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Plus-Size Designer: Bigger People Need Good Style



There is a new reality show in town. It's on the TLC Network. That's the network known for popular style and fashion hits like, "What Not to Wear" and "Say Yes to the Dress." Now a new show focuses on how fashion is trying to catch up to our changing population, clothing designed for plus-sized women. "Big Brooklyn Style" follows Lisa Dolan, owner of Lee Lee's Valise, as she designs her own looks and helps her customers find looks that work for them.



LISA DOLAN: I love fashion, but growing up plus-sized really made it tough. I had to settle a lot. Not a single designer was out there making great plus-sized clothes. You can't just take a size two and bring it up to a size 22 and expect it fit correctly. So I started making clothes myself. It took a girl from Brooklyn to say hey, you don't want to do it. I'll do it.

MARTIN: And Lisa Dolan joins us now. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

DOLAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Did you have a eureka moment when you said look, I just, this is something I just have to do?

DOLAN: There was a moment and the recession kind of helped so...



DOLAN: Well, it's a good thing...

MARTIN: Tell me more.

DOLAN: ...and a bad thing. You know, recession is a bad thing but it did force me to make my own clothes because designers stopped making clothes in the sizes that I carry in my store.

MARTIN: Wow. I didn't know that. So tell me a little bit more about that, what you said in the clip that we just played, that you can't just take a size two and bring it up to size 22 and expect it to fit correctly.

DOLAN: Right. What they do is they have a pattern made, let's say it goes up to a size 12. They take the same pattern and they just extend it as if we grow and get bigger like that big plastic man you see by the used car lot.


DOLAN: That's not how we get bigger. You need to start a new pattern that accounts for curves. Not just a big boxy item that's thrown over you, it's something that actually flatters you figure.

MARTIN: And what about the concept itself, of kind of helping people find their way into a look that works for them?

DOLAN: You mean like when I have a new customer in the store for the first time?

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Right. Mm-hmm.

DOLAN: That's the best. The best part of the day is the brand-new customer that runs around the store like a kid in a candy store, wants everything, wants to try everything on. It just warms my heart seeing how happy they are because we do it together.

MARTIN: Let me just play a clip from one young woman who came into your store. Her name is Shelley King. And here is.



SHELLEY KING: My foster mother never really gave me that encouragement that I could do anything. It was a lot of body-conscious things. She would always say, no man is going to want you if you're plus-sized and you need to lose weight. And it kind of stuck with me. Even as an adult you still need that encouragement, you know, so.

DOLAN: I could be mom of clothing.


MARTIN: Well, you know, you two are having a nice laugh there, but you can see where this can be very emotional, you know, and just like the other programs that we mentioned on TLC, you know, "What Not to Wear" and "Say Yes to the Dress," there's a lot of emotion around clothing. And I just wanted to know whether that's something that, you know, we're going to see a lot of on this.

DOLAN: Well, when you buy a new dress and if you could fit into a contemporary size and you buy a new dress aren't you emotional? Aren't you happy? You know, we have this woman that doesn't have that all the time so when it does happen and they do put something on, they look in the mirror and they're like that's me? That's an emotional moment that they have to connect with they're seeing with their eyes now and how they feel.

MARTIN: And you're show doesn't involve a lot of judgment. Sometimes, you know, we've interviewed the host of "What Not to Wear" on this program, sort of previously, and one of the things we talked about is there is a fine line between helping people in judging them and making them feel as though they're being judged. You're not in the business of judging people. You're not in the business of telling people this is...


MARTIN: Or I don't know. How do you see that question? Because clearly there are times when I think that there are things which will not work as well on every customer, right? How do you handle that?

DOLAN: I'm a store. I have clothes. I have dresses. I have prints. I have fun. I have colors. I don't judge anyone that walks in that door. Everyone's allowed in. And I know people start to go to unhealthy, healthy, that whole issue. It doesn't matter to me where you're coming from, you need to go to work tomorrow, you have a party on Saturday, I'm going to dress you.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Lisa Dolan. She's the owner of the plus-sized boutique Lee Lee's Valise. She and her husband Jim star in the new TLC reality program "Big Brooklyn Styles."

Speaking of your husband Jim, he says in the first episode that all he wanted to do was open his own bar. How is he handling the women's clothing business? How is that going?

DOLAN: Yes. He has his joke now he's in women's clothes, which we love.


DOLAN: Jim's great. He knows how to sell. Let me tell you something. We went shopping together many years where he stood outside that dressing room guarding a whole rack of dresses I wanted to try on but I could only take in so many to the dressing room. He knew to protect those clothes. He knew how hard it was for me to find things when I did find.

MARTIN: How do women like having him there, though? Do they feel like, oh no or yes...

DOLAN: Are you kidding me? They love him.

MARTIN: They love him? Really?


DOLAN: They ask him all the time, so Jim, would you buy me drink wearing this dress?


MARTIN: Does he ever say no?

DOLAN: Only when he offered to buy them a car.

MARTIN: OK. Are you going to explain that a little bit more?

DOLAN: Well when they said Jim, would you buy me a drink in this dress? And he said no. And they were like, really? He's like, I'd buy you a car.


MARTIN: You know, but Lisa, you know, on a serious note there, there's a lot in the news about Americans and weight. A new study projects that more than 40 percent Americans will be obese by the year 2030.

DOLAN: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And a lot of the conversation is how can people be healthier and so forth? And I just, you know, gee, I'm trying to figure out a way to ask this. But do you ever...

DOLAN: We all want to be healthy.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

DOLAN: We all want to live lives where we're doing the right thing so that we could live longer. My husband and I, I'm plus-size. We do yoga. We eat healthy. It doesn't just come off. Sometimes it's a lifestyle. I've been the same weight for five years, fluctuating here and there five, 10 pounds but not a drastic change. I am not going to yo-yo anymore. I am trying to be healthy. I take vitamins every day. We go for walks. We have yoga. We do acupuncture. We try so many different things. But again, our show is all about the clothes. The end.

MARTIN: Yeah. I hear what you're saying. It's just there's an argument that the fact that there are more services and businesses out there catering to the plus-sized customer is not necessarily a good thing. And I know that's a hard thing to...

DOLAN: Listen, I've had people walk in off the street say that I was advocating obesity because I had clothes to fit them. That's wrong. That is just wrong. Clothing is a necessity. Fashion is a necessity for a woman. So put them together and you have Lee Lee's Valise.

MARTIN: Lisa Dolan is the star of the new TLC reality program "Big Brooklyn Style." She and her husband are owners of Lee Lee's Valise. That's a plus-sized clothing boutique in Brooklyn. She was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York.

Lisa Dolan, thank you so much for joining us.

DOLAN: Thank you so much for having me.


MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And remember, to tell us more, please go to NPR.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also find our podcast there. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter @TELL ME MORE/NPR. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.