Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview with the Plus Vintage Queen, Sweetooth

Last week I found an amazing designer on the Sense of Fashion website. For those who know me (Janelle) personally, you know I'm a proud chunky girl. I'm always looking for designers that promote plus size women. Plus size, according to fashion circles, are sizes eight and up. Depressing...yes I know; but the reality is "normal" sized women are considered plus size even though the average woman is size 14.

Sooo I found the designer, Sweetooth. An independent designer hailing from Cleveland, OH. I'm so happy she agreed to do an interview with me. (Take a look at the Taffy Pull Dress below...yeah I ordered it!)
How long have you been designing?
 About 3 years.
Where are you from?
 Cleveland, Ohio
How did you come up with the name Cupcake Cuddlebunny? Sweetooth?
    Cupcake & Cuddlebunny was just supposed to be a temporary name when I came up with it. I started out just doing alterations and someone was interested in a garment that required an invoice, so I thought I should probably have a name/logo/separate bank account. One of my nicknames was "cupcake" and I called my cat my "cuddlebunny" all the time, so I just threw it together. I'm actually changing the name of the company to "Sweetooth Couture" in the coming weeks. Too many folks think my business is a bakery or a kids clothing store, so its just easier that way.

   Sweetooth Couture is meant to still sound sassy like C&C, and embody the campyness, fun style, and daring lines my clothing offers. I really only came up with it because I like the idea of a tooth as a symbol for ferociousness!

Why plus size? Why vintage? Why couture?

In the Stacks Dress sold on Etsy (retail $36)
