by Rachel Nash Perlow
Gwynnie Bee is a subscription clothing rental business for plus size women. I decided to give it a try last year. Since having bariatric surgery, I had lost a lot of weight but wasn’t yet finished reducing. Who wants to buy clothes retail that you know you won’t fit in a month or two down the road? I had a great time trying clothes in successively smaller sizes, and my friends noticed I rarely wore the same thing twice!
Unfortunately, I had been having a customer service issue for the past couple of months. You see, there were sizes missing from many of the recent style releases, and that was the size range I seemed to be in. Many brands used to be offered in sizes 10, 12, 14, 16, 10W, 12W, 14W, 16W, and up to size 32 or 5X. But now they seemed to be skipping the four sizes between 12 and 14W. Believe me, there’s a large difference between size 12 and size 14W.
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I realized this gap was happening as I lost weight and had to adjust the sizes of items I was closeting (to closet is to put styles in your GB queue, sort of like Netflix but for dresses). Suddenly, the Size Advisor feature of the website didn’t know what to tell me. I would examine the Size Charts and remeasure myself. I closeted styles in both 12 and 14W, just to double check. Yup, the 12s were too small while the 14Ws were too big. From the items I had bought in the past in my home closet, I knew I needed sizes that had disappeared from being closetable.
I emailed customer service about this issue several times, pretty much to no avail, receiving responses along the lines of “thank you for your feedback” and “we’ll forward your suggestion to our buying team.” Then they’d consider the matter closed and I would never hear back from the buying team. It was very frustrating.
But then, it was announced that Christine Hunsicker, CEO of Gwynnie Bee, would be having a live video chat. I set my alarm (and delayed dinner that night) to participate. I got my question in early and it was read by Lisa Tinglum from the Social Media team (and the face of many GB videos) as the last question. Sort of. Instead of “why are sizes that used to be carried in certain brands, currently missing?” it was summarized as “Can you talk about the sizing gap for some of the brands, why don’t you carry the full run?” So, not quite the same question was answered on the video chat.
However, Christine and staff were conscientious of the online written commentary, saw my lament and, more importantly, recognized this as the answer to a customer retention problem they had been experiencing. After a few online exchanges, Christine proposed we speak on the phone.
She explained how the sizing gap started, some customers confused the sized 14 vs 14W, for example. Then buyers noted that some sizes were very close (like 16 vs 14W) and maybe they could just go with one instead of both. As I understand it, several compromises like this eventually resulted in a standard order across several brands that led to a much larger sizing gap.
Getting to speak personally with Christine was a revelation for her as well as me. GB had noticed a lot of members in and around size 14 dropping the service and they didn’t know why. She wasn’t sure how the decision was made to drop four sizes in a row, but she is quickly taking steps to rectify the problem. For dresses already bought and live on the site, they are attempting to fill in where they can. Obviously, not all styles were offered in all sizes, but also, there may no longer be stock available where it was missing. But they’re trying to fill in where they can, just to reiterate. For future releases, they are also filling in, with more success since more of those styles are still being manufactured.
One point that was mentioned was that these middle sizes were closeted less often, contributing to the decision to drop them. I proposed that the solution wasn’t to drop them entirely, but just to order fewer pieces in those sizes. I’m unaware of how the buying process works in this regard, but hopefully my suggestion is a valid one.
As our conversation ended, Christine casually mentioned that if I were ever up in NYC, she would love to meet with me. “Well,” I responded, “I happened to be accompanying my mother back to NJ next week, perhaps I could come then?” Appointment made, I prepared myself to visit the Hive!
I examined my real life closet and came up with a few outfit options. The winner was this combo: a short black skort that is one of my wardrobe staples. It is by Croft & Barrow and I received it for free from my local bariatric support group Clothing Exchange (which I run). The top is the Jete Tiger Printed Scuba Shell Top. I had just received this recent release and it coincided nicely with an At Home sale, so I snagged it for $17. This was topped with a City Chic Fluffy Sequin Shrug which I stole for less than $10 during a City Chic online after Christmas sale!
I also brought a Karen Kane tank dress (pictured above the fold), a London Times sweater dress, and some extra shoes with me to my visit. As I told the parking attendant, I’m not sure if my meeting will be less than an hour or if I’d be there all afternoon. I wanted to be prepared! It turned out I was there about two hours, but a very full two hours.
The GB NY offices are located at The Factory in Long Island City (a section of Queens, NYC). A hip space, the cavernous cement floored lobby has several art installations. The striking sculpture of a school bus turned giant hand (again, pictured above the fold) is located in the area outside the elevator.
Arriving at the designated floor, the first office you see is Ralph Lauren, with GB just around the corner. This was excellent cred, I thought.
I was suspiciously greeted by a cautious miniature Sharpei. Turns out this was Christine’s dog, but he warmed to me after her welcome. The dog friendly office policy isn’t limited to the boss. I also met Lulu, buyer Shiho Makimura’s Malti-Poo. The open office is true to life depicted in this image of Christine from Forbes. It reminded me of the office space in The Intern, also about an internet clothing company. Coincidence or inspiration?
After a brief chat, Christine turned me over to Lisa and Shiho who continued my tour to another floor where GB’s epic sample closet is curated and the model shoots occurred. We watched one in progress for a bit, then moved on to meet Emelia from the Merchandising team.
She had pulled a rack full of pre-new-release clothes for me to try on. Inspired by items I had closeted in the past, these were clothes where they were able to fill in the sizing gap. She had the 12s and 14Ws out for me to try on, as they were waiting for the fill-in sizes to arrive. She also pulled a couple Cherry Velvet dresses when I explained how I gave up on the brand after never finding the right fit. She pulled XL and 1X try, but it turns out I’m now an L in that brand! Going to the gym works, even if the numbers on the scale aren’t always going down!
I tried on at least six dresses. After a while, Shiho came back to where we were and gave me the pleasant surprise that one of their photographers, Trévon James, would do a mini photo shoot of me in my two favorite looks. I also learned some new tricks of posing! Click to watch a brief sad video of my photoshoot.
I couldn’t wait to see my professional images, here are some. Hopefully, they will appear on GB’s website soon!
One final art installation… this is the freight elevator!
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