Cynthia Schames was laid off from her job a day before her wedding. She worked in enterprise software sales for 12 years, but ultimately this setback led her to found Abbey Post.
Abbey Post is a plus-size fashion marketplace and community. The company just released a totally rebuilt version of the site, which now features an internal social network and expanded inventory. It takes an Etsy-style approach where anyone, from independent designers to established brands, can sell their wares.
“I chose this model of peer-to-peer commerce specifically because I want to build community,” Schames said in an interview. “Plus-size women feel really disenfranchised, neglected, and left out of conversations about fashion. There are many people who think fat ladies aren’t sexy and don’t care what they look like, even though there are over 100 million plus-size women in the US. If you give them a platform to connect over fashion and buy clothes that make them feel good, that math adds up real fast.”
After leaving her sales job, Schames gained e-commerce experience by founding an online consignment store for luxury accessories. She is a plus-size women herself and was drawn to handbags and jewelry because they are size agnostic. As a professional in New York City, she said it was consistently difficult to find plus-size clothing because a lot of brands are pulling their plus-size clothes out of stores and moving sales entirely online. However, none of the online retailers provided particularly appealing options and none incorporated the social element that makes shopping enjoyable for many women. Schames repeatedly had conversations with women who felt marginalized in the same way and realized there was a bigger opportunity out there.
“I’m not sure who told people that size 14 and up love polyester, but it’s not true,” she said. “Plus-size women are tired of going to the mall and looking through two abandoned racks in the back. Fashion is aspirational and today’s runway model averages a size zero. That does not reflect a majority of women. The fashion industry wants to fetishize thinness and sell us this fantasy, but it’s not real life and it pisses me off. I have a daughter and I don’t want her growing up feeling bad because she isn’t like the magazine. Part of our mission is telling women it is OK to love who you are. I am working hard to bring a positive and accepting and inclusive environment to normal women.”
Social e-commerce and peer-to-peer commerce are trendy right now and changing the experience of shopping online. The e-commerce sector didn’t see too much innovation for many years — brands and retailers put their inventory online and shoppers searched for what they were looking for. Recently, a wave of fashion startups such as Wanelo, Luvocracy, Etsy, Poshmark, and Polyvore have taken various approaches to transforming this experience and finding new ways to browse and buy products online. At a recent media dinner about social e-commerce, Angel List founder Naval Ravikant (who is an investor in Wanelo) said this is the future of shopping.
Abbey Post is using these new models to target an underserved and highly valuable market. It is a passion project that addresses a widespread and unique set of needs. There are other plus-size online retailers out there like Avenue.com, Fashion to Figure, SimpleBe, Jessica London, and OneStopPlus, but Schames said her focus on high-end clothing and her social approach sets AbbeyPost apart. She also said there are products and features in the pipeline that will make Abbey Post an innovative tech company, rather than just a tech-enabled one.
AbbeyPost is bootstrapped and based in New York.