For many people, Friday the 13th represents a day to be cautious and careful. Anyone with even a slight amount of superstition will steer clear of any risk or unknown situation. But for Marie Denee, Friday, March 13, 2009, marked the beginning of major progress in her media platform, The Curvy Fashionista. The Curvy Fashionista (“TCF”) is a trailblazing brand that chronicles plus-size fashion trends. After suddenly losing her job that fateful day in 2009, Marie stepped boldly into her talents as a writer, strategist, and entrepreneur. Now, almost 15 years later, Marie has built a business that has captivated hundreds of thousands of people across various social media platforms. Reflecting on her own journey, Marie sat down with BAUCE to guide other entrepreneurs.
Identify Gaps in the Market
Marie Denee’s business underscores the importance of supply versus demand. Marie knew that plus-size women were an underserved demographic in fashion despite their commercial power. According to Plunkett Research, about 70% of American women are plus-sized, so clearly there’s an opportunity set. Marie understood that fact 15 years ago and started her online empire long before size-inclusivity or body positivity entered public dialogue.
In sharing her approach, Marie explains: “I started The Curvy Fashionista because I had just finished my MBA, and I recognized a demand that nobody was filling. The first thing they tell you in business school is that it’s all about the dollar. Plus-size women only have access to 12% of clothes and 8% of stores. I saw this opportunity given my business background and being obsessed with fashion. I thought: ‘Let me be this resource and bring plus-size fashion forward.’”
Embrace Your Village
Despite having passion and vision, Marie benefitted from other people’s contributions.
Marie explains: “Your ecosystem, your tribe, your friends, your network is so important, so crucial. I was so afraid to lean in and develop certain parts of my network. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I had a constant feeling of ‘What is this? What am I doing?’ but I jumped in head first, and they helped me. My girlfriends helped me design business cards so that I could feel official. One of my friends got me a seat at the 100 Black Women of San Francisco Luncheon the week after I lost my job. I just kept taking leaps of faith, and they helped.”
This tenet – the importance of community – continues to define Marie’s leadership style. Marie divulges: “Last year, I got to a space where I needed my community. When building a business, you are standing face to face with your traumas and yourself. You don’t realize how strong, talented, fortunate, and weak you are. I was people-pleasing, dealing with abandonment issues, and that all impacted how I ran my business. I applied for the BOMESI Accelerator because somebody tagged me on Twitter. That’s how I met Liane from BAUCE. Now I am in the Essence New Voices PACE Bootcamp with other Black women founders and it’s really shown me that my struggles are not unique to me. My advice is to be intentional about building a network and support system.”
(Source: Howell Designs)
Know Your Worth
You need to leverage those resources as you think about your product, commercial reach, and business proposition.
Marie confirms: “I didn’t realize what I was building at first. I work with Cal State, Long Beach’s entrepreneurial center. I was a mentor. I had done some formulas with one of the directors to understand the valuation of my company, and I learned the value of what I was building. I am in an opportune position as a small publisher – I am in a blue ocean. My mentor said that: ‘Because you started this as a passion you have been creating content to create revenue. Now, you need to create revenue to create content.’ It’s that shift in mindset from founder to CEO… As CEO, my role is to drive leadership and progress and be an ambassador of my brand.”
Allow Your Brand to Grow Beyond Yourself
Marie Denee is playing the long game: she is building a brand and community that can evolve independently of her.
Marie states: “I did not start The Curvy Fashionista with a whole bunch of my face on there. They [the audience] know TCF was developed by Marie, but they know it’s not just about me. I was speaking with [venture investor] Kathryn Finney, and she asked me if the brand is The Curvy Fashionista by Marie Denee vs. Marie Denee: The Curvy Fashionista.” This conversation with Ms. Finney happened more than ten years ago, but Marie continues to internalize the distinction: “There is a version of me apart from the brand. I don’t see TCF as a ‘me’ thing – it’s about what I’m doing for the community.”
Marie’s forward-thinking, community-centered, cutting-edge approach continues to distinguish The Curvy Fashionista as an innovative media company. If you ask Marie about her secret sauce, she provides three powerful letters: W-H-Y. Sharing a closing reflection, Marie explains: “If you are anchored in your ‘why’, it helps keep you anchored to your purpose.”