Month: May 2012

Real-Life Curvy CEO! Karen Hickel of Mirabilis Fashions

Karen of Mirabilis Fashions
In recent months, one of the most frequent contributors to the comments section has been Karen Hickel, founder of Mirabilis Fashions. In my conversations offline with her, I found her to be a wonderfully wise person who has taken a desire for style and transformed it from a hobby into a thriving business. Check her out in her own words below!
My website is www.MirabilisFashions.com and everything in it is plus size and for sale. All of them are one of a kind items so they're only available in the size listed. I started to design and make my own sweaters way back when I was a plus sized teenager in the 70s when my clothing had to come from the "Chubby Department". Can you imagine the horror of being 14 and seeing rack upon rack of matronly tent clothing that only came in black or navy? It didn't get any better as I got older so I just kept making the sweaters that I dreamed about having. I was tired of my skinny older sister having all of the great clothes and I wanted special things that only I could have. I started out working as a computer programmer as a youngster, moved up to the ranks of lower management, then I left that career to start a local nonprofit shelter for homeless people and was the Executive Director for a decade. It was a very public job that entailed countless painfully boring hours of sitting in public meetings so I made sweaters for myself while the politicians rambled on. Before I knew it women were asking me to make some for them too and telling their friends and I had more requests than I could ever fill. I eventually went back into IT management which allowed me much more free time and started picking and choosing plus size requests that would allow me to design fun and challenging things designed to specifically flatter plus size shapes. Another of my pet peeves was that larger versions of clothing designed for thin people aren't necessarily all that flattering, remotely professional or age-appropriate for women over 40. There are days when only the black or blue suit will do but there are almost never occasions at work that require a belly top or hiphuggers.   I retired about 2 years ago, or at least I thought that I was going to retire. I have so much free time now and so many sweater designs in my head that I'm dying to make that I decided to expand from doing custom local work to opening an online boutique. I love it too much to stop and there are only so many sweaters that a woman can use in California. It was either start to garden in cashmere or open a shop. To be honest the business end of things is easy because it really isn't any different from managing any other type of project other than that I don't have employees to delegate anything to. At this point I can write budgets and business plans in my sleep. I'm still such an IT dork that I mapped out my first two years in MS Project and gave myself deadlines. What's much more difficult is finding the niche target market online that just seems to show up locally through word of mouth. With very few exceptions my customers have been over 30, have professional careers and spend a significant amount of money on their clothing and are more interested in classic styles that will last them many years than they are in current trends. They like color and texture and luxury fibers and indulging themselves a bit and they're anything but drab. They don't mind being the center of attention for the right reasons. They also just happen to wear plus sizes.   All in all, diving into online sales with such a targeted group is risky but I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one with an inner teenager that wants something special that no one else can have :).

Seven Steps to Stay-Put Summer Beauty

stay put summer beauty2Stay Put Summer Beauty

I don't know about you, but I sweat . . . a lot. Even in the winter. So, you know that I am a hot, sweaty mess in the humid yuckiness of summertime in DC. In fact, because I sweat so much, I rarely use foundation, powder or even tinted moisturizer in the summer since I end up sweating it off anyway. Instead, I try to use the summer months as an opportunity to let my skin breathe. Thanks to the fact that I often turn a few shades browner in the summer, any blemishes just blend away. So, all that's left is for me to add some color to my face...and make it last all day.

How do I do it? In these simple steps:   1. Apply an oil mattifier. In addition to sweating a lot, I have combination skin. So, while my cheeks may be as dry as the Sahara, my forehead, nose and chin are as greasy as bucket of KFC. To help combat the grease in my "t-zone" I apply an oil mattifier after my regular moisturizer. An oil mattifier is exactly what it sounds like - a cream that gives a matte finish and keeps oil at bay. My absolute favorite mattifier comes from Mary Kay. I put this stuff on and my face is oil-free for pretty much the entire day. If you're not into Mary Kay, never fear - there are tons of other options, including some that include sunscreen! Just be sure to apply sparingly - especially if you have dry skin - otherwise you will end up with dried patches of product on your face. Not cute.

