*It is a time old scenario, college girl meets hot guy, girl gets asked out on a date, girls goes to the mall and is unable to find anything to wear, as a result, girl creates her own business.
This is the true story of Camille Newman, founder of the online plus-size boutique PopUpPlusOnline.com. Although the market of curvy women has gone largely ignored by the fashion world, today, this overlooked demographic is becoming increasingly popular and lucrative. According to Bloomberg, the plus-size industry is now valued at $17.5 billion. However, maverick and online entrepreneur Camille already knew the value of her curvy sisters and had her nose to the grindstone catering to this underserved market long before it became in vogue.
Eurweb had the pleasure to catch up with Camille Newman to discuss her online fashion boutique and why she feels most retailers are late guests to the curvy gal party.
Describe your background.
I graduated from college in 2002 with a liberal arts background. I have always had a love for fashion and I’ve always been curvy. I was actually on the path to a Ph.D. program, but I transitioned into corporate retail and moved back to New York City. I started out with Lane Bryant and since then for a number of companies for a long amount of time. I’ve been in fashion for almost 15 years [overseeing] store management, pricing strategy, planning and buying.
How did you come up with the ideas to start your business?
While in college, I met this cute guy and he asked me out for a date. My best friend and I went to the local mall and [we spent hours there]. I realized that I gained a lot of weight and I could not find anything to wear. I remember feeling terrible. It was a real blow to my self-esteem. I promised myself that no other girl that was my weight or heavier would ever feel like that. That is how my interest in the plus size industry started. I [thought of] a way to enter the industry with a low overhead and that’s how the idea for the pop up shop [was developed].
What are biggest misconceptions about plus-size women?
The biggest misconception is that we all have some insecurity, we overeat, and that we are unhappy and fat. A plus-size woman is a regular girl with some extra weight on. I’m saying we don’t have our challenges but I think our challenges [are increased] when you don’t see yourself being represented in the fashion industry. There are so many reasons why women gain weight. Many women have had children, they have issues with thyroids [which affects] a lot of African American women, which was my issue, it made me gain and keep the weight. I have met plus size women who are fashionable and taking style risk. Plus-size woman are have always been creative. I met a lady who tailored maternity wear. We have always been a creative group of fashionistas.
In your opinion, why these misconceptions continue to exist in our society?
On my Instagram, I will post a girl in a form fitting dress and people will have rude, nasty comments. “Oh my God look at her butt, yes she has shape wear on but why is she wearing that, [she should wear] something more flowing, [she should] cover [her] arms.” And the [July issue where] the Oprah Magazine article said that you can only wear a crop top if you have a flat stomach. I think we live in a society unfortunately, that fashion has been able to take over our minds and make you think that in order to be fashionable you have to be skinny, blonde, tall, and anorexic looking.
The reality is according to the United States Census 6 out of 10 women in the U.S. are a size 14 or larger. Yet, we allow the fashion industry to dictate our taste, but they shouldn’t be able to dictate what is good and real for a woman’s body. The fashion industry should not be allowed to perpetuate size-ism; they should not be allowed to make the majority of American woman feel bad about themselves.
What separates your company from other retailers that cater to the full-figure woman?
Pop Up Plus is a small company and as the owner, I have a passion for curvy girls. I think a lot of companies they look at the bottom line but when I pick products for Pop Up Plus I go over it painstakingly. [I always question] will my curvy girl wear this, what will she wear this with, how will this fit into her lifestyle, who is this curvy girl, what we telling our curvy girls, are we telling them they are beautiful through this piece?
Now a lot of the companies are diving into this space and paying attention to that, but that wasn’t the case when I started my business. We were fighting for fashionable clothing, fighting for trendy pieces. I take the time to really understand my customers, their needs, their lifestyles, and I also make sure that when I am doing my editorials and pictures I am also creating an aspirational lifestyle for curvy girls.
Would you say most full-figure women comfortable with their fashion choices?
I think we have a far way to go in helping curvy girls understand that you can be stylish. I just learned from my feedback on social media that there are still curvy girls out there struggling with “Can I wear this form fitted dress?” What Pop Up Plus is doing is letting them know to throw on some shape-wear, throw that dress on, throw on some heels, and go out and have a fun good time and live your life. That is the Pop Up Plus message we are fun, we take time to understand our customers. We are a small business [that is] fighting to make a big imprint. Everything we do has a message, a message of empowerment. Pop-up plus is a safe space for curvy girls.
