The idea of starting her own plus-sized lingerie company first came to Precious Williams in the summer of 2010 when she had just started dating again after a long relationship ended. Like any woman, Williams, 32, wanted to update her wardrobe; the process included a trip to Victoria’s Secret.
But the lingerie store, best known for its televised fashion show, didn’t carry her size.
“They sent me to Lane Bryant and Ashley Stewart’s but I wouldn’t be caught dead in that,” Williams said of those stores’ plus-sized lingerie selection.
“Nowhere is a curvy woman celebrated as sexy and cute,” Williams said. “I’m a size 22, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look cute. I always say size 22 body with a size 10 mentality.”
Williams said she talked to countless other large women with the same problem and, early this year, began saving and planning the launch of Curvy Girlz Lingerie, her own company catering to the plus-sized and stylish.
The line hasn’t yet formally launched online yet, but she has already set up a website and has been selling her Winter 2011 line at small entrepreneur events and private showings since early October.
Her lingerie comes in colorful and fashionable patterns and her line also includes plus-sized bodysuits and camisoles. Bras typically cost $60 to $75.
For now, Williams runs the company as a one-woman band. An attorney by day, she’s invested close to $20,000 of her own money to pay a designer and buy materials and has converted half her studio apartment in Harlem into a showroom.
Last month, the Harlem Business Alliance recognized Williams as a promising local entrepreneur and awarded her a grant of $5,000 to help with her launch.
“Curvy Girlz has great potential to thrive in Harlem which is the location of their proposed store and where their target resides,” a spokesman for the Harlem Business Alliance said. “Precious’ business plan was strong and well thought-out and we look forward to seeing her grant grow.”
Even though her business is still small, Williams said she has already seen a lot of enthusiasm for her product. More than 100 customers have bought samples, she said. In the two months she has been selling her collection, including through a sale in her apartment, she has already made back more than half of her start-up costs, she said.
“We have such a following right now; people are on the website reading and getting very excited,” Williams said.
She intends to use the Business Alliance grant to help create her Spring/Summer 2012 line, to be featured on her website, CurvyGirlzLingerie.com, in March. She also hopes to open a retail store in Harlem at some point next year.
“There was something about Harlem that did it for me,” Williams said. She moved back to Harlem from Brooklyn last January because she felt an indescribable pull to the neighborhood.
“There are times when you’re on 125th Street and you feel energy, you have black people, you have white people, Asian people, Hispanic, the energy is here,” she said.
Lane Bryant and Ashley Stewart, which have stores on 125th Street, are the only local retailers that cater exclusively to plus-sized women. Jenny D’Andrea, manager of HotSexyFit, a Harlem jeans store that sells plus-sizes, said she felt the neighborhood could use another plus-sized retailer.
“There’s a need for plus-sized clothing,” D’Andrea said. ”The average size in America is size 13.”
Williams also hopes that by launching her business in Harlem she would can reach a younger demographic in need of feeling accepted.
“I see young African-American girls out here on the street and I can see how sad they are because they’re bigger,” Williams said. “I want to be able to say, ‘Look, I’m a curvy girl and I’m embracing life and I want you to have the self esteem that I have.’”
A lingerie store with roots in Harlem, she said, could prevent plus-sized local women from feeling isolated.
“We celebrate the beauty of a curvy woman,” Williams said, “so we are all about making sure the woman loves the skin that she’s in.”