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Roots of the Plus Size Designer Industry

Aug 14, 2008
So where did the modern day size design industry we know today come from? Everybody knows about the meteoric rise of MODE magazine and their heart breaking tragic fall from grace, and I would wager that everyone has heard of the plus size agencies of Ford 12+, Curves, and Wilhelmina 10/20, but that doesn't really answer the basic question. In my mind, for there to be a plus size modeling industry there first had to be something for them to show off on the runway; it's a classic chicken and egg situation. Without something to show off to consumers, like plus size clothes, plus size shoes, plus size jewelry, or plus size maternity wear, there's really no need for plus size models. That's where plus size designers come in, and that's where we go back to the beginning, to a name that we're all familiar with: Lane Bryant.

It is widely accepted that Lane Bryant was the first large-scale manufacturer of womens' plus size clothing, the first to lobby for plus size designers, and the first to use plus size models in their advertising. But where did they originate from? Obviously, they haven't 'always been around' like some people would lead you to believe. Rather, it all began back in the early 1900's with a woman by the name of Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin.

Contrary to what some people believe, Lena didn't actually start out in the plus size market segment. Rather, she started her business sewing maternity clothes in a tiny shop on 5th Avenue in New York. From a small cash infusion of $300 (the equivalent to $7300 in today's money), Lena started sewing clothes and marketing them to women from all different parts of society. Due to an error on her paperwork opening her bank account, she was listed as Lane instead of Lena, and it was easier to go with it than try and change it back. Lane Bryant was born.

In 1909 Lena was wed to Albert Malsin, and he became very involved in the business. He brought with him the eye of an engineer and that of an accountant, and really helped to streamline their clothing production. This kept prices under control and allowed them to produce clothes from patterns at a high rate of speed. They were the original plus size design team. Unfortunately, pregnancy was somewhat of a hush-hush subject 95 years ago, and they ran into many difficulties advertising their designer clothes to the masses. Eventually, they were able to get an advertisement run in a local newspaper, and they were soon up to the ears in customers. Lena soon made the realization that a large portion, if not the majority, of her customers were what she referred to as "stout-figured" women. She began to tailor her lines for that customer base, and it quickly became the flagship source of revenue for the company.

A little known fact is that Lena was one of the early pioneers of the mail order catalog as well. Due to the pressures from social groups that she faced, advertising was a very difficult task. She resolved to get her designer clothes in front of her customers somehow, and had a catalog printed that she would mail out. Soon, the plus size designer content in the catalog had overtaken the maternity content, and the course of the company was set.
About the Author
Allen Wright is a freelance writer who follows whatever topics hold his interest. Look for more information on plus size design, plus size dresses and other plus size shorts here.
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