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Over the last few years, the fashion industry has seen an increase in brands offering inclusive sizing, but it’s still challenging for people over a size 12 to find cutting-edge pieces that are actually well made. Frustrated by the disadvantages she faced, former plus-size model and Glamour editor Lauren Chan set out to fix the problem. Meet Henning, a luxury womenswear brand for sizes 12 and up. "The fashion industry has long been sending a message that plus-size people are of lesser value than their straight-size peers,” explains Chan. "Henning exists to change that narrative—to tell women of all sizes that they are high-value people—by way of products better than they’ve previously had access to.”
And believe us when we say these products are good. Everything is dreamy, from perfectly tailored menswear-inspired blazers and trench coats meant to last a lifetime to a fashion-forward leather jacket that rivals those at Acne. But the collection also solves problems: Uncomfortable pant tops are replaced with hidden elastic waistbands while rips from thigh chafing are tackled with gel liners built into the seams for added support. These solutions might sound small, but they're major details that often aren't considered when designing a collection. Chan just hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn't erase all the progress that has been made. "Many of the beyond-fast-fashion brands that offer inclusive sizing are small businesses that are currently very vulnerable," says Chan. "If they collapse, we stand to lose years of progress in inclusion."
Despite all the uncertainty, Chan was still willing to sit down with us and open up about everything from what it's like to run a small business during a pandemic to her work-from-home style and why it's important to dress up even when there's nowhere to go. Keep scrolling to read our interview, and if you're able to show support, Chan shared her favorite Henning pieces you can shop online.
First of all, how are you?
I’m doing as well as I can be; thank you for asking! How I feel has changed almost bi-weekly during quarantine. For the first two weeks, I was functioning fairly "normally,” albeit from home. For the next two weeks, I was pretty panicked as the world around me came to a complete shutdown. For the following two weeks, I was intensely motivated and worked around the clock to pivot my business, apply for loans, etc. Then, I was focused on crossing off to-do items in order to make that pivot happen. And finally, in the most recent weeks, I’ve kind of accepted my state of "hibernation” as the new normal.
Tell us a little about yourself and your business.
I’m a former plus-size model turned fashion editor turned entrepreneur. I’m now the founder and CEO of Henning, a luxury womenswear brand for sizes 12 and up. We make timeless staples, like suiting and outerwear, in New York City.
For as long as I’ve been a consumer, most of the plus-size clothing that’s been available has been from fast-fashion brands. By having an apparel market where straight-size consumers have abundant access to contemporary, designer, and couture fashion while plus-size consumers are limited to fast and mass fashion, the fashion industry has long been sending a message that plus-size people are of lesser value than their straight-size peers. Henning exists to change that narrative—to tell women of all sizes that they are high-value people—by way of products better than they’ve previously had access to.
What inspired you to start your business?
During my time as a fashion editor, I wore everything from a size 14 to a size 20. I would show up to work at the Glamour office or the set of the Today Show or fashion weeks around the world, and all around me, my smaller peers were wearing designer clothing. In contrast, I was wearing cheap fast fashion. That reinforced the above idea about size and value, but more pressingly, it had very tangible effects on me. Compared to my peers, I couldn’t represent myself as successfully; I felt less confident; I was perceived as less capable; I even had to deal with regular clothing malfunctions! Eventually, I became angry with the disadvantages I faced for having the biggest body in the room, so I set out to fix the problem with Henning.
How have social distancing and stay-at-home orders affected your business? How have your priorities shifted?
To be honest, our first priority has shifted from growth to survival. Our current mission statement: survive in order to continue to advocate for size inclusion in fashion. That said, we’re still focused on future growth. Soon, we’ll pivot our manufacturing of new styles from a traditional, seasonal fashion model to an on-demand model. With this change, we’ll produce items from a collection in a matter of days after a customer order is placed, instead of in bulk and up-front. That will reduce pressure on cash flow, cut inventory risk, increase sustainability, etc.
Some people are finding joy in getting dressed and doing their beauty routine, even if they have nowhere to go. What do you think fashion and beauty can offer people right now? What has it done for you?
Fashion, by design, is tied to how we feel about ourselves. When we put something on that makes us feel, say, powerful or beautiful, we feel great Your outfit can trigger a chemical reaction in your brain that creates a positive emotion. So if you have the luxury to do so, why not use that to your advantage right now?
Up until March, I was so busy that I hardly thought about what clothes I threw on my body before running out the door in the morning. With everything slowed down now, I’ve become more mindful about what I wear and how it makes me feel. I’ve had a stressful few months, so I’ve been wearing things that make me feel silly, like Hawaiian shirts; or creative, like the socks I tie-dyed; or strong, like my old basketball-team gear.
Speaking of fashion, how would you describe your working-from-home style?
It’s been a little bit all over the place, but the common denominator is that it’s easy, unfussy, and comfortable. I may never wear heels again!
Aside from fashion and beauty, what are some things that are currently bringing you comfort?
Extra time with my husband and dog; FaceTimes with my family and friends; walks outside; good food; reruns of Brooklyn 99.
What are your favorite brands?
I’ve mostly been buying vintage fashion and home pieces lately, so the RealReal, Rebag, and Chairish.
What’s one fashion trend we shouldn’t sleep on and why?
The blazer-and-sweats look—shameless Henning plug!
Shop Chan's Favorite Products:
"I’ve always wanted a real-leather jacket like the ones from Acne but was never able to find one in my size. Finally, there is one! (Plus, for every sale of this jacket, Henning is donating $50—about 250 meals—to the food bank in New York City.)"
"This is our best-selling piece. It’s also the first piece I ever designed because I was so eager to have a quality, structured menswear-inspired blazer in my size."
"These are our second-best-selling piece. They are the complement to our Bank Blazer, and they just so happen to be the piece we get the most customer love on. It overwhelms me with happiness when I hear people say they’re the best pants they’ve ever owned!"
"Khaki blazers have been popping up all over Instagram since last season, but I've mostly seen them on straight-size women. I wanted the look for us, so I made it. My favorite way to wear this is with light-wash jeans."
"These pants complete our khaki suit. I love to see the full suit worn with a contrasting black belt and black boots. It feels so powerful!"
"This blazer from the spring collection is actually our best-selling blazer in a new colorway. It looks great with pieces made from light-wash denim, olive canvas, and beige linen—anything earthy and summer appropriate."
"We never make a blazer without the matching pants because who doesn’t love a power-suit moment?"
"A personal shopping secret of mine is that I'm always on the hunt for T-shirts in luxe fabrications, like this silk tee. That way I can have the comfort of wearing a T-shirt while still looking put-together."
"When you buy a Henning x For Days tee, you sign up for a For Days subscription. With that membership, you can send back your used tee and get $8 and a fresh shirt. (FYI, they make new fabric out of the old one and turn it into new shirts.) We worked with For Days to expand their sizing from XXL to 4X."
"I’ve always loved the polished look of trench coats but was never able to find one in my size that wasn’t super thin material from a fast-fashion brand. Our trench coat is made from a super-rich stretch-wool blend. It’s fully lined, and it’s meant to last a lifetime."
Caitie Schlisserman is an L.A.-based beauty director with over a decade of branded content and editorial experience. She joined Who What Wear in 2014 as the first branded content editor and has worked her way up to overseeing the beauty department of the media revenue team. Before Who What Wear, Caitie helped launch FabFitFun's first subscription box and worked at a beauty startup where she assisted in successfully launching the editorial department.
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