Plus-size options for the young-and-trendy set have improved markedly over the last few years—there’s ASOS, Ashley Stewart, Boohoo, Torrid, and Forever 21, to name a few—but for professional women who work in an office all day and can’t do so in, say, ripped skinny jeans or a velvet romper, the options are still maddeningly slim. At least, that’s what Of Mercer founders Emelyn Northway and Dorie Golkin heard again and again from would-be customers after launching their women’s workwear brand three years ago. Until now, their sizes have ranged from a 00 to a 14, but after extensive research, development, and, in Golkin’s words, talking to “basically anyone who would talk to us about what was lacking in the market,” today they’re launching extended sizes up to a 20W.
Having met at Wharton Business School and cut their teeth in the finance and consulting worlds, both founders were concerned, first and foremost, with starting out with pieces that would be most successful, so they narrowed down the initial launch collection to nine styles that could fit seamlessly into a working woman’s nine-to-five wardrobe, including tailored shift dresses in corporate-friendly neutrals, a swingy rayon wrap dress, a drape-y cardigan (ideal for air-conditioned offices), and a classic pencil skirt, all made in New York and priced under $200.
“Really high quality suiting for plus-sizes is one of the things that’s really missing from the market. People go to Theory, but they don’t go beyond size 12—sometimes a size 14, but even then the fit is a little bit funky,” explains Golkin. “So some of the staples that we have were really what was in demand—Italian wool, made-in-New York sheath dresses. They may not be so sexy and exciting, but they are things that working women really need, and there are plenty of working women who are bigger than a size 12.”
They even tapped a few of them for their campaign: Clémentine Desseaux, founder of the All Woman Project, Katie Sturino of The 12ish Style , and Julie Henderson, a plus-size model who co-founded women’s empowerment coalition ALDA after Ford Models shut down its plus-size division. Based on feedback from them and dozens of other women, they added a few key tweaks to their existing styles for the extended-sizing range, including a stitch on the sleeve of one dress that can be let out if the fit is too restrictive.
They also fit the collection on a size 16W fit model (one of the reasons for the “funky” fit in larger sizes elsewhere is designers fit on a size 6 and scale up), and kept pricing and shopping experience exactly the same as it was for the existing sizes. But, they say, this is just the beginning: down the road, they hope to add sizes above a 20 and options for petite and tall women.
“Having a direct relationship with customers is a lot of the reason we really went into this, and we’re finding there are other areas we need to expand into as well,” says Northway. “We really just want to be able to serve women of all shapes and sizes in the same way.
In the slideshow, shop the collection and see photos from Of Mercer’s campaign.