Few stores have been around as long as Ashley Stewart, so I was excited to be one of a select few, to be invited to the new Ashley Stewart flagship store in the Fulton Mall.  I was met by Jackie Bivens of 360 Engagement, and as we entered the store the change was immediately seen. Don’t take me the wrong way when I say this, but the store looked like a straight size store. I can’t put my finger on it, it’s bright, dance music was playing, the energy and the store is beautifully styled. It was exciting to walk in and see brightly colored dresses, shorts, cropped pants, skirts, tank tops and two giant walls of accessories.

Little by little we all trickled in and greeted each other, Alissa Wilson – Stylish Curves, Cece – The Big Girl Blog, and a rep for Madison Plus and Golda Poretsky – Body Love Wellness.

Once we were all accounted for, Ashley Stewart’s President, Steve Newman, was introduced to us by Michele Weston- Body Lifestyle Expert and Founder of Selling Style Inc., to speak with us about the new direction for the brand. I was happy to hear the focus for the clothing is not just “curvy” inspired but “fashion” inspired, which is what all brands should be doing. Yes, there are things that we need like longer tanks or more room for arms, but we should never have to sacrifice fashion for comfort.

Why the new look? Well there is a new feeling about the Ashley Stewart woman, and it seems like they are taking their old formula, “Great Woman of Style” and bringing her into a more current and contemporary place in fashion. This 25 to 45 year old woman is sexy, and wants good clothing at a great value that fits her body well. This is the focus for the New Ashley Stewart and in just a few short moments, we were about to find out for ourselves as we were treated to a full look by Ashley Stewart.

In celebration of Ashley Stewart’s 20 years commitment to the plus sizes woman, they are taking a very liberating approach to fashion for plus size women which will now include a wider variety of accessories, handbags, swimwear and shoes. Last Fall they began offering size 12 because of the demand they received from this potential customer and it’s been a huge success. All clothing is available in sizes 12 to 24 in store, and 26 through 32 online. Customers can look forward to having access to a computer when they cannot find a certain garment in the store, the order can be placed and shipped to the store, free.

The big elephant in the room was the question about Ashley Stewart incorporating models of other ethnicity’s, so the question was asked and yes, Ashley Stewart will continue to, and will be incorporating all ethnicity’s in future campaigns. I remember when Ashley Stewart used Crystal Renn in a campaign and I was awakened by phone calls of worried friends who thought Ashley Stewart was bought by another brand. Well obviously, this was not the case, but it was a prelude for things to come. Ashley Stewart has marketed to the Black and Latino community very well for the majority of their existence, and while some customers may not be entirely comfortable with the idea, it’s a smart move from a business stand point to include all women.

Many years ago I remember my boss telling me, “Maddy, people don’t like change, and at times its uncomfortable, but in the end it’s necessary“. I think the new look, the feel and the energy was necessary for Ashley Stewart to come back into the spotlight after last years bankruptcy announcement. Ashley Stewart is back and in a big way…

I’ll have more for you from the Ashley Stewart flagship store when I attend a press event on May 18, 2011. If your in the New York area visit the store and let us know what you think.

Special thanks to Steve Newman, Colleen Koch, Hovig Garabedian, Jackie Bivens and Michele Weston for inviting PLUS Model Magazine.