Project Runway’s latest spinoff features a panel of business experts including one that has successfully tapped into the lucrative market of plus size clothing in an unique way.
Meet Christine Hunsicker, CEO and co-founder of online plus size clothing subscription service Gwynnie Bee.
Hunsicker, who was included on Crain’s prestigious 40 under 40 list for 2016, is simply a powerhouse. An innovator, who thinks outside the box, Hunsicker started Gwynnie Bee in 2011 out of a New York apartment. Five years later, the NYC-based company now has 350 employees in four locations, including India.
A feminist, Hunsicker is passionate about helping women feel confident through fashion in a world where many plus size women feel ignored and shunned by the fashion industry. She continues to strive to make her business better for her customers and relies heavily on their feedback to help navigate that vision.
Hunsicker will be joining Project Runway: Fashion Startup, a new spinoff in the Project Runway franchise. She joins the panel which also includes Katia Beauchamp, the Co-Founder & CEO of beauty retailer Birchbox, fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, and business mentor of the CFDA Incubator program, CEO of Hilldun Corporation and Chairman of Interluxe Holdings LLC, Gary Wassner.
It makes perfect sense since it’s obvious Hunsicker knows her stuff when it comes to startups, especially since the premise of the show is to give aspiring fashion and beauty entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their startup business ideas to the panel for the chance to secure funds.
Think Project Runway meets Shark Tank.
We had the honor of chatting with Hunsicker for our 5 Questions feature and here’s what she had to say about the new show, Gwynnie Bee, the term “plus size” and more:
1. What led you to become a part of Project Runway Startup?
Hunsicker: Gwynnie Bee was initially approached to sponsor a component of the show. After speaking with the producers, we thought it would be a more exciting way to support the show and a dynamic group of entrepreneurs by being part of the panel. The four of us are all so different, but I think that we enjoyed and appreciated that our strengths complemented one another. We genuinely had a really great time together.
2. What inspired you to start a company that serves the fashion needs of plus size women in a unique way?
Hunsicker: After lots of market research and talking to women all across the country, it became apparent women who fit sizes 10-32 do not have access to the fashion they so rightly deserve. They were very open to a new relationship with clothing because theirs had been so suboptimal in the past and rental emerged as a great opportunity since it not only allowed us to provide women more access at lower levels of financial commitment, but also allowed us to promote the idea of having fun with fashion as a function of the “try, wear, exchange” model.
3. In the July/August 2016 issue of INC., you said:
“We stay away from working with certain brands that have publicly said they disdain this plus-size customer. But there are boutique brands out there that are looking to really build their businesses, and want their clothing to make women feel good. Making women feel good and confident about themselves is tied to how I feel as a feminist. Women should not allow the “other” to make them feel less than what they are.”
First, kudos to you! We definitely need more designers and companies to share that sentiment when it comes to creating fashion for all sizes. Do you think the mindset of those brands has changed since Gwynnie Bee’s 2011 launch and the current shift in the industry where we are seeing more body diversity?
Hunsicker: We certainly did not start this plus movement – we are standing on the shoulders of the early bloggers, writers, and feminists who fought for acceptance. We, as a culture, have been on the edge of this movement finally taking off for many years. I really hope that this time that it will become mainstream. After all, the majority of the population is size 14 and up, yet acceptance is still slow. We are proud to be contributing to this movement that I think will continue to diversify in size, fit and style. The industry will without a doubt become more inclusive in 2017 from advertising campaigns to editorial representation to expansion of size ranges in traditionally straight size brands. It’s an exciting time!
4. What do you think of the term “plus size”? Some models are pushing to banish the term and some say it helps them shop and feel like a part of a community. What are your thoughts?
Hunsicker: It’s a pretty charged issue, which I can understand. From my perspective, it’s just a descriptor that lets women know that “you can find your size here.” Over time, as more and more designers expand their size ranges, its necessity should fall away. I will add, however, that there should be nothing negative associated with being part of any size range.
5. Where do you see Gwynnie Bee in 5 years? More designer collaborations? Will you be expanding your brand assortment to include more sizes above 32?
Hunsicker: We are continuously working to expand our collection and provide a larger variety of options to our members by collaborating with more designers and brands. We want to keep them feeling confident and stylish and continue to be a leader in fashion’s sharing economy.
BONUS QUESTION: What advice would you offer someone wanting start their own business?
Hunsicker: Take risks, be direct and surround yourself with people you trust.
Special thanks to Christine Hunsicker for talking to us and for her passion in making fashion accessible to plus size women.