2. Prime your eyes. So, it came to my attention recently that not everyone knows about eyeshadow primer. This occured because a friend of mine was complaining that her eye makeup never lasted through the day. When I suggested that she use a primer she was completely confused. "Primer?" she said. "You mean, like what you'd put down before applying paint?" EXACTLY! Primer is just that - something you apply before using your eyeshadows or other eye color. It helps the makeup to stick to your lids. I live and die by my primers because these are basically what keep me cute in the summer. The lip color and cheek color may melt away in the heat, but my eye color lasts and lasts, thanks to primer. One of the most popular brands of eye primer (and my personal favorite) is Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion. While it comes in different shimmery shades (that can eliminate the need to apply a highlighter beneath your brow), my favorite is the original formula, which is translucent. Once you put this baby on, you can apply any shadow and feel confident that it will stay there in full force until you remove it later on. (I've also read that using primers helps you achieve a richer hue of your shadows. I haven't noticed that, but it makes sense to me.) Check out this list of suggested primers from Beautylish.com.

Now, using a primer will definitely keep those eye shadows in place. However, if you really want the ultimate insurance that your eye color won't move . . . .

3. Use cream shadows. Cream shadows are simply the BEST type of shadow for sweat-proof, oil-proof, stay-put summer beauty. You can actually skip the primer, depending on the brand of shadow you use. My absolute favorites are the MAC Paint Pots. They primarily come in neutral colors - in fact, the ladies over at Painted Ladies actually use them as primers. (I did manage to snag a few of the paint pots in hues of red and pink before they were discontinued - you can usually find a few colorful ones on eBay.) Similar products include Benefit Creaseless Cream Shadow/Liner, Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof Cream Shadow, Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Cream Eyeshadow, Buxom Stay-There Eyeshadow and the new Maybelline Eye Studio Color Tattoo Eyeshadow. (I feel it's important to mention that in my experience the Maybelline cream shadow didn't quite have the staying power of the high end brands, though. So be sure to use a primer with that one.) You can also use any cream eyeliner as your eyeshadow. And speaking of eyeliner . . . .

  4. Seal your eyeliner! So, Benefit used to make this AMAZING product called "She Laq" - basically a liquid that you would apply over your eyeliner to keep it in place. And I kid you not, you put this stuff on, let it dry and your liner does NOT move! Well, it's been discontinued.

*a single tear rolls down Curvy CEO's cheek*

Thankfully, I still have at least half a bottle left, but outside of scouring eBay for another bottle, my only option is to find a replacement. A quick internet search turned up this Make Up Forever Eye Seal product, that appears to do what She Laq does. I cannot vouch for it's effectiveness, but the reviews seem promising. There is also something offered by LA Splash but the reviews have me less than enthused. If you can find a good sealant, by all means use it. A makeup artist friend of mine also suggested setting your liner with some powder as an alternative. Either way, you will not miss the racoon eye effect from having your eyeliner make a copy of itself on your upper lid.

5. Stain, baby, stain. If you have not yet heard of lip/cheek stains, "you're welcome" in advance. These are basically lip/cheek colors that do just what their name says - stain your lips and cheeks. These colors last until you take them off. I especially love lip stains because even if the color fades a little, just apply some clear lip gloss and *boom* you're back in business with a tinted lip. There are tons of stains out there, but my personal faves are Benefit Posietint (who says chocolate girls can't wear pink? :)), Tarte Lip Surgence and Liptini Lip Liquer and Cheek stains. The main word of caution is that you have to act quickly when using a stain. As soon as you apply it, rub it in so it looks like something other than a big glob of goo on your face. If you make a mistake, just grab some makeup remover and start over again.

