MEET Angela Samuels: Blending lessons she learned as a fashion model and as a youth counselor, Angela Samuels launched her company, Voluptuous Clothing, in 1998. She was only 23 years old. After working in the “thin-crazed” modeling industry, Samuels wanted to design clothes that would help full-figured women feel good about themselves. Her stores are located at five different malls and shopping centers located throughout Ontario, Canada. Voluptuous Clothing, a company that designs and sells clothes for women who wear a size 14 and up, has been featured in several media outlets including Canada AM, Toronto Life, Breakfast Television and Lou Lou Magazine. As an offshoot of her clothing store, Samuels is currently in the process of creating a reality-television show aptly named Voluptuous.
Madame Noire: How many years were you modeling before you started your company?
Angela Samuels: I modeled for six years in Toronto before I started Voluptuous Clothing. When I started modeling there were not a lot of opportunities for full-figured women. In the North American fashion industry, the definition and perception of a plus-sized woman is very unrealistic. In the industry the ideal woman is barely a size 12!
MN: What inspired you to launch Voluptuous Clothing?
AS: I am a plus-size woman. I have lived in this body all my life. Until I launched Voluptuous Clothing, I did not have a lot of fashion choices for my body type. It was awful growing up, only having frumpy clothes to shop for. I knew opening a store like Voluptuous Clothing would empower a lot of women and give them options.
MN: Describe the early days at Voluptuous Clothing.
AS: My business started in the closet of my home. To gain sales, I would ambush women going to the club to see if they wanted to buy my outfits. I also sold clothes from the trunk of my car. I was resilient. If I saw women in malls, I approached them inside and outside of the malls and told them about my fashions. I did what I had to in order to drum up business.
MN: You are one of six children. Tell us about the impact your parents and siblings had on your drive to not only start but manage a successful business?
AS: My mom is an immigrant to Canada from Jamaica; her story is remarkable. Basically she had nowhere to live when she first arrived in Canada, but she managed to raise her kids by herself while being a nanny and a house cleaner. Watching my mom struggle gave me the passion to succeed. And my mom gave me money to help launch Voluptuous Clothing, making her one of the businesses first supporters.
MN: What was the biggest challenge you faced as a business owner?
AS: Being a women as well as being black in the corporate world was the biggest challenge I faced as a business owner. I succeed because I refuse to take “no” for an answer! I see a challenge as an opportunity to learn how to overcome a situation or a circumstance.
MN: When did you realize that you had a viable business and what did you do to celebrate this milestone?
AS: I knew I had a viable business when I sold a dress to a plus-size teen and she started to cry because she could know fit in with her slim friends. That moment gave me the strength to open a retail store! Through our retail stores, women can purchases a variety of fashion wear, including dresses, shirts, pants, bras, shoes and more.
MN: Where are your stores located? How can women living outside Canada purchase your fashion wear?
AS: Voluptuous is located in Metro Toronto. To date, we have five locations in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to branch across Canada and the United States. Online shopping has been a challenge for us, but we are working on building our online presence.
MN: As a former social worker, what impact have you seen “body image” have on a person’s self-confidence and drive to make positive contributions to society?
AS: When a person feels good about herself she can conquer the world. When you love yourself you make good choices about your well being. I believe Voluptuous’ style of clothing empowers women, giving them the confidence to reach their goals.
MN: Tell us about the reality TV show Voluptuous.
AS: The reality television show is still in development. Voluptuous, the television series, is a show that will educate women to the fact that plus size can be hot. The series shows plus-size women how to look and be hot with a little of drama. The show will also explore my life as a mother and successful businesswoman who launched and managed a business against all odds.
MN: Do you design any of the clothes or shoes for sale at Voluptuous Clothing?
AS: I develop a lot of the styles. I also assist my suppliers, offering them suggestions and guidance on how they can make attractive fashions for full-figured women. However, I do not actually sit down and sew the clothes. I look for staff who understand and appreciate the customers Voluptuous Clothing serve. Of course, some of our staff are full-figured women.
MN: What’s next for Angela Samuels and Voluptuous Clothing?
AS: I would really love to see my television show get picked up. Three years from now I am going to open more stores, hopefully some stores in the United States.
Rhonda Campbell (http://www.chistell.com), an East Coast journalist, is the owner of Off The Shelf radio and publisher of Long Walk Up and Love Pour Over Me.