Rather than simply up-grading existing patterns, as was the norm less than a decade ago, today’s leaders in the plus size sector have recognised the potential to be realised from cuts and structures that ensure perfect fit. Michele O’Neill knows this market and its needs better than most
When Callista was launched back in 2011 by its then Canadian owner, it created something of a stir, introducing a high-fashion approach and directional design tailored for the bride with real curves. Whereas then it was commonplace for manufacturers to tag on larger sizes to their existing range, Callista focused purely on all things plus and therefore never needed to clarify its offering by using the P word.
National stats show that the average UK woman is size 16, so it should come as no real surprise that Callista’s most ordered sizes fall in the 24-28 range, with made-to-measure options attracting a big audience.
“We think larger bride, not small bride and scale up; we think about covering the parts the bride would like to hide and showing off the parts she loves about herself,” says Michele O’Neill of Yorkshire-based family business, Ruby Productions, now owner of the label.
The acquisition of the brand came about as the result of the sudden decision by the former boss to withdraw completely – as a brand owner – from the bridal industry, giving Ruby Productions first refusal to purchase the label. “This was in February 2018 and with no warning and, whilst the timing was not necessarily ideal for us, we were ready to meet the inevitable challenges ahead,” says Michele.
Time for change
“We had already taken over several strategic activities more than 18 months previously, including product design and production management and, having won the Bridal Buyer Best Plus Size Collection award in 2017, we saw a significant opportunity in taking full control of the brand. Given that we already had strong operational capabilities, we were confident that by having full control, we could take the new, re-branded Callista Bride™ label to the next level, to realise its full potential, not just in the UK market, but internationally, too.”
Michele and husband Simon, the driving force duo behind Ruby Productions, have already made many changes including significant reductions in both wholesale prices and delivery lead times, with a more customer, rather than product-focused strategy being adopted.
New, direct-to-market distribution channels have been established in the US, Canada and Australia to better service demand in these markets, and further expansion plans are now being refined. “Callista Bride™ is now a proud British label, where our 4S approach – Style, Structure, Support, and Supreme Fit – underpins everything we do.” says Michele.
With a fast-growing stockist network – currently at 200 – and a well-earned reputation for delivering a quality product at the right price, this is a label of consequence, with around 150 styles in the collection. “Choice is vital in the market sector,” says Michele, and her advice to retailers is laced with experience:
“Not all retailers should consider stocking plus size dresses; they need to have sympathetic facilities, offer private appointments, have a private changing room and a wider selection of gowns to try on than a size-10 bride might require. If a shop is going to offer plus sizes then they should have samples in 22 to 28.
You have to remember that some brides may already have had a bad experience in a bridal boutique and their confidence needs a boost. I have come across shops that do not even have a plus-size mannequin! I think that it is so important for a shop to be able to display a plus-size wedding dress in their window from time to time. Retailers need to be proud to carry plus sizes, and to do special events for that audience.”
And the new collection that will be launched in the spring? “I’m still working on it so I don’t want to give too much away now, but whilst the collection will include the safe dresses, I am introducing more textural fabrics and colour,” Michele explains. “The collection will cover the silhouettes we are best known for, but I am expanding on the sexy and sparkle elements that our brides seem to love. Today’s brides like a break in tradition and are excited by different fabrics and colour. One of our most popular gowns currently is blue!”