NEW YORK: Sears Holdings Corporation’s former PR director, Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler, is on a mission to help brides-to-be of every shape and size celebrate their bodies.
Her shop, Haute & Co. Bridal Boutique, which she opened in 2013, is the setting of a series called The Perfect Fit.
The six-episode series, which documents 12 curvy brides-to-be in search of the ultimate wedding gown, premiered on January 9 on Time Inc.’s free streaming network, PeopleTV.
Authentic Entertainment is producing the series.
Armstrong-Fowler’s Chicago shop specializes in intimate bridal consultations and offers classic and fashion-forward wedding dresses for brides sizes 14 to 32.
Armstrong-Fowler explained that when she worked at Sears, a conversation with a colleague who was also planning a wedding inspired her to open the boutique.
"She hadn’t gotten her dress yet because she said she was a size 26 and retailers weren’t forthcoming; they were discouraging her from making appointments, saying, ‘We don’t have gowns in your size,’" said Armstrong-Fowler. "When I did research, I realized there were two huge issues in the market: lack of service [for plus-size consumers] and having samples to try on."
After launching 12 products for Kmart, including apparel lines for Nicki Minaj and Adam Levine, Armstrong-Fowler said she had the confidence to open her own store because she "knew exactly what was happening in the marketplace."
Authentic Entertainment approached her in 2014 because it wanted to produce a bridal show, eventually deciding to focus on body positivity and drive conversation through social media.
"PeopleTV loved the idea and how we are celebrating women," she said. "They wanted to be a part of something that was clearly going to be bigger, and that is celebrating women in the space they live in today."
The Perfect Fit features stories from brides-to-be that include the psychological impact of body-shaming. Armstrong-Fowler said she is focusing on leveraging stories about body positivity and inclusivity on social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
PeopleTV is handling PR, including media relations, to promote the series. Publications such as People, Plus Model Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly have covered the show.
The first three episodes are debuting this week, with three more set for next week.
Starting in February, Armstrong-Fowler said 50% of Haute & Co.’s marketing content will include video to enable a greater level of engagement with consumers.
Women on social media are gradually talking more openly about body positivity, said Armstrong-Fowler, who has noticed hashtags such as #BodyPositivity and #GirlsWithCurvesRock popping up more often.
Social media has also helped her to identify what women really want from retailers.
"Accept me as I am today and create the appropriate product that has the quality and style as the woman I am today, not the woman you want me to be," said Armstrong-Fowler. "Once [retailers] see that movement and start participating in those conversations on social, it shapes your brand from the bottom up."
Whether sitting down to outline marketing plans, adding a line, or hiring a designer, Haute & Co. relies heavily on social conversation and listening to its target audience and what women are saying about their bodies.
At each appointment, Armstrong-Fowler and her team follow the motto: "Style, snatch, and slay." Style refers to finding each bride her perfect wedding gown; snatch to altering each dress to hug and accentuate the right curves; and slay to ensuring each bride "looks as fierce as possible on her wedding day and is ready to make the aisle her own personal runway," according to a release.
"We are creating an environment that says, ‘OK, now we can look for our wedding gown in a space that sees us for who we are,’" she said.
Armstrong-Fowler added that wording is important in marketing to plus-size women. Marketers should be wary of using polarizing language, such as phrases like "bigger girls."
"As everyone changes the algorithm to have more authenticity and true engagement, we have to understand how, as retailers, our customers are engaging with content and what they are looking for with that content," she said. "It is not enough anymore to put up a pretty dress. That’s very flat, we can see that on Pinterest."