Kelsey Kalnow started as a collector, grabbing up unique vintage items, stocking her closet and selling what she didn’t want. Today, she’s an entrepreneur; the creative and driving force behind global plus-size clothing line Unholy Hips (UNHH) — and it’s about so much more than just looking cute.
“We try to think of it as a lifestyle brand,” says Kalnow, who infuses UNHH’s website (unholyhips.com) and blog with messages of body positivity. Interviews with plus-size fashion bloggers, “big girl” Rock and Roll bands and members of the body positivity movement along with witty plus-size memes inspire and inform what Kalnow views as the plus-size lifestyle.
“There’s a lot of things for me being a person that’s been all different sizes, that you notice — what stores work for you, what hairstyles, makeup, things like that — so we try to not only connect with our clothing but with our lives,” she says of UNHH.
“I don’t even like to use the term ‘plus size,’” she adds. “I think of it more as a curve appeal. As females, to say that someone is plus size, who knows, that could be their natural body shape. So, to me, that’s what you have: your curve appeal, your body shape.”
Kalnow got the push to start UNHH from her mother and a friend, who both commented that she should turn her passion for selling plus-size vintage into a career when she revealed she was dissatisfied with what she was doing as an art student at Cincinnati State.
“It’s almost like I had a midlife crisis at a young age,” Kalnow says. “It was literally like, ‘I need to do something and I need to be my own boss and I want to have my own business,’ and from there it was just, ‘OK, this is what I have now, this is what I have to work with,’ and it just sort of grew.
The more followers I got [on the UNHH blog, website and Facebook page], the more sales we would make.”
So Kalnow launched UNHH operations out of her apartment as an e-commerce site, selling vintage renewal items that she had edited, studded and spiked to women across the globe.
Part of the appeal of ecommerce was rooted in Kalnow’s personal understanding of plus-size women, who might not feel comfortable shopping or trying on items in a store. The other part was a concern about not being able to support a storefront locally.
“We thought about getting a storefront in Cincinnati and thought, ‘Well, we don’t know how much business that would be,’ ” she says. “And it’s funny because [the plus-size market] is taking off in so many other countries before it’s taking off in the United States.”
E-commerce turned out to be a boon for UNHH — Australia may be their biggest market yet. They’ve shipped many items down under, and taken the brunt of the cost. “I don’t care if I lose money, if I can make someone else feel better,” Kalnow says.
And as the popularity of UNHH’s altered vintage line grew, it allowed UNHH to start toying with the idea of creating an original clothing line.
Assistance from SpringBoard, the creative entrepreneurial business planning and development program, as well as Kalnow’s friends, helped UNHH take this next step. SpringBoard outfitted UNHH with a lawyer and an accountant; Kalnow recruited an organized best friend for UNHH’s paperwork, another friend to work the technical aspects of pattern design and still more friends to volunteer as fit models. (UNHH offers an incredibly helpful service, listing their fit-model’s measurements online to help purchasers make sizing decisions.)
So the team at UNHH, helmed by Kalnow as creative director, is currently working on completing their first independently designed line with plans to finish samples by the end of the month.
The new UNHH line will still have vintage, but they’ll also be incorporating trends such as high waists, pleated pants, leather, lace, sheer, mesh and chiffon.
“Things like that that have never been assumed for a plus-size person,” she adds. “I can’t tell you how many lines I’ve seen for plus-size women that are ageist, assumed ethnicity or just basically not good, not flattering. We wanted to be that alternative where you can feel confident and comfortable, but still sexy and attractive and different.”
HighStreet downtown has signed on to be UNHH’s first buyer, with added interest from national retailers.
“I want to take that plus-size girl from wearing sweatpants to tight jeans,” Kalnow says. “To feel that comfortable.”
“I just work every day because I believe in this cause,” she adds. “I don’t care if I make two cents. If I can make someone look or feel better about themselves, I feel great. That is my job.”
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