight. I wanted to start small, perfect the patterns and fabric, and then grow. Manufacturing in the USA is A LOT more expensive than manufacturing in Asia or Latin America, but going the local route allowed me to get my finished products faster, save on shipping costs, and support American jobs. Most importantly, it allowed me to initially introduce small quantities of products to the market. I was then quickly and easily able to incorporate small changes in the patterns based on customer feedback, so I wasn’t stuck with large quantities of non-optimal garments.
On that note, can you give some background on what it’s like, logistically, to start such a niche business? I’m pretty sure I would just walk into the bank and say, “Clothes don’t fit me. Give me money.” But you’re a lifelong entrepreneur so I imagine you actually knew what you were doing.
I started small, because I didn’t want monthly payments with accruing interest hanging over my head while trying to grow and test a company. I used my own money to manufacture very small quantities of two products. In retrospect, I should have had two styles in multiple colors. Creating new patterns is expensive but adding different colors is not. This would’ve given me the opportunity to test how well certain colors are received in the market and provide more choices to customers.
Instead of a loan, I reinvest Exclusively Kristen’s revenue back into the company. At the moment, I can only foresee needing a loan to fund a large purchase order. Unless one has an extensive background (and connections) in fashion, I recommend starting small and testing the product before making a huge investment. Every business has its hiccups, but problems are exacerbated by lack of real world experience. Start small, learn/fix problems, then grow.
Domestic busty clothing entrepreneurs all seem to know each other. Collaborations and cross-promotions are fairly common. Can you give us some idea of what goes on behind the scenes?
I can count on one hand how many USA-based big bust apparel companies are in existence, so it’s a VERY small space. As a result, we tend to know each other either directly or indirectly. I’ve met Darlene of Campbell & Kate and Hourglassy (who also lives in NYC) and Patricia of Bolero Beachwear. I found Darlene through her blog, Hourglassy, which is a must for all busty women. The blog showcases and reviews bust friendly fashion and Darlene has been a pillar in the busty girl community. Patricia has an extensive background in manufacturing and has been a wonderful mentor. For example, I had received feedback that Exclusively Kristen’s button down shirts didn’t have enough room for women with larger hips. I was about to do a pattern change until Patricia told me to just add side slits, which rendered an expensive major pattern change unnecessary. I’ve also modeled for Bolero Beachwear and we tag teamed pop up shops at Broad Lingerie (Toronto) and Mystique Lingerie (Houston).
It’s amazing to be part of a community of women business owners who support each other. The greater good is making sure that full bust women look fantastic in their clothes. I know that Exclusively Kristen isn’t for everyone, so it’s refreshing to see other big bust apparel companies with different stylistic approaches on the market…a little something for everybody.
I believe you started out with the Holy Grail of busty clothing — the button-up shirt. But your latest additions have been quite exciting, particularly the sheath dress. What can we expect from Exclusively Kristen in the future? Are you going to keep growing and growing, like . . . well, insert bust metaphor here?
I’m happy with the button down shirt pattern so other than adding more colors and maybe a sleeveless version, it will remain unchanged and an Exclusively Kristen staple. I will now focus on different styles of dresses and shirts. I have an updated version of Exclusively Kristen’s tank top in the pipeline and am working on the pattern for a Mandarin Collar shirt. Stylistically, I want to create timeless high fashion apparel at affordable prices.
I will continue to grow Exclusively Kristen and stay true to its roots as a source of quality, timeless bust friendly fashion. Also, body inclusiveness is important to me and Exclusively Kristen is one of a few big bust brands that go up to a size 20 and welcomes affiliations with plus size models and companies.
I want to extend a huge (or at least FF-sized) thank you to Kristen Allen for taking the time to answer my questions. To learn more about her journey as a busty girl problem-solver, check out her blog. You can see more Exclusively Kristen items at her store, which is currently having a summer sale.