By Wendy Donahue
To get a sense of the pent-up demand for fun fashion in larger sizes, see Gwynnie Bee.
In 2013, Christine Hunsicker launched Gwynnie Bee as a subscription rental clothing service specifically for sizes 10-32. Her business has been growing 20 percent month over month, and by the end of 2014, she began hearing from several brands that Gwynnie Bee is their No. 1 buyer, purchasing more of their collection than specialty stores such as Macy’s.
Gwynnie Bee now carries more than 2,000 styles from 150 brands, and is soon to add Adrianna Papell, Gabby Skye and Melissa McCarthy’s new Seven7.
The size range isn’t the only point of distinction.
Gwynnie Bee operates like a cross between Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway. Shoppers sign up on the website and add items to their virtual closet. They select from subscription plans that start at $35 a month, the most popular is the three-items-at-a-time option for $79 a month, then begin receiving their selections based on current availability. There’s no deadline to return them; notification that an item is on its way back triggers the next shipment. Shoppers also have the option to buy and keep items they love.
The subscription rental format was risky.
“Where you’re bringing a new engagement method, you always want a customer who’s willing to try those things out, and an underserved market is a good place to start,” Hunsicker said. “Women size 10 and above are about 75 percent of the adult female population in the U.S. and completely underserved and not treated well by mainstream fashion. So there were both emotional and economic arguments for it.”
Might women dislike the idea of wearing clothes that have been worn by other women? The success of Uber and Airbnb told Hunsicker otherwise.