BellaNOR, a Mt. Airy boutique owned and operated by 2004 MBA graduate Chanae Davis, caters to full-figured women, sizes 14 to 24.
After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in 2001 and Master’s degree in 2004 – both in marketing from Fox School of Business–Chanae Davis gave up the opportunity to work in Gap’s corporate office in San Francisco for a “more stable job” in information technologies. Citing her family’s belief that fashion wasn’t a reliable career, Davis said they wanted her to have a job with greater security.
Fast-forward six years, Davis is now the proud owner and sole employee of BellaNOR, a small boutique housed in a former art gallery on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy she opened on Sept. 20. What sets BellaNOR apart from Philadelphia’s slew of women’s boutiques, however, is its dedication to full-figured ladies. Davis said she only carries sizes 14 to 24.
Davis, not a full-figured woman herself, said she recognized the lack of stylish clothing for plus-size women through her experiences with other women.
“A number of my girlfriends are fuller-figured and I realized the difficulty that they have if they wanted to go out,” Davis said. “And I wanted to have a place where they could come in, grab something and go, and just make it easier for them to shop. And I want them to enjoy shopping.”
Davis said her goal with BellaNOR was to create an environment where fuller-figured women feel comfortable with their shapes. Rather than in mass-market stores, where a size 14 woman may see a size 4 woman trying on the same dress in the fitting room and subsequently feel self-conscious, Davis said she wants her clients to feel confident.
“I wanted full-figured women to have a store where they can come in and it’s all about them,” she said. “That’s it, it’s all about them.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average woman in America weighs approximately 164 pounds and has a 37-inch waist, which roughly translates to size 14. However, according to New York-based daily fashion newspaper, Women’s Wear Daily, size 14 is also the least-commonly purchased size.
Davis attributes this discrepancy to what she calls “size denial,” a mentality fuller-figured women suffer from when they realize their options are limited to stores such as Lane Bryant or Ashley Stewart.
“There’s a hesitance with them to shop there,” Davis said. “And that’s why I think a lot of times we see fuller-figured women and their clothes are ill-fitting, because they don’t want to accept the fact that [they’re] full-figured, they’re curvy.”
In light of the shortage of stylish plus-size apparel, Davis said she wants to change the mentality.
“You can still be sexy, you can still be hot, and you don’t have to wear black [or] polyester,” she added. “There’s a lot of things out there for you to be fabulous and it’s just about embracing who you are, and having more stores like [BellaNOR] that just cater to them.”
And Davis succeeds at doing just that. On a quick lap through her pale-blue boutique, shoppers–whom she nicknamed “Bellanistas”–will find leopard-print pencil skirts, wardrobe staples, sexy wrap dresses, sequined tanks, belted cardigans, little black dresses, Not Your Daughter’s Jeans and obi belts in sizes large to triple-XL. She said she tries to stock her store with clothing that appeals to all age groups and ethnicities and flatters various body types.
When Rasheada Wallace, 21, ventured into BellaNOR on a cloudy Wednesday morning helping a friend find a dress for a holiday party, she acknowledged the apparent lack of stylish apparel for plus-size women in mainstream stores.
“I feel like a lot of stuff they have right now for thicker women makes you look sloppy,” Wallace said. “It makes you look big and you feel awkward the whole time. It’s either ugly or it’s overpriced.”
As for the future, Davis said she’s working on launching BellaNOR’s website by the new year, and hopefully other locations once business takes off. She said she also hopes to work with a charity for a “Dress for Success” type of event, as well as cater to high school girls during prom season next year.
But while Davis is looking to the future, she said she is looking forward to returning to Main Campus to talk to students about her experience, as the university gave her irreplaceable lessons – in and out of the classroom.
“If it had not been for Temple, I wouldn’t have gotten that first job, and had it not been for my MBA I wouldn’t have gotten that second job. And that second job is where I learned to run a business,” Davis said.
“Like Drake said, I’m a woman with a past and a future,” Davis added. “There were times I was sitting at the bar with my mama crying. [This job] is slow, but it’s been amazing.”
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.