Smart clothes for bigger women

GONE are the days when only being slender was beautiful and sexy. These days the fashion industry is opening its doors and welcoming plus-size clothing and modelling.

Gugulethu Gule is one of a few people who saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it.

In April 2005 Gule, who has a PhD in Demography, left a plum job as deputy director-general: population statistics at Statistics South Africa and started GG Boutique for plus-size ladies at the Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria.

She says while working at Statistics South Africa she had to project a certain image as a senior government official, but found it almost impossible to find stylish and elegant clothes that flattered her fuller figure and body shape.

"While on a trip to New York I met a clothing retailer who inspired me to open an exclusive boutique for fuller-figured women like myself. This was the fulfillment of my dream and passion to empower fuller-figured women to look and feel great," Gule says.

After the resounding success of her first store she opened another in the Gautrain Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Gule says her main reason for opening the store was to change the perception that plus-sized women cannot look as sexy or contemporary as their thinner counterparts.

"Over the years I have seen department stores and boutiques leave plus-sized women with fewer and fewer options. Designers were giving a few, if any, fashion options for confident, classy and curvy women. Many young, curvy women were belittled in stores, relegated to buying on-line or ignored," Gule says.

She says GG Boutique presents a welcoming and comfortable shopping environment for big women who are beautiful just the way they are.

"This is a way of telling all curvier women that they can't and should never settle for whatever the fashion industry throws at them - which amounts close to nothing most of the time," she says.

"A woman's style should never be defined by her looks but rather the other way around, which is why we created a business that offers plus-size women plenty to choose from," she says.

Gule says she wants to change the perception that plus-sized women cannot look as good as their thinner counterparts.

"We offer an exclusive, well-tailored and stylish collection of corporate and special occasion wear for women in sizes 38 to 50. We carry international designer labels such as Tahari, Jones New York, Studio 1 and Liz Elana and our own in-house label," she says.

"We also have a stunning collection of designer shoes up to size 10, handbags and costume jewellery to accentuate the looks of fuller-figured professional women," Gule says.

She says their services also include image consulting, wardrobe planning, alterations and personal shopping by appointment.

Gule says her high-profile clients include first ladies, ministers, government officials, business executives, entrepreneurs and women in the diplomatic community

"We also have customers from the SADC countries and overseas. People travel from as far as the DRC to shop at our stores," she says proudly.

"I'm interested in what women want to wear in everyday life without compromising comfort, style or originality."

Now even regular-sized women are attracted to Gule's boutiques though the clothes are way too large for them.

These women have even commented that they cannot find such attractive clothing anywhere.

"I think my business works because our stores cater for plus-size women who want to be able to not only buy fashionable clothes, but who also want to buy from fashionable outlets," Gule says.

"Also, my passion comes through in my business, which helps my business work.

"My customers know that I not only care about my business, but also about them "

Any advice to people who want to enter into the retail business?

"My advice would be, research your field thoroughly because you will then know exactly in which direction you should head. This will cut out all the guesswork of what will and won't work for your business.

"My other little bit of advice would be - always remain focussed and passionate about your business because if you're not passionate about your own business, then no one else will be," she says.