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Pivoting for inclusivity 10 yrs ago paid off for this biz that serves M’sian plus-size women

Coming from the IT industry, Niko self-coded an e-commerce platform to start a business in 2008. At the time, she took no income and operated from her brother’s office, repaying him for the tenancy by maintaining his company website.

Without a set direction for the brand, the team ventured into the business with RM10K capital and began selling multiple product categories like toys, books, skincare, women’s and men’s fashion. It was during these trials that the shop started introducing oversized T-shirts. 

By 2012, the plus-size clothing category was contributing significant revenue to the company, helping it break through its first RM100,000 in sales. 

The constant feedback garnered from returning plus-sized female customers gave them enough confidence to consider a plus-size clothing brand of their own, one that understood the proper comfort and fit for these women. 

So the decision to pivot just made sense, and the team began focusing only on the plus-size segment with the launch of Mis Claire.

Finding the right fit

Mis Claire is named after one of the brand’s founding members, Clara, who’s a size UK18 (equivalent to size XXL) herself. She personally struggled in her search for clothes that fit her, and this became a fundamental requirement in designing products for Mis Claire.

The brand creates a line of clothing for any occasion / Image Credit: Mis Claire

The brand’s products comprising blouses, jeans, cardigans, hoodies, formal wear, and more, all come in large fit cuttings from XL to 7XL. All apparel are carefully designed, readjusted, and measured with the right cutting and silhouette for plus-size figures, specialising in Asian plus-size body types and height.

Such care is meant to reduce wardrobe malfunctions that plus-size women tend to experience with clothing that aren’t specifically made for them. Some common issues include ripping (when sizes are too small and the wrong materials are used), and chafing (friction between the thighs which may cause fabrics to rip or peel). 

To solve this, Mis Claire’s cuttings are larger for areas like the arms, thighs, and hips, as compared to other non-plus-size brands, when compared against the same UK18 sizing. 

These considerations also take into account the extra room required for the hips and thighs when its wearer sits down, in a way that still looks flattering when they stand up.

Learning by failing

All of Mis Claire’s products are designed in-house by its team in Malaysia, while manufacturing is done both locally and in China. Over the years, the team has learnt some valuable lessons in the process. 

For example, certain cutting or fabrics just won’t work for plus-size bodies, such as non-stretchable denim materials. 

They ensure all pieces are comfortable and flattering too / Image Credit: Mis Claire

“As we experiment with new materials, we do make mistakes,” they admitted. They attributed an instance from Mis Claire’s past Eid Collections. While they were thrilled to find a Songket material which was deemed fit for plus-size cuts, they failed to pay attention to the fabric’s durability. 

The nature of the Songket weaving process can cause the fabric to rip easily when it’s over stretched. Not wanting to further harm their customers’ experience, the decision was made to sunset (terminate) the collection. 

Mis Claire also refunded customers who were affected by the purchase.

“There’s monetary losses of course, but we cannot afford to leave that bad experience on a customer just because we did not do our research well,” they said. “We wouldn’t lie that we have completely solved all plus-size issues, but it is our basic fundamental requirement for designing our products.”

A growing market

When Mis Claire began a decade ago, the intention was to make plus-size clothing fashionable, wearable, and affordable. Based on my own shopping experiences, I find Mis Claire’s products to be priced quite averagely, within the range of RM45-RM88 for tops, and RM39-RM99 for pants, depending on the design and cut.

Much effort was put into product presentation and social media too, showcasing plus-size women of different shapes looking good and confident with the outfits. 

Some sketches of the design process / Image Credit: Mis Claire

As the team said there were no professional plus-size models available in Malaysia at the time, Mis Claire even trained its own staff members to model the clothing. The team also scouted for customers and local plus-size women to be models as well. 

Since then, there’s been an increase in body positivity movements and the embracing of various body sizes. Gone are the days when it was the norm to expect women to look like Barbies, and brands are taking note and becoming more inclusive.

Mis Claire’s team could agree, stating that it was uncommon to see clothing of sizes above 2XL in the market back in 2012. “If they did have larger sizes though, [they] would be either overpriced, dated, or both,” Niko stated.

She’s glad to now see the rise of plus-size movements worldwide, especially in Malaysia. More fashion brands have become plus-size inclusive, and bigger bodies are becoming more normalised. 

With that said, Mis Claire is also encouraging healthier lifestyles through its plus-size activewear and sports apparels, too.

Taking on an omnichannel approach

Mis Claire currently has one retail outlet that opened in 2019 after seeing a high demand from customers wanting to try on the clothing before buying. Personally, I can agree that this is a very important step when shopping for clothes. 

But the concern is likely heightened for plus-size women who might have had plenty of struggles with sizing while shopping online in the past.

The team is now preparing to open a flagship store in IOI City Mall by mid-2022. It is intended to reach more plus-size women and provide them the luxury of walking into a boutique dedicated to them, without the worry of not being able to find their sizes.

The physical boutique is in IOI City Mall / Image Credit: Mis Claire

However, rapid expansion for offline stores will not be the focus for Mis Claire’s team, as they believe that their website and Shopee store are still the best channels to serve nationwide customers. 

It can be said that their methods are working for them. Niko reported that on a monthly average, Mis Claire is transacting about 15,000 pieces of apparel.

“We are fortunate to have returning customers who are satisfied with our cuts and have provided us with many referrals by referring their friends and relatives of plus-sized nature to our webstore,” Niko shared.

In terms of whether Mis Claire will expand into different customer segments, the team disclosed that it is not their focus at the moment, having previously tried with a sub-brand that didn’t work out. 

However, they aren’t discounting any opportunities to diversify in the future.

Aside from continuing to develop relevant products for their customer base, they’re hoping to strengthen Mis Claire’s retail business at a steady pace and work towards becoming a household name. Part of the plan is to provide a seamless shopping experience for their customers, from online to offline.

  • Learn more about Mis Claire here.
  • Read about more Malaysian fashion startups here.

Featured Image Credit: The team at Mis Claire

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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