Many young fashion designers spend years developing and creating their first full apparel collection. But for Miriam Baker, the inspiration for her eponymous clothing line came when she was just a teenager.
“I couldn’t fit into the biggest DD bra,” says the Toronto-based designer. “Shopping for clothes was discouraging. I felt like there was something wrong with me because of the size of my chest.”
And she wasn’t the only one with this problem. If she had issues finding shirts and dresses that fit, there were certainly many other women out there struggling with similar woes. It was precisely this pain point, one she saw many women experiencing, that led to her calling.
“I was fed up,” Baker confessed. “One day I was daydreaming and came up with the idea of making clothes for women with big busts.”
After graduating from Ryerson University’s School of Fashion, Baker worked a retail job while developing her line of high-end women’s wear on the side. Her business idea propelled forward in 2014 after she won Toronto Fashion Incubator’s prestigious Most Promising New Designer award. The publicity and prize money allowed her to develop a complete size range and start production.
From there, she snagged her first wholesale account in 2015 and has continued to build momentum.
Finding Her Niche: Flattering Fits For Busty Women
Image for hero image and above: Tara West
“You shouldn’t be made to feel like something is wrong with your body because [most] clothing is made to fit a B and the average cup size is a D,” says Baker. “Boobs are the biggest they’ve ever been.”While clothing for women with larger busts is not entirely new, Baker is one of the few designers creating high-quality pieces that women can wear day to day.
One of Baker’s keys to success is knowing her target buyers and their needs. Miriam Baker customers are high-earning, professional women who need to look well-put-together and want clothes that transition well from day to evening. It’s with these women in mind that Miriam creates each piece.
“I go for classy and timeless. I like things to be contemporary and also a little bit fun.”
To meet her buyers’ demand for quality pieces that stand the test of time, Miriam Baker collections include well-tailored dresses, pants, tops, and skirts made with stretch fabrics sourced from Italian mills. Good fit is so central to Baker’s bust-friendly brand that she’s devoted an entire page on her site explaining how her clothes are made. For samples, she uses a custom D-cup dress form with a 27-inch waist. Cleverly placed seams and darts help define the waist and create a modern, hourglass figure. Also crucial are shoulder seams and armholes that stay put so your chest can’t pull them forward to reveal your bra.
“I’m always thinking about what’s going to be a flattering cut, what areas of the body do women want to conceal, draw attention to,” says Baker.
What’s a dress that I would want to wear every day because it’s so comfortable and a no-brainer in the morning.
One of her most popular pieces, and the one Baker wears most often, is the Clara Dress, made from Jersey and “as comfortable as yoga pants.”
Quality Over Quantity: The Antithesis of Fast Fashion
Image: Lawrence Cortez
Baker has also gained traction in the competitive fashion world (and an ever-growing customer base) with her commitment to quality.
“I want to create pieces that you’ll want to keep in your closet because you covet them,” says Baker. “You’ll hold up a dress and remember that you wore it every day in 2017 because you have such great memories.”
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, consumers are keeping clothing items about half as long as they did 15 years ago. As a result, many apparel brands have responded by creating more inexpensive, low-quality pieces every season. While some large retailers release anywhere from 12 to 24 collections per year, Miriam Baker offers just two — ensuring that each piece is well made and long lasting.
“I think we’ve lost touch with the amount of work that that goes into any garment,” says Baker. “I don’t believe in garbage fashion and making cheap clothes. You can’t do mass market and still pay people fairly.”
Pieces are meticulously sewn in Baker’s Toronto studio, but foregoing mass production occasionally has its challenges. “Sample sewers are in very high demand and all I can do is ask literally every contact I have in the industry every time I'm in a bind.”
From Wholesale to Multi-Channel Retail
Image: Lawrence Cortez
Before the rise of ecommerce, fashion grads like Baker had to rely primarily on wholesale to bring in sales. This meant knocking on doors (sometimes literally) and hoping that a buyer would order your clothes. Today, that model has been turned on its head by emerging fashion brands choosing to forgo wholesale entirely and sell their creations at pop-ups, markets and online.
While wholesale is how Baker built her business and is still how she makes the majority of her sales, she’s now making ecommerce a priority.
“I realized I needed to rethink my business strategy and find other ways of selling,” she said. “You should be able to sell your product yourself — that way you’re not waiting to get paid. An online sale is money in the bank.”
Baker first launched her Shopify store online in 2016. She likes the streamlined payment process and uses the SimplyTick reporting app to monitor things like her top landing pages, average order value, and online store conversion rates.
More design than tech-savvy, Baker engaged the help of a marketing expert who helped her adjust her content to better define the brand and appeal to her target market. This included adding confidence builders, like the Fit page, so that “people would feel more comfortable investing in a $500 dress without trying it on.”
Image: Toronto Fashion Week
Baker also started featuring models that are “more noticeably busty, not too thin, not too young” women her market could relate to.
“I now realize that it's possible to do ecommerce while still maintaining brand exclusivity,” she says. “We’ve proven we can execute in a tasteful, on-brand way.”
Since revamping her content, Baker has seen more people subscribing to the mailing list but she knows there’s a lot left to do to grow ecommerce — starting with search optimization. With wholesale, Baker has heard retailers say [about women with larger busts] “‘I don’t have that kind of customer.’ Well, then you don’t know your customer,” says Baker.
Ecommerce has allowed me to reach so many more women and [prove] there’s a market for bust-friendly clothing.
Blending wholesale, in-person, and ecommerce sales has been a successful model for Miriam Baker. She’s developing a new collection and prepping for a press and buyers event in London, U.K., where she hopes to gain more exposure, and sales, across Europe.
“As far as I know, there aren’t a lot of people doing what I do,” she says. “I'm proud of the relationships I've built and everything I've learned, but most importantly, I'm proud of making clothes that women feel great in.”
Final Words of Wisdom for Fledgling Retailers
When asked what advice she had to share with retail entrepreneurs just getting started, she offered four crucial tips:
- “Nothing happens overnight and nothing turns out the way you expect it to.” While you might create the best-laid plans, entrepreneurship is a road that requires many pivots and much adapting. Be ready to be flexible.
- The people who’ve helped me in the most meaningful ways have been women. I’ve really come to value the importance of [those] mentors.” Mentors can shorten steep learning curves, so it’s worth seeking out people in your industry who can guide you.
- “[I’ve learned] to put my work out there before it's perfect. If you keep waiting to get things to a high enough standard you will never get anything done.” This is a simple concept that’s sometimes hard to stick to: Sometimes done is better than perfect.
- “You need to be in it for the long haul, and I think it's best to go into anything with a vision but without expectations.”