Front Room Calgary clothing company hopes to boom from big busts

A Calgary company is taking advantage of a gap in the women's clothing market by making clothes for big chested women.

Former oil and gas analyst starts line of clothing for women with a D cup and up

Melanie Love started Front Room: Style for the top, after years of feeling like she was 'busting out of my clothes.' (Judy Aldous)

Melanie Love knows it can be dangerous to lean in.

Being well endowed, it can draw attention away from the business at hand, and refocus it on the "ladies that are trying to escape," as the 42-year-old entrepreneur puts it.

Finding clothes when your bra size is D or up is a challenge.

"If it fits me in the chest, it's huge everywhere else and looks like a tent. I've lost all my shape and I might as well wear a gunny sack. If it fits my body, it's trashy and everything's popping out."

Love, who worked as an oil and gas analyst for 20 years, waited for someone else to come along and solve this problem.

"The market opportunity was so ripe. But no one ever did."

Boardroom to the change room

So Love left the boardroom, worked her way through seven pattern makers and last June, finally launched Front Room: Style made for the top.

Front Room is a line of office tops and dresses for women with a bra cup size D to KK.

Her sales, which are into the "tens of thousands," are mostly online though she does sell through one local boutique, Espy.

Megan Szanik owns the Inglewood store.

"What I love about Front Room is it's giving me a tool in my arsenal that I can bring to a woman who is full busted and say 'here.' And she doesn't quite believe it, that it exists before she puts it on. And then she goes 'Whoa' because she's used to altering this tent-y maternity blouse and altering it 16 sizes and it never quite looks right."

Kimberly Nelson has struggled to find office-appropriate clothes that look good and are comfortable. 

"You don't want to feel strapped in and fabric taped everywhere. You don't want to think about that kind of stuff. You want to focus on the meeting."

Love slips into a changing room and emerges wearing one of her signature pieces, a blue silk top and demonstrates how it can be feminine without being revealing.

"Because I'm used to being in a boardroom, I bent over to make sure that there's no cleavage for when I'm signing a deal or doing due diligence, so I checked in the mirror to make sure that the girls aren't hanging out and the guys aren't getting an eyeful."

A tough place to make clothes

Calgary is not considered a hub for fashion so starting a clothing line here has had its challenges.

Her suppliers and manufacturers are in Vancouver and Toronto and the sinking dollar means her materials imported from the United States are even more expensive.

And then there's trying to make the pitch.

"The challenge with marketing is that all the words are porn. Our marketing pitch can't be — hey you with the big boobs, come over here."

The downturn hasn't hit her because her market is outside Calgary and increasingly in the United States. 

"Half of my traffic online is American and a quarter of my sales are from there. That's where the growth will be."

Love believes she has two avenues to success — either she'll work her way up to opening a store or she'll build her online following and then be bought up by a bigger designer.

She points to the UK-based clothing retailer Bravissimo as her model.

In the end, she wants to see a new category of clothes

"There are clothes for short women and tall women and maternity wear. I mean there are multiple stores that are designed for nine months of a woman's life but not for 40 per cent of the population who is a D and above? It's a little bit baffling."

About the Author

Judy Aldous

CBC Radio

Judy Aldous is an award-winning reporter and producer who has worked across the country for CBC Radio. She's been working with CBC Calgary since 2002 and is currently the host of alberta@noon.

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