Relishing her big, beautiful body, Kerrilynn Shustak started Arizona BBW Parties to rally other big, beautiful women and men to get together for a positive size-acceptance environment.
The social group spurred a plus-size clothing business.
The Mesa 48-year-old started the social group in 1996 after moving to the area and wanting to meet friends. The first event brought together 13 people for dinner on Mill Avenue. The online group now has hundreds of members, with about 30 to 50 active members.
The group gets together for barbecues, parties, cruises, trips and charity events. The result of the group: Ten marriages, three babies, and countless friendships.
Annette “Annie” Blackmon of Scottsdale happened across the group online and first went to a BBW event at a West Valley club in 2001.
“Sometimes, when you’re a big, beautiful woman in an average-size world, you just don’t feel quite like you fit in, especially in the night life,” said Blackmon, 45, an accounting manager for a homebuilder. “My friends in BBW are more like my family. You know you’re going to be accepted no matter what. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
On a quest to find unique, sexy outfits that fit their bodies, Shustak and Theresa Jehl of Gilbert, who met through the BBW group, started BBW Boutique in 2003.
The two run the online plus-size clothing store, selling sizes XL to 7X, out of their homes.
“We couldn’t find clothing that was attractive for plussize women,” said Jehl, 50, married with three children. “We both like color and vibrant things.”
The women work with a seamstress to design the clothes, and send those prototypes to manufacturers in Los Angeles and Indonesia.
Using their own style and customer feedback, they design one-of-a-kind clothes, from club wear and Victorian dresses to sun dresses and Western wear, using hand-dyed silk, denim and handmade custom batik from Bali. Only 18 pieces are available in each design and color.
“We wanted our own label, our own presence, our own us,” said Shustak, a purchasing manager for an aerospace company. “We really know what things work, since we’re plus-size women.”
Their clothes sell internationally, with the highest number of customers from England, Australia and Canada.
“You’ve been made to feel that you should cover up,” said Jehl, showing off her cleavage in a batik Bohemian-inspired gypsy top. “We want to feel sexy. You can’t find this stuff at stores. It’s sexy. It’s fun and it’s something no one else has.”
Whenever Debrah Lechner of Chandler is updating her wardrobe, she first checks with the BBW Boutique for new items.
“Not only do they have stylish clothes that are really cut to fit a large women’s figure, but their prices are very good,” said Lechner, 52, who has bought sarongs, dresses and two-piece outfits from the boutique. “I really do think that they know what’s going to look good and how things are going to fit. Their styles tend to be more unique. When they get something in, it’s something different than I’ve seen other places.”
How to join
To join the Arizona BBW Parties Yahoo group, e-mail sales@ bbwboutique.com.
For information on the BBW Boutique, visit www.bbwboutique.com.