Chubstr Crush features profiles of and conversations with women who inspire us. When the much beloved plus size boutique Re/Dress NYC shut its doors in 2011, it left a hole in the market for vintage and modern clothing in extended sizes. Luckily, Rachel Kacenjar loved the store so much that she bought it and has been in the process of bringing it back, first as an online entity, since the beginning of the year. We talk to Rachel about getting into plus size fashion, bringing Re/Dress back from the dead, and her plans for a brick and mortar store.
How did you get into plus size fashion? I've always been creative and I've always been fat. But when I first started to be really interested in expressing myself with fashion (I was really into riot grrl, punk, and goth styles in my early teens), there wasn't much out there for me. A friend of mine knew how to sew, so I started designing hoodies, pants, and skirts. I'd pick out fabric, and she’d sew up my ideas. We called our clothing company Pritty Kitty–I'd take pictures of my friend wearing the clothing, and then we'd make cut-and-paste zine catalogues and pass them out to cool kids in the mall. We actually got quite a few orders!
Eventually, that project got put on the back burner, and, in the meantime, I had a whole bunch of different jobs, mostly dealing with women's health and non-profit administration, finance and fundraising. When I went to New School University in NYC, I wore mostly plus-size vintage clothing that I bought at thrift and secondhand stores back in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Plus-sized women would stop me on the street and literally offer to buy dresses off my back. So, when I came back home to visit family, I would ship myself boxes and boxes of plus-size vintage that I thrifted and sell it to people both locally and via a fashion resale group called "fatshionista" on Livejournal. It was the beginning of my plus-size vintage shop, Cupcake & Cuddlebunny.
How did you end up taking over Re/Dress? I worked for Re/Dress Online for the last year and a half, after having had three fashion shows there and being a big supporter of the store. Deb, the owner, told me she planned to sell last Fall, and it really broke my heart. I was really worried that a big box chain might absorb it, or that it might just disappear entirely, so I started negotiating with Deb to buy the assets of the store from her. This was a win/win for both of us, because Deb was sincerely interested in seeing the mission of Re/Dress carried forward.
Why do you think it's so important that something like Re/Dress exists? I believe that clothing provides an opportunity for people to express themselves politically and creatively, and that everyone deserves equal access to that opportunity. By choosing and wearing stylish clothes, people can work to create a society that embraces wider and more diverse standards of beauty. It is equally important, I believe, to host a physical store–a safe and body-affirming place where people can meet, share ideas and resources and conspire together. But it’s equally important that Re/Dress offers an online component in order to reach the largest possible audience, especially people who feel geographically or otherwise isolated from the fashion world.
You've just launched a brand new website for Re/Dress – what can people expect to find there? It’s bigger and better than ever–in addition to popular favorites like teggings and accessories, you’ll also find a seriously expanded vintage section and new tegging variations like tank tops and tube tops. We have the hottest trends in sizes 12-24, including skater dresses, statement necklaces, graphic tights and leggings. In the near future, we’ll offer expanded sizes up to 5X and a selection of masculine-of-center styles including haberdashery items like hats, bow ties and handkerchiefs and vintage and modern mens styles.
You've mentioned that in addition to the website, you want to bring back the brick and mortar store. Why is that so important to you, and where do you think it'll end up being located? I spoke a little about why it’s important–briefly, communities need meeting places, and a Re/Dress store can be a center for the plus-sized fashion community. My hometown is Cleveland, OH–it’s a centrally-located city that has taken a lot of steps lately to encourage artists, designers and small business owners, and the store will probably be located there. In the future, I’d like to open stores in NYC and on the West Coast, and, eventually, to have a chain of Re/Dress stores straddling the world.
Tell us a little about the Restore Re/Dress campaign you ran on Indiegogo earlier this year. You hit your goal of $25k, right? Well, we surpassed our goal of $25,000. We decided on that amount because it would allow us to first re-launch Re/Dress and then to expand into a larger selection of sizes and styles. The funds we’ve raised beyond the goal amount are earmarked for opening a physical location, and we hope the additional money will allow us to open the physical store sooner than we originally planned.
Now that the campaign is over, how can people help support Re/Dress? People can help out by shopping the site, telling their friends about it and spreading our mission by being brave, encouraging and supportive about creativity, fashion and self-expression. If I could say one thing to all plus-sized people interested in fashion, it would be: don’t follow rules, follow your heart. Being daring and expressive can change society, create personal connections and open you to amazing rewards.