Tempting fate and defying the odds to get ahead of the curve
Rosemary Kearns set up her first plus-size boutique in 2003 and in doing so she addressed a major gap in the clothing market
The fashion industry, the major department stores and high-street chains are often accused of ignoring women of a certain age. Very little noise is made about the lack of clothing options - both designer and high street - for women whose bodies do not fit the 'standard sizing' mould, which can vary drastically between brands, but generally enjoys one commonality: it rarely caters adequately for larger women.
It was with this in mind that in 2003 Rosemary Kearns opened Tempted, Ireland's first plus-size boutique. The venture was fuelled both by Rosemary's passion for fashion and her determination to bring greater clothing options to Ireland's plus-size population.
"About 40pc of Irish women are plus size, so that's a huge segment of people to ignore," Rosemary says. "So when you realise that a lot of shops don't stock anything up past a size 16, that is quite sad and ridiculous really.
"The industry has advanced slightly over the last few years, but I still think that there is huge room for improvement in this area. Mango, for example, brought out a plus-size range last year and it started at a size 12," Rosemary laughs.
"River Island has a plus-size collection now, but between Ireland and the UK they have it stocked in five stores - none of which are in Ireland. So you can't get it unless you want to buy online.
"I think a lot of stores pay lip service to plus size," Rosemary adds. "It's almost as if they are saying, 'Well, we are happy to sell plus size, we just don't want to stock it in our shops; that's not the customer we want coming in the door.' Whether that is the reality or not, that is how it feels as a plus-size woman."
Tempted stocks sizes 16 to 28 and if Rosemary could source suitable pieces, she would stock even larger sizes.
"I think every woman deserves to have confidence and I think clothes play a huge part in how we feel about ourselves," Rosemary explains. "If you are dressed well and you know you look good, you will feel confident. So if you don't have the options, you won't feel good; it's a catch 22."
Rosemary is constantly on the hunt for new stock and is excited about the strides that many new international brands are making in the plus-size market, offering more colour and thought to plus-size bodies than ever before.
"We all have a hundred black tops in our wardrobe," Rosemary says. "Style is not about size - it's about your shape and what works for you. For years, I really struggled and found it almost impossible to find things I really wanted to wear; everything was either much too old for me or just tent-like and shapeless."
Rosemary's attention to detail and passion for styling her customers has led to Tempted becoming a major destination store.
"I have always loved clothes and from maybe 12 years of age on I have always been a big girl," Rosemary says. "So I suppose I had to work that bit harder with putting outfits together. Through that, I developed a heightened awareness of style.
"Somebody else could walk into Penneys and buy an outfit for Saturday night, whereas I would have to really think about it and work to put it all together. I have always loved putting outfits together and I know how good clothes can make you feel."
Tempted also offers customers a one-to-one styling service to guide them through the styling process, making sure that they get the most out of their visit to the store.
"I want customers to go out with pieces that they are going to wear to death because they love them all and they work for their lifestyle," Rosemary says. "We get people from all over Ireland coming in to us, especially at the weekends. We do sell through our website too, but what we find is that a lot of our customers will browse online and then come in to try things on."
Rosemary opened the first Tempted boutique in Drogheda in 2003. In 2007, Tempted moved premises to Raheny in Dublin and in 2009 Rosemary opened an additional Tempted store in Wexford.
"Drogheda became a really difficult town to do business in, so we closed there. We also opened a store in Carlow in 2010, but we closed that also and stripped things back a bit a few years ago, so now we just have the two stores; Raheny and Wexford.
"When I opened up in 2003 somebody asked me, 'what's the ambition?' And I remember telling them that it was world domination. For a long time, I wanted to see Tempted stores all over the country but as time went on I realised that what I love about having a business is being hands-on and when I wasn't hands on in the shops, I didn't feel it was me. It wasn't how I wanted things to be.
"So we are back now to a position where it is me. I can be in Raheny and I can be in Wexford and it is manageable. I love being there to serve customers, as opposed to having a more removed role in things."
Between the Raheny and Wexford stores, Rosemary now employs 10 people.
"We have a great team and I am very comfortable that everyone we have working for us is just as passionate about the business as I am, helping people to find the right pieces and to feel good," Rosemary says.
"It is not about hard selling, it is about something more for us. It is about knowing your body shape and what will work for you, so whether you want to buy something that day or come back again another day, I want customers who leave here going forward knowing the things to look out for when they are shopping and feeling more comfortable about it all."
And the right pieces do not have to come with a hefty price tag.
"We have tops for about €65. It's not cheap but it's not expensive either, so I suppose I am looking for quality within that," Rosemary explains.
"I want pieces that are going to wash and that you are going to wear because an awful lot of our customers are mums, so stuff has to go in the machine. It has to be able to take the knocks that life throws and not be so good that you are almost afraid to wear it. It is possible to have affordable, quality clothes that are also fashionable."
As a result of Rosemary's customer-centred approach, word of mouth is the biggest driver behind Tempted's continued success.
"A huge amount of our business comes from being recommended by our customers," Rosemary says. "I have had numerous people come in and say that they actually stopped a woman on the street and asked her where she'd got her outfit. So people are really happy to recommend us and that is a huge privilege."
The Tempted Facebook page and weekly customer emails also allow Rosemary to keep customers updated on new stock, styling tips and any other developments.
"Facebook is huge for us and we post several times a day on it," Rosemary explains. "Our customers will often send us in photos of themselves wearing the pieces too, which is great."
And recently Rosemary was shocked and delighted to receive a photograph from one of her happy customers in their Tempted outfit, while at the Oscars, no less.
"Saoirse Ronan's godmother Margaret wore a dress of ours to the Oscars and it was just amazing," Rosemary laughs.
"I always ask everyone who buys an outfit to send us a photo afterwards, so when Margaret did and all of a sudden there she is hugging Saoirse at the Oscars, I just couldn't believe it!"
Sunday Indo Business