I am a dress addict. There, I’ve said it. Spending most of my life plus sized, it’s been difficult to find items that will fit and flatter the way certain dresses do. Many years ago, before social media broadened our fashion horizons, I found Kiyonna.
To this day, they remain my go to for occasion wear and the hardest working pieces in my wardrobe. In fact, my Kiyonna faux-wrap dress has been borrowed by my friends of every shape and much like the Sisterhood of the Travelling pants, it miraculously looked amazing on everyone. Recently, I met the team behind the magical dress and figured out how their wares look great no matter your proportions.
“We take fit very seriously. We use fit models, but everyone in the office has tried on the designs!” gushes founder and CEO Kim Khanbeigi, much to my surprise. I had just been given the tour and met the staff that ranged in every size from not-quite-plus to tall to petite to top heavy and bottom heavy. As we know, there is no one way to be curvy and all hold our weight differently. Road testing the samples on a spectrum of bodies is a fabulous way to know how something will flatter each body type. Strolling through the warehouse teeming with boxes and racks, I meet head designer Jacquie Lupei and her crew fastidiously cutting patterns and dreaming up mood boards. She, like everyone else, is fun and very excited to meet me and talk about how fashion can look best for plus sizes. I got a sneak peak of gorgeous glimmering fabrics and heard about how later this year they will be releasing more separates and jackets for those of us not fortunate to live in the California sun like they do.
Khanbeigi and her Head of Marketing, Mary Boonyindee, gave me the full tour of the office with each space more gorgeous than the last. Colorful walls, well-appointed décor and fun art make their HQ look like an Instagram or Pinterest dream. I tried to quell my desire to shop as we passed the showroom, which is open to the public, on the first floor, because before I could give my wallet a workout, I had to chat with Kim on how she came to design plus size clothes. Many fashion heavyweights in the plus size industry are physical lightweights, coming in way below the size 12 cutoff, but I always find it fascinating on why they dedicate their talent to plus women. For Kim, it goes back to her college friend Renee (a fabulous name if I do say so myself!). On a trip, they were doing what most girlfriends do and peruse each other’s clothing while unpacking. Kim said, “I was looking at her clothes hung up in the closet and I noticed some of them don’t have labels and they were cute, so I asked where they came from and she kind of laughed me. She said, ‘my mom has to make my clothes – I don’t have anywhere I can find my size.’ At the time she was a very curvy, beautiful size 18, but it didn’t dawn on me because I didn’t understand the term plus size and I didn’t think of her as being something different than me. So, the idea that she didn’t have anywhere to shop really resonated with me.” A few years later as she was working in a tech company, she partners with two other women, Yvonne and Donna, and Kiyonna was born to serve a community desperate for off-the-rack fashion like her college friend, Renee.
As we strolled the halls of the headquarters, one thing on the wall really caught my eye. I saw this paper sign with green handprints on it and had to ask what that was all about. “One of our clients is the mother of one of the victims of Sandy Hook (the elementary school shooting), so for every one of our green Bellinis we raise money for that charity.” Bellinis are what they call their drape-front cardigans, which I already loved, but now that I know that buying one will go towards anti-gun violence efforts, I’m sold.
This wasn’t the only socially-conscience corporate directive they have either. They are Made in the USA. No, really. When most brands are trying to figure out the assembly and sourcing loopholes to just barely qualify to be called “Made in the USA,” Kiyonna truly is – Not only American-made but within a several-mile radius of their Anaheim offices, in an effort to support the local economy. I can attest that their local workmanship is second to none. After a decade of wearing, packing, washing, stretching, dancing, working and everything-else in their dresses, they still look like new. So anyone off put by the $100+ sticker price should realize that Kiyonna is an investment not only in your timeless wardrobe, but in the local community. “We have a cool story that when we first launched on Facebook and someone posted ‘it’s really expensive and I don’t want to buy something that pricy that’s probably made in China’…and before we could respond one of our customers posted ‘I totally understand why you would say that, but they are made the US and I have a dress that’s lasted forever,’ then another customer posted, and another. One commented, ‘buying Kiyonna is a preference. It’s like buying a steak at Chili’s or buying one at Morton’s.’ We just thought that was so cute that we actually sent her to Morton’s and sent her a dress!”
We rounded out the tour past Kim’s husband’s office who left Disney to become general counsel and up to her corner office complete with a “workspace” for her children. It’s a fun atmosphere and a family affair all throughout the office, so when I saw tiny dresses I assumed they were just from a doll. Apparently, their team makes exact miniature replica of their samples. How much fun is that?!
With the fun office, the perfect fits, the family feeling, the social consciousness and the dedication to their customers, it’s hard not to be a fangirl for Kiyonna! Kim said that she definitely wants the brand to be a “go-to” for plus shoppers and it certainly is for me. I hope it will be for you too!