Friday, April 23, 2010

Interview Exclusive: Janet Allen of COQO CLOTHING

Aren't you tired of big, baggy, frumpy plus size clothing that doesn't do anything for your voluptuous figure? As C. Garner said-Where is the structure? I asked my mystery designer this same question.

I know that some of you have been waiting to see who the mystery designer was. Some of you may even be familiar with her line. Janet Allen stumbled into the fashion world after being laid off at her job as a Juvenile Parole Officer and becoming more and more frustrated as a curvy girl with her options for clothing, Janet Allen began making her own garments. These garments were made to flatter her figure, not hide it behind the baggy clothing that is most commonly available for sizes 12 and up. Her clothing hugged her in all the right places and her curvy friends noticed. She then began making garments for them as well. Soon, by word of mouth the line grew popular in her hometown of Boston and is what it is today. After you see her line, you will believe, as I believe, that this THIQ CHIQ is going places. With no further adieu, Janet Allen tells us more about Coqo Clothing.

Q: For all who are not familiar with your line-what is CoQo Clothing?

A: CoQo is a line that challenges all of the limits put on curvy girls – we create fashion forward trends, catered to accentuate the dynamic proportions of the curvy woman. We believe in stylish camouflage, as opposed to the traditional draping and unflattering methods of covering up imperfections.

Q: How did you get started in fashion industry, as in what steps did you take to get your company off the ground? From designing, selling to friends, marketing, fashion shows. How did you do it?

A: Well it started as a completely selfish act – I couldn’t find anything that fit me quite right. I didn’t want to look like I stuffed myself into too-tight clothing, and I refused to look old so I wasn’t going to the retail stores that stretched out misses size clothing in a lame attempt at creating options. I knew what I was working with but couldn’t find the fashion to flaunt it, so I started to make my own club gear and cocktail dresses. My friends (also curvy girls) loved my styles and wanted some of their own, so I started making them custom styles that fit their personalities. In doing so, they had incredible confidence and this drew a ton of attention to the clothing – and from there the requests started to flow. The fashion took off way ahead of the actual business…that came later as I realized I needed a way to manage the flow.

Q: Did you know how to sew or did you learn on your own?

A: I didn't know how to sew believe it or not. I bought the machine and read the directions, and got started. It seems so daunting when you think of it in terms of what it's become, but I approached it as a personal project. I didn't have this business plan in mind, so I wasn't worried about whether I'd catch on or not - there was no pressure. The skill definitely developed over time, and I'm always learning something new.

Q: How does your line get produced?

A: I actually still make everything myself – I’m a bit of a control freak like that. That’s quickly becoming overwhelming though, so I’ve been test-driving seamstresses that could mass produce for me. In the meantime, I treat each order as a custom order request and produce the piece personally especially for my customer.

Q: How did you get your designs from sketch to pattern?

A: Well, at first I didn't have patterns.  I did so much trial and error that I committed the process of constructing a piece of memory.  Since then, I took a class to learn proper technique.

Q: Many plus size women have complained that plus size designers put too much emphasis on using stretchy material in their designs such as jersey knit. Why pay the high cost of a designer outfit when they can get those same designs at retailers such as Dots and Rainbow? They plead for more structured pieces to balance these out. Does your latest collection include structured pieces? If it doesn’t, will you address this issue in your next line?

A: Oh, I completely agree. I create my pieces with the core intention of creating fashion options that look and feel miles above anything you’d find at a Dots or Rainbow. Each piece should make you feel like a superstar. My spring line actually does have many tailored pieces, and honestly even my structured pieces employ some stretch fabric. I think the difference in my pieces, though, is that I choose fabrics that don’t actually look like stretch. For example I have a two piece set made completely of chiffon, that is structured to look like it hugs your body and was made especially for you – but on sight you wouldn’t assume it was stretch. As I meet more customers and get feedback, I challenge myself to meet needs such as this. I’m always open to these types of criticisms and love to hear from my thiQ girls!

Q: What is the size range?

A: That’s actually flexible – since I make everything to order. Generally my customers range from about a size 12 to a size 24. With the new line I intend to sell more inventory as opposed to custom made pieces for the sake of efficiency and fast turnaround for my local and long-distance customers, but if I don’t have something in a requested size I’ll most definitely make it.

Q: What is the average price range?

A: Separates range from $45 - $85, cocktail/party dresses range from $65-$118, denim and jumpers range from $85-$200, and formal dresses range from $100 - $400 depending on the length and complexity, and whether it’s something I have or something that’s custom made – which would of course be on the higher end.

Q: Once you get the seamstress situation solved will the prices go down some? Many of us love your designs but everyone doesn't have the pockets to get them.

A: I battle with my team over this all the time. Most designers come into the game shooting to be high-end exclusive, which I suppose is where the fame is, but I came into this wanting to stick with the population that got me started. It was me and my girls - who by no means were rolling in dough - so yes, once we are able to mass produce and do so economically without sacrificing quality I'd love to bring the price low enough to be accessible to the mainstream.

Q: What current trends have you incorporated into the Summer Line i.e. nautical, sequins, draping, ruffles, rouging, pleating, and one-shoulder.

A: I have jumpers, Grecian draping, tropical-colored maxi dresses (corals, teals, etc.), pencil fitted sheath dresses, and nude dresses and separates.

Q: Any advice for aspiring fashion designers?

A: It seems obvious, but wear your own designs. If you don’t, why would anyone else? Not only did I wear my outfits, my friends did too – and as a group of sexy, chic curvy girls we caught every eye in the room. Be your own biggest fan, and you’ll draw crowds.

Get out and network, especially at fashion events that cater to your demographic. For me, it was Full Figured Fashion Week in New York, partnering with promoters who catered to Boston socialites – folks who actually paid good money for and wore chic party dresses on a regular basis – to do fashion shows as a prelude to a party, and making time to take advantage of any opportunity for exposure.
Join a coalition – BRAG was a great suggestion given to me, actively interacting with bloggers through feedback on their pieces, join a group on facebook and add photos, anything that will give you a platform to expose your pieces.

Q: Who is your favorite designer?

A: I actually love Christian Cota and Donna Karan right now…I love their sexy twists on classic looks. They both celebrate curves, which of course I appreciate.

Q: Have you been asked to work with other designers?

A: No, not yet…but I’m definitely open to it!

Q: Are there any models that you would like to work with?

A: Toccara – I’ve loved her since ANTM.

Q: Any embarrassing moments at a fashion show like wardrobe malfunction?

A: Oh man, definitely. When I first started out I completely underestimated the value of a pre-show fitting. I ended up pinning all of my models into their clothes, and doing that completely wrong, and the poor girls were getting stabbed up and down the runway. They were so mad at me (laughing), but thankfully they were patient and today we can laugh about it!


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