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Web site sells plus-size clothes that are ahead of the curve

Two sisters provide fashions for women who wear size 14 or larger, the 'fastest-growing sector of retail.'

November 19, 2002|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica is a magnet for pumped-up bods and string beans in string bikinis. But out of what is surely one of the most body-conscious cities in the world comes SizeAppeal, an online clothing retailer providing the same throwaway chic found at stores like Rampage and Forever 21, which cater to the young and svelte. In this case, though, the clothes are distinctly for the plus-size set.

The slick Web site, www.size, offers something refreshing in the plus-size clothing market: sexy, up-to-the-moment looks such as a slinky black V-neck spandex dress with three-quarter-length scalloped sleeves ($50), a western-inspired camel-colored micro-suede skirt with a fringed hem ($48) and an animal-print peasant blouse with bell sleeves and crochet trim ($39).

With more than half of all U.S. women wearing size 14 or larger, more and more mainstream stores are following Ann Taylor, Lands' End and Gap in offering an expanded range of sizes. "It's the fastest-growing sector of retail," said Caron Kovoloff, 45, who co-founded SizeAppeal with her sister Linzi Glass, 43. The pair grew up in South Africa. Until they started the business, Glass was a literary agent for CAA; Kovoloff did not work outside the home.

Even though they are joining what the sisters like to call "the curvy revolution," many stores are still offering matronly plus-size styles.

"If you are looking for big, baggy clothes, this isn't the place for you," said Kovoloff, who is plus size but prefers not to name a number. "We're doing the same trendy clothes as Rampage, Wet Seal and stores like that, just a little bigger."

SizeAppeal carries sizes 14 through 26 and 1x through 5x, and new pieces are added to the Web site each week to keep styles up to date. Customers, say the sisters, range in age from 17 to 35.

The business started almost accidentally. After Kovoloff's husband died of a heart attack three years ago, she began to sell her own household objects on eBay as a hobby, first posting salt and pepper shakers and cookie jars on the auction site, then clothes. Over the years, she had amassed a collection of dressy clothes for the Hollywood parties she attended with her husband, a product placement consultant for movie studios. She posted a few of her black-tie gowns and couldn't believe the response.

"I sold everything within a week," said Kovoloff, dressed on a recent afternoon at her Santa Monica office in a beaded and fringed top and black stretch pants. "And before I knew it, there was a group of women e-mailing me, asking me for fashion advice."

Soon after, she began making weekly trips to the Fashion District in downtown L.A. to purchase plus-size clothing from shops around Santee Alley to sell on eBay. She looked for and found plus-size pieces that were sexy, including a body-skimming pink halter number she dubbed the " 'Sex and the City' dress."

"I had so many eBay hits with that dress, I knew I had a business," said Kovoloff, who tapped her sister to do the marketing and her daughter Lori, 23, to design the clothes, which are manufactured in New York and L.A. The SizeAppeal site was launched with $6,000 in August 2000 and took off quickly, with editorial credits in Glamour, YM, InStyle and Grace magazines and an appearance by Kovoloff and Glass on "The Today Show" this fall.

Glass said the Web site gets more than 3 million hits a month and that has evolved into a community for plus-size women. Glass writes a trend watch column; the site is sponsoring a clothing naming contest and a plus-size model search. The company recently started wholesaling clothing in Canada and Saudi Arabia. The sisters have also been in discussions about whether to open stores in malls.

Meanwhile, Kovoloff has been thrust into the forefront of her own curvy revolution. "For me, it used to be a taboo thing to talk about my weight. But now I'm happy to be visible," she said, adding that appreciative e-mails from customers have made the experience most worthwhile. "Every day we have someone who writes in to say, 'Where were you when I was in high school?' "

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