By GREGORY ZELLER //
From the Department of Irony comes this cultural truism: In a land where most consumers qualify, the plus-sized get shortchanged when it comes to fashion.
There are exceptions, but by and large, the large have less to buy when it comes to trendy fashions. And that’s doubly true regarding intimate apparel, according to the big brains behind lingerie customizer Impish Lee, who not only recognize the market’s shortsightedness but are banking on it.
Sisters Kali and Noelle Ventresca, who relaunched their Sea Cliff-based manufacturer in 2015 as a unique DIY platform, have always factored the plus-sized into their marketing plans – right alongside the skinny, the tall, the squat, the former Guatemalan dance queen with the slightly curved spine and just about every other possible combination of height, width, ethnicity and body specificity.
Now, with body-shaming becoming something of a national scourge and body-positive messages resonating in every corner, the sisters are leveraging that come-one, come-all philosophy into a winning game plan.
“You can certainly find clothing and intimates offered by different brands that cater to larger sizes,” Noelle Ventresca told Innovate LI. “But it’s usually pretty limited.
“Because our business model offers customizations with literally trillions of combinations, we’re not only offering their size, but the same designs, the same beautiful fabrics – exactly the same products that all the other sizes have access to.”
That’s been the case ever since the sisters flipped the switch on their “online configurator,” which allows users to create everything from bras to nightgowns to robes starting with dozens of basic designs and more than 50 fabrics – potentially, 30 trillion different combinations, according to the company, including a multitude of sizes.
That’s a slight insult to other so-called “multitudes” (the configurator spins out 70 different bra sizes alone). But however you define it, the dizzying array of shapes and sizes is what sets this manufacturer apart – and that has always included the plus-sized.
All-shapes-and-sizes has not only defined the product line, Ventresca noted, but also Impish Lee’s advertising.
“If you look back, it’s always been part of our marketing,” she said. “We’ve used multiple plus-sized models and others who are not standard models – they’re not 6-foot, 100-pound models. They’ve always been a mix of heights and sizes and ethnicities.
“It’s a huge part of why we’re getting so much attention,” Ventresca added. “We offer such a wide size range.”
In addition to featuring plus-sized models in its online and social media advertising campaigns, Impish Lee has established connections with one of the top body-positive influencers on the Internet: Corissa Enneking, mistress of the fashion/self-love/body-positive enterprise Fat Girl Flow.
The Ventrescas followed Enneking – a self-described “happy fatty from the Midwest” – while she built up a mini-empire consisting of an online store, a popular blog and an influential YouTube channel, where 60,000-plus subscribers tune into the self-styled fashionista’s video product reviews.
“She’s at the forefront of the body-positive movement, which is all about celebrating every body – every shape and size, and finding love for the body that you were born with,” Ventresca said.
That sounded about right to the sisters, who reached out to Enneking and wound up sending her several products the blogger designed herself. In her Impish Lee review, Enneking can barely contain her excitement – clearly “head over heels with what we sent her,” Ventresca noted.
“I think she really appreciated that our size range is so large and these are really high-quality products, made in New York, ethically manufactured,” the cofounder added. “And we’re not just catering to one demographic. All of that is very positive.”
The appearance on Enneking’s YouTube channel was a “great collaboration” for the Sea Cliff startup, Ventresca said, right in line with the company’s something-for-everyone motif. That theme figures to repeat this week in New York City, when Impish Lee takes part in Making It Your Way, a customization showcase scheduled for Oct. 26 at Nora Gardner’s flagship 58th Street store.
The Ventrescas first crossed paths with representatives of the trendy women’s workwear specialist in August at NYC’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center during CurveNY, a twice-annual lingerie expo for brands and buyers. Recognizing the forest for the customizable trees, the new friends decided to collaborate on “an event for professional women to have a night out,” Ventresca noted, featuring multiple companies – including Impish Lee – capitalizing on DIY trends.
Thursday evening’s event – which is also slated to feature handbag customizer Lolo Chatenay and Campbell & Kate, a maker of women’s shirts for fuller bust sizes – is a much-welcomed chance for the lingerie entrepreneurs to meet and greet potential customers, Ventresca noted.
“As an entirely online company, we don’t get to really get out there and meet a lot of people face-to-face,” she said. “This gives us the ability to talk to people and get their feedback about our company and our designs.”
And with the event likely to attract consumers of various real-world sizes, it’s also a golden opportunity to build more of that socially affirming – and commercially bountiful – body-positive momentum.
“Our whole brand is really about enabling customers to be the designers, and our customers are not of one type,” Ventresca said. “They’re a really great mix of different body types and ethnicities.”