Woman at Large fashion boutique - interview

PUBLISHED: 12:53 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 20 February 2013

Alison Gringell

Alison Gringell

Why should gorgeous fashion be the preserve of size zeros? It isn't in Coventry where Alison Gringell's fashion boutique is filled with beautiful clothing for larger women.

Big women are beautiful, so why shouldnt they look gorgeous? was Alison Gringells reasoning when she opened Woman at Large in the late 1980s to provide beautiful fashionable clothes for larger than average women. Recently celebrating 21 years in business, Woman at Large on Coventrys Spon Street has attracted a loyal customer following, proving there were plenty of other women who felt the same way.
Surrounded by rails of bright, colourful clothes in bold prints, Alison provides a prime example of how to dress with a bit of flair. I take a lot of pride in my appearance and to me it is absolutely essential that I look good and makes a huge difference to my self confidence.
With a background in the Health Service, Alison was new to the retail world when a dinner party conversation spurred her into opening her own shop.
I suppose I was a complete innocent abroad, she admits. I was in my late thirties at the time and about a dress size 20. I was a manager, so needed to look smart but was frustrated that I was forced to wear clothes that were too old for me, not particularly fashionable or stylish. Often I was going to London to buy clothes and was talking with friends about this problem and as the conversation went on just decided, there and then, to open a shop for bigger sizes.
Looking back, it was probably quite a foolish thing to do when you have no experience of the business at all, but I just felt really strongly about it.
Catering at the mid- to higher-end of the market for clothing sizes 16 to 30, Alison had to start from scratch and learn as she went: building contacts with suppliers and buyers at the major trade shows. Most of her collections are sourced from Germany, Scandinavia and Ireland; good quality pieces with a timeless style.
There is no sign of the tailored, over-structured items, or granny-style shirtwaist dresses Alison was often forced to wear. It was all quite boring and on a lot of big women didnt look very good. Our clothes are stylish in cut and style.
As she has gained more knowledge and experience, Alison has been able to educate many of her customers on changing the way that they dress. This includes altering the mindset that they can only spend money on themselves once theyve managed to lose weight and achieved their
target size.
The reality is many dont lose weight. If you do, than great you can buy some more nice clothes, but if you spend your life waiting for the magic size to look good, you may spend your whole life never looking good. Thats the mistake many women make.
One of few retailers specifically catering for the larger sizes, her customers come from as far afield as Ireland and the south coast as well as many from within Warwickshire, some of whom, both mothers and daughters, that have faithfully shopped with her since day one. Aimed at women aged from the mid-thirties upwards, the clothes cater for many tastes, styles and shapes, with individual items priced from 50 upwards, or a wedding outfit in the region of 250-500.
I think larger women have been indoctrinated into dressing in a boring way, hiding away behind dark, shapeless clothes and not being adventurous with what they wear, Alison explains. I dont think thats the way it should be because larger women look great in prints and bright colours; its like with a painting, because they are larger they have the ability to carry off more colourful outfits and larger prints. Ive also had some who said they would never wear trousers, but once you convince them that they can with suitable tops they wear them all the time. I just introduce people into new ways of wearing things. Our aim is to make people feel comfortable and happy.

Woman at Large is at 2 Spon Street, Coventry CV1 3BA. Tel: 024 7655 0300; www.woman-at-large.co.uk

Alisons Dressing Tips
Always wear the right size; dont try and squeeze into something thats not big enough.
Be adventurous and try different shapes and styles.
Dont be boring and try to hide, because you cant. Ladies often think If I wear something dark they wont see me. Well of course they will.
Dress to support your self confidence.
Believe that you deserve to look beautiful whatever your size and spend a bit of money on yourself.


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