The average American girl is a size 16, which seems to be a fact that most bridal companies have not yet heard. It is extremely hard for average and plus-size women to find fabulous gowns to walk down the aisle in. This is where sisters Yukia Walker and Yuneisia Harris step in.
They are owners of a Columbia, MD-based bridal salon that helps curvy brides find the dress of their dreams. Curvaceous Couture is a unique bridal salon in that it carries gowns from sizes 12 to 44. Yukia and Yuneisia recently shared their story and expertise on TLC’s Curvy Brides, which aired for six weeks from May to June.
Their journey to help curvy brides started when in 2008 when Yukia, 36, was looking for a bridal gown. She searched high and low for beautiful plus-size dresses, but her shopping adventure turned into a nightmare. She couldn’t fit in any sample gowns and she was treated badly nearly everywhere she went.
This prompted the idea for Curvaceous Couture, a bridal salon for full-figured women that she and Yuneisia, 33, started in their parents’ basement. Just a few months later they opened a store. The business became so successful, the two women left their high-paying corporate jobs. Yuneisia was in pharmaceutical sales and Yukia had been in government contracting.
MadameNoire: People have ideas all the time, but what made you go ahead and start Curvaceous Couture?
Yukia: We always wanted to start a business together but it was really my horrible experience in trying to find my own dress that made me realize there was a major need for someone to offer plus-size wedding gowns.
Yuneisia: Seeing how terrible my sister was treated when she was trying to find a wedding dress it made me want to help other women. My sister was literally laughed out of the last bridal boutique we went to. And this was just ridiculous to me because the average woman is a size 16, not a 2 or 4 like the sample sizes. Later, my sister did a ton a research and found there was really no bridal salon that specialized in curvy women, so we put a business plan together.
MN: How did you fund the startup?
Yukia: We used some of our retirement funds and my mother and father also helped us out.
MN: What were some of the challenges you had as a startup?
Yuneisia: We went into a business that was very high fashion and the sizes are like size two and that was really shocking to us. It was hard to find gown samples in the sizes we wanted. But now since we have been in business for seven years we have designers sending us dresses.
Yukia: The biggest thing I think was that we thought we could open shop and just go to the bridal market and purchase some dresses in larger sizes and they would work for our customers. But every style does not work for every woman, so we had to understand how the dresses were made in order to find and have dresses created for our clients.
MN: How did the TLC show, Curvy Brides, come about?
Yukia: For years we were getting contacted by producers saying let us pitch a show featuring you. But I was dealing with health issues [she has dealt with diabetes, hyperthyroidism and other medical issues that she discusses here], had gotten married and was raising kids. It wasn’t a good time and we never really thought about being on reality TV. But when TLC came calling, we already knew about their show Brides By Design and we thought this would be the right opportunity for us. And we knew we could use the show as a platform to help other plus-size brides.
MN: How do you plan to use the show to further your brand?
Yuneisia: At the end of the day women should know there is a place where they can go to find the perfect dress. We are a mom-and-pop business and to be given a national soundboard, that is invaluable. Plus, we get to invite people into our home and our family.
MN: What has been the most surprising thing about being on the show?
Yukia: I don’t think we expected such overwhelming support. I have received so many encouraging emails about my health issues which I discussed on the show, the show, our business. It has been incredible. This support has empowered us to keep on growing our business and message.
MN: What were the challenges of the show?
Yukia: I don’t think we realized how hard of work it would be. I think we knew it would be an added stress on the business but we had to do a good job tweaking our filming hours so it would not affect our business.
Yuneisia: It was not easy being around cameras all the time, but we had a really great production team around us who made it easy.
MN: So what is next for you and your brand?
Yuneisia: We have some things with in the works. We are looking into other areas where we can expand our brand into other cities and help women. Honestly, we really started the business to help other women. My sister and I are both intelligent women, so of course we wanted to have a successful business. But at the core of it all is empowering women. If you could see my sister’s face when she was shopping for what was supposed to be her special day, you would never want anyone to feel that way.
Yukia: We’re in this for the long term. We’re not going back to the cubical life.