Michael Kaplan, co-founder of Fashion to Figure, at the chain’s Yonkers store
More than a cent-ury ago, a widowed Lithuanian immigrant named Lena H. Bryant, who resided in Mount Vernon, pioneered the movement to bring fashionable apparel to full-figured women—creating Lane Bryant, which would develop into a major corporation with more than 600 stores. Having grown up with the family business, Michael Kaplan, 39, one of Bryant’s great-grandsons, felt deprived of a tremendous opportunity when the company was sold to The Limited in 1982, before he was of working age.
“It was a shame to put a price tag on that much family history,” says Kaplan, whose drive to carry on Bryant’s legacy motivated him and his brother, Nick, to open their own plus-size women’s retail business. “We were eleven and thirteen when the company was sold. We weren’t wanting to reconnect with it until we were adults and trained. Our business careers led us back here.”
Combining Michael’s business savvy as a former financial analyst, venture capitalist, and co-founder of an online shopping portal with Nick’s retail experience as a merchandise buyer, general merchandise manager, and co-founder of an off-price retailer, the Kaplan brothers launched Fashion to Figure in 2004. The store’s name originated from Bryant’s aphorism: “Never ask women to conform their figures to fashion, but rather bring fashion to the figure.” Since the launch of the first store in the Palisades Center mall in West Nyack, New York, the Kaplans have expanded to six more locations, with one of the newest and largest additions opening in March at the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers.
Fashion to Figure differentiates itself from Lane Bryant by offering “fast fashion,” providing consumers with trends fresh off international runways—a business model especially critical when the retail industry is suffering. “It’s the hardest and worst thing about retail,” Kaplan says. “There are no patents or protected ideas, just your ability to manage and implement tons of details all day, every day, and constantly be creative and engaging to your audience. And, if you’re successful, everyone who competes with you sees what you do and copies it, so you have to continually reinvent yourself and be sure you are relevant to the audience.”
This constant innovation to fit consumers’ ever-changing tastes has been a major component of the store’s success in its dramatic expansion during the recession. In a world where today’s hottest clothing store may soon become yesterday’s news, Fashion to Figure is able to maintain customer loyalty, Kaplan says, thanks to unrivaled customer service with free fashion advice from experienced stylists. With backgrounds in fashion and merchandising, stylists “personalize the shopping experience by providing one-on-one consultations.”
Whereas Lane Bryant sells one collection of clothes planned together with a seasonal forecast in mind, Fashion to Figure offers related separates that are meant to be mixed and matched as you (and, if you like, your stylist) see fit.
Although, at first glace, Fashion to Figure may appear to be competition for Lane Bryant, Kaplan sees it more as a complementary business, even occasionally referring his customers to them for items Fashion to Figure doesn’t carry. Kaplan notes, “One hundred and twelve years ago, Lena Bryant revolutionized fashion by starting the plus-size category. And by trying to update and innovate in the market that she founded, we’re revolutionizing it all over again.”