Can you explain to our readers what is a pop-up shop?
Operational wise we are pop-up shop and an online shop. Our pop up shop is where customers can feel, touch try on, and get the experience the clothing one on one. A lot of plus-size companies have transitioned their collections to only online. We still have the online flavor, edgy editorials, kick-ass clothes, but we have the physical element where ladies can come and have an in store experience in a form of a pop-up shop.
We take over empty studio spaces in different states, and we pop-up a boutique in 24 hours that includes fitting rooms, just like a boutique. We promote our events heavily through social media. Sometimes we are there for a weekend or week, and then we are gone again. The demand is so high for us to come to different states that we are definitely heading towards a mobile boutique. That way we can just jump in and drive.
How do you plan to expand your company?
Right now, I am looking for an investor because some of the things we need to do will not be physically feasible as a small company. We still continue to grow daily, we continue to push the limits of our style offerings, and looking for different ways we can impact our curvy girls. But we definitely need funding to grow for sure which is a challenge.
Can you describe the marketing strategies that you employ to build your brand and promote your company?
Well, it’s been all social media. We have international customers, we’ve shipped to London, Australia, so social media has been instrumental, Facebook in particular. I won a Facebook competition; I was one of their Business All-Stars in 2014. They flew me out to Palo Alto, California so I know all about their marketing platforms; I won’t go into details because we won’t let our competitors know what’s up (laughing).
As the 2015 winner of the Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch contest, you have the opportunity to be mentored by Alfred Edmond Jr., Senior Vice President/Chief Content Officer of Black Enterprise. Can you describe what those mentoring sessions are like?
I have to do six mentoring sessions, once a month, with Alfred Edmond before I even receive the funding. He is helping be refine my business focus and showing me how to develop brand extensions. It has been pretty intense, meeting with him and doing the work and preparing for our next meeting. Even with all that I have accomplished so far, working with him has shown me how much further I have to go.
How do you plan to utilize your BE Elevator Pitch prize money towards your company?
I will use the funds to grow our business.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
I would say you need grit, verve, and chutzpah. These are my three special words. You have to live, eat, breathe, and die [for your business]. If I knew being an entrepreneur was going to be this difficult, maybe I would have thought of something else, but you have be tough you have to keep going, keep pressing, keep pushing always for your business. You have to have a crazy amount of resilience and tough skin.
You have to continuously pursue your dream, if you have done the market research, and you see that you have identified a need, and you know you are doing the right thing, and then you have to work hard at it. You have to keep going. You never arrive in entrepreneurship. It is a daily process.
What have been some of your biggest mistakes, and what have you learned from them?
[My biggest mistakes] were investing way too much money, too early without testing the concepts. When we started out with Pop Up Plus we were the only ones doing it and I want to make that clear because a lot of companies have come and taken the idea and ran with it. We were the only one in the game selling independent, high end brands for plus-size. In 2009, 2010 no one else was doing this. My customers said they wanted Italian plus size and we invested all this money in high-end plus size. We were carrying brands from Australia, importing from Denmark, we had a pop-up shop, huge success, but we didn’t break even because the customer said they wanted this but that wasn’t necessarily true. I’ve learned that when starting a business it has to be lean. You have to everything you can to not spend money, especially if you are still testing your concepts.
How did you build a successful customer base?
We started as pop up store in the beginning, our customer base grew grassroots at first. Just by people attending the events, collecting emails, but once we transitioned online, social media was key to our growth, it helped to expand our imprint. If someone likes our photo they will share it and then their followers would start following us. Social media is a god-send.
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
I’m speaking in faith but I believe that Pop Up Plus will be a million dollar business. In ten years, we will be making 10 million a year definitely. I think we will be a brand to be reckoned with. We will be dictating the stories that are said about curvy girls. We don’t sell work wear; we sell clothes that are risqué. Our customer is a very intelligent woman who takes fashion risks, a rebel, and a non-conformist, that’s our customer. We will be telling her story 10 years from now very clearly and loudly. We will always be a brand for curvy girls.
What new innovations can your customers look forward to for Pop Up Plus?
We are working on our first private label collection for spring 2016. We are putting our boutique on a bus and very few companies are doing that for their spring 2016 launch. We are in market to try any new tech applications; we are always on the lookout to newest customer app to enhance the customer experience. Referral customer apps, we work with a marketing agency, even though we are small business we have partnerships with agencies to get us out there.
For more information or catch up on the latest styles visit: www.popupplusonline.com