6. Set your face.
 Even though it's probably most useful if you are wearing foundation, I like to use spray products that "set" your makeup. I don't know if they actually "do" anything as they're more water than anything else. But still, it gives me a feeling of completing my look. So, after taking all of the steps above, I will spritz my face with MAC Studio Fix+. I've been meaning to try Model in a Bottle since seeing how well it helped my friend hold up her look at her Caribbean wedding last summer. I also want to give Urban Decay's All Nighter a try - if for no other reason than I like their line of products. Sheila over at Painted Ladies advises using a small fan after applying your setting spray to really set the look. I do this anyway since my windowless bathroom is more like a steam room in the mornings.

7. Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate! I cannot say this enough. In the same way exfoliating helps remove dry, chapped skin in the winter, it helps prevent greasy skin in the summer by digging down deep into those pores. For this purpose, I rely on my beloved Clarisonic Skin Care Brush. (I love it so much I'm a product affiliate!) Yes, I know it's expensive. But to me it is really worth it. I usually use the brush in the evening - helps me melt away the stress of the day. And if I skip it for a few days, it shows up on my face. If the Clarisonic is too rich for your blood, you could try any of the drugstore versions, such as the Olay Pro-X. Or, if low-tech is your thing, you can use any sort of exfoliating face brush like this one from Dermalogica. Heck, you can even use a plain old face cloth. The point is simply to make sure that you're regularly removing those dead skin cells.

So, this is how I keep it cute in the summer heat. What tips and tricks do you employ? Share 'em in the comments section!

Beginnings of a Beauty Hound

playing with makeup

This entry is inspired by Afrobella's Makeup Memories - My First Lipstick, posted a while back.

Some of my earliest memories in life involve fashion and beauty.

In the 1980s, my mom, who is plus-sized herself, worked for a global technology firm and sported the corporate uniform of the day – complete with huge shoulder pads and the big floppy bow (which have made a comeback . . . but I digress . . . . ). Every morning, she would station herself in front of the bathroom mirror and carefully make up her face. And every morning I would watch in fascination.

I remember when I was six years old, a distant cousin of my father’s visited with her teenage son during Christmas vacation. While my parents sat on the couch and talked with our relatives, I was mesmerized by their gift to me – a pink toy makeup set. I don’t remember the brand name; in fact, it probably was an “off brand” from the local Dollar Store. It didn’t matter. All that mattered is that it was pink and pretty. It had a frosty, baby pink lip gloss, some hand lotion and a little bottle of eau de toilette. I instantly tour into the lip gloss, smearing it across my face. Since pink was my favorite color and I always wore pink clothes, I was certain that the gloss would look beautiful on me. (Never mind my cocoa brown coloring – the realities of race and skin tone hadn’t entered into my consciousness yet.) My gleeful, frost-laden lips were met by a contorted grimace by my older teenage cousin. He looked like someone had forced him to eat an entire box of Lemonheads and chase it down with a pack of Sour Patch Kids. Although my little heart sank at his swift verdict on the lip gloss, I took solace in the fact that there were still the lotion and perfume to try.

Those proved to be duds as well. After a couple of days, the lotion gave me a rash on my hands. And my mom made me throw away the eau de toilette because it “stank.”

So yeah. You could say I’ve been in search of the perfect set of products ever since. And, thankfully, I've been somewhat successful. Tomorrow we'll talk about some of my favorite beauty products for the summer. In the meantime, what are some of your early beauty memories? Please share in the comments section!

Curvy CEO’s Plus-Size Swimwear Shopping Guide!

