Plus size clothing got chicer when Monif Clarke stepped into the game. For seven years, the designer has been creating stylish contemporary apparel and swimsuits for the curvy girl. Now, she's looking to take her brand and revamped website MonifC.com to the next level. The Focus100 advisory board member tells ESSENCE.com all about it.
ESSENCE.com: Why did you choose to start this particular business?
MONIF CLARKE: I am a plus size woman myself and I was frustrated with the lack of fashion-forward plus size clothing. After leaving a career in technology and the non-profit space, I decided to take the plunge and start my dream business.
ESSENCE.com: What has been the most challenging and most rewarding part about starting Monif C.?
CLARKE: The most challenging part of Monif C. has been convincing the retailers that the plus size customer is fashion-forward and is an active shopper who wants fashionable clothing. When we first started, most big box stores told us that although the clothing is beautiful, they doubt the customer wanted fashion-forward clothing, but rather, preferred drab, oversized clothing. It has been a challenge to advocate for this customer to get the product on the floor, but with our recent partnership with Nordstrom, I see things turning around.
The most rewarding part has definitely been the emails and conversations with customers thanking me and my team for what we do. Women have emailed us to say they finally feel like there is a clothing brand just for them, that makes them feel beautiful, sexy, and complements their lifestyle.
ESSENCE.com: How is your site offering a fresh perspective or filling a void on the web?
CLARKE: When we started out siven years ago, most of the websites and imagery for plus size women were completely unflattering and it was obvious retailers were not spending money to represent the lifestyle of a stylish, confident plus size woman. It was just instinctual for me to break the mold and really take the styling, design and photo shoots to the next level. I knew what the customer wanted because I am the customer. I've noticed over the years that campaigns, product and websites have started to reflect a change in the landscape and I believe we were at the forefront of bringing this fresh perspective to the market.
ESSENCE.com: What are your five favorite websites to keep up with the latest in fashion?
CLARKE: WWD.com, Style.com, Elle.com, FashInvest.com and BusinessoFFashion.com
ESSENCE.com: Which online retailers would you recommend for the best shopping experience and selections?
CLARKE: There are a few retailers that I keep my eye on because I think they are on the forefront of using technology well in the fashion industry. ASOS.com, nastygal.com and shopbop.com's new website. The interactive feel of the product detail pages and the new look books highlighting their product is very engaging as a customer. I'm also excited to unveil the latest version of MonifC.com as well as other new online initiatives to bring the Monif C. experience to our customers through the web.
ESSENCE.com: Which fashion apps can you not live without?
CLARKE: The truth is, I'm not a huge app fan! I do though devour magazines via my iPad using Zinio. I especially love that I can read international fashion magazines!
ESSENCE.com: How do you keep abreast of what's new and fresh online?
CLARKE: Google is definitely my friend. If I hear about bloggers, new retailers key industry news, I Google it or bookmark it for future reading. My iPad is chock full of saved research I have yet to even start reading!
ESSENCE.com: What was the most important thing you learned when starting your business that you can share with budding entrepreneurs?
CLARKE: Study your industry, but also study the top players in all industries. I study gourmet food e-tailers, electronics e-tailers—not just fashion companies. I always have my eyes ahead of where Monif C. is right now. I used to study retailers doing $1 million in sales, but now, seven years later, I'm studying the retailers that are doing $50 million and up to see how they are creating more and more value for their customers. I also read voraciously. I am on my 87th book for 2012. My goal is 100 books this year. I read everything from business books to spiritual books to books on the psychology of buying.