Nikki Blonsky in a promo shot for the now-defunct ABC Family show, "Huge." Image Source: http://cmonfatso.wordpress.com/
It's that time of year, y'all. The sun is shining. It's oppresively hot. The barbeques are grilling. It's time to brave the beach and/or hit the pool! I know that the very notion of this strikes fear in the hearts of many a big girl. But, I decided a while back not to care (as much). Yes, I am bigger than the average person and, yes, that bigness is on display even moreso in swimwear. But, as Star Jones said to Oprah about her decision to wear bathing suits even at her heaviest, "What was I supposed to do? Stay inside and be hot??" No ma'am! Just the same way that wearing long sleeves doesn't convince anyone that you have skinny arms, keeping yourself covered up from head to toe in the summer heat doesn't fool anyone into thinking that you don't have bumps and rolls underneath your clothes. [pullquote]If you need a confidence booster before donning a swimsuit, check out xoJane and Gabi Gregg's Fatkini Gallery, which features images of real-live, non-professional-model plus size women rocking two-piece swimwear.[/pullquote]
So, rather than keep yourself cooped up and under wraps, I say find a swimsuit that flatters you in your body today and flaunt your fierceness before the world. (Besides, we've already discussed how to handle rude behavior from "perfect" strangers. You are armed with your quick comebacks and complaint letters.) So, now the question becomes, where to go to find the perfect swimsuit? The downside of swimsuit shopping for the plus-size woman is that most of the options are only available online - which means you will have to be prepared to make returns of the items that don't fit right or flatter. Notwithstanding this drawback, there are a ton of options. In an attempt to be as comprehensive as possible, I am simply providing a laundry list of options at various price points. It is up to you to determine which shop features styles that suit your tastes best. So, without further ado, here is the Curvy CEO Plus-Size Swimwear Shopping Guide!   **This shop is an affiliate of Curvy CEO. I'm sure there are other options out there that I've missed. Feel free to list them in the comments section. Happy shopping!!!

My New Favorite Thing

source: elizaparker.com[caption id="attachment_3827" align="alignleft" width="200"] source: elizaparker.com[/caption] It's back to fashion! (I know y'all were gettin' worried for a minute there. *lol*) Now, you all know how I love me a cardigan, especially as an alternative to a blazer in the office. So, I was delighted during New Jersey Full Figured Fashion Week to discover the wrap cardigan. Quite simply, it's become my new favorite thing. Basically it's a cardigan with looooong flaps of material in the front that you can wear a million different ways. In fact, Eliza Parker literally calls its wrap cardigan the "Million Different Ways Long Cardigan". I own the purple one. I also purchased a similar cardi in "magenta" (really hot pink) from the Jockey Person to Person rep on site at NJFFFWeek. (Check out pages 66-67 of their catalog.) Apparently, DKNY also offers a version of this amazing sweater (they call it a "cozy"), but they only offer it up to a size M/L. *shrug* I just love that they're so versatile . . . you can belt it, wrap it and tie in the back, use a bangle bracelet to give it some extra umph, whatever! Because it's completely adjustable, it's a great piece to wear if your weight is fluctuating. Plus, I feel like they're be the perfect thing to wear in the summertime. When the office is blasting the A/C, you will have your awesome cardi to keep you warm. Heading outside? Just take it off for a bit - you've still got a great tank top or dress underneath. While there are a ton of great videos on Youtube about how to rock a wrap cardigan, I really like this video from CharmedValerie: DKNY also has a great video that shows some really outrageous ways to wear it:

Has This Ever Happened to You?

angie 30 rock rudeHas this ever happened to you? You're at a shop in the mall, just browsing around, when suddenly a petite saleswoman spontaneously informs you that they "don't have your size" and perhaps you would "have better luck" if you tried looking someplace else? Or, maybe you're at a restaurant, ordering lunch, and when you ask for a "Coke" the waiter responds, "Diet, right?" Both of these things have happened to me. And all I could say to myself was . . . Unfortunately, though, this type of rude "customer service" is not unusual . . . here in the US and abroad. Recently, the ABC News program What Would You Do? has recently featured several segments on this topic. I hope that this type of discrimination hasn't happened to you. Although judging by a recent poll in England, it probably has. Thankfully, Weight Watchers is teaming up with a British department store to help train sales clerks in better customer service to prevent such incidents in the future. In the meantime, though, if you do find yourself in the situation, this article offers some amazing suggestions for how to deal.

Still More Discussion of Why-Black-Women-Are-Fat

oprah gayle campingSo, this past weekend, I was chatting with my sisterfriends about Alice Randall's controversial op-ed as well as my obligatory response to it. They agreed with me that (1) Ms. Randall's assessment was wack off-base and (2) our weight issues are a byproduct of the multiple stresses we confront as women of color in this society. We also came up with a few other reasons:
    • We don't want to get our hair wet. I know. I know. It's politically incorrect for me to say so. After all, so many of us have gone natural, which (in theory), frees us from the need to keep our hair from getting wet. But, as any natural who has plunked down good money to get a set of twists, coils or rods will tell you, just because you're relaxer-free doesn't mean you are geeked to undo your 'do in the pool or at the beach. So, even though some would disagree, I 've gotta side with the Surgeon General on this one.
[pullquote]When I'm tempted to avoid exercise for fear of getting my hair wet, I remember that wise statement from "The Lovely Ebony Brown" episode of Boondocks: "No point in having the best hair at [your] own funeral."[/pullquote] I'm sure there are a ton of other theories out there. But let's hope that this ongoing conversation about what's-wrong-with-black-women will come to a close sometime soon!

Monday Morning Memo – How to Be Happy

monday morning memo
"One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself." - Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I've heard some variation of this statement many times in my life. I'm sure you have, too. It's just . . . I don't know if I agree with it. It sounds a little too convenient. I mean, I can see a scenario where a person spends ALL of his/her time working on making him/herself happy based on the rationalization that this is what will make other people happy. #personalfail That said, I am working hard to try and see the positive aspect of situations in hopes of it allowing me to have a better - and not bitter - attitude towards others. So, for instance, instead of complaining that it's raining all this week, I will instead thank God that I have a car to drive to work so I don't have to get wet while I commute. This, in turn, helps me not to be a crabapple when I face my co-workers in the office. What to do you think, dear readers? Do you agree with Gretchen's idea? Or is it just a hypocritical excuse to indulge oneself in the name of helping others?

Plus-Size Girl’s Guide to Snagging a Man – Part III: How You Keep

blackboard thinking of loveThis is the last entry in a series of guest posts by Renae Bennett on how the plus-size woman can prepare herself for a relationship, define what she's looking for in a mate, and actually meet the man of her dreams. Today she schools us on how to keep our relationships going. Keeping your love alive boils down to this simple principle - GIVE AND YE SHALL RECEIVE! By taking a genuine interest in the man, you make him interested in you. Men are just like us they want someone to show them that you care. Ask about their future, their plans, goals and objectives. Men really like that type of attention and sincerity that you care about them. For example, if my male friend doesn’t dress as well as I do we may go shopping for him which is refreshing when most guys are accustomed to shop for the lady. The interest is usually reciprocated tenfold. I also have my ways of showing I care. I do little things like trimming his nails, fixing his shirt, feeding him from my plate, letting him sit next to me at dinner instead of across the big old wooden table from me. Those are my personal things to show I like him without saying anything and letting chemistry do the job. KNOW YOUR MAN If we focus on the personality type of the man we can figure him out a lot better. If a man is dominant, I make him feel as if he has some type of place. If he is subservient, I make him know his place. If your man is a student, give him his space and offer support. If he likes to be alone, you don’t have to chat his ear off all the time, he can get tired of you easily. There are so many ways to communicate without actually talking or over indulging in intimacy. When you are around an introvert, you have to work hard to get him out of himself. If your man is athletic, work to run together. If he isn’t athletic, work to get him healthy. Essentially, find places where he needs you in his life and slowly fill those voids without smothering him. I hope you've enjoyed this series and gained something from this advice. Good Luck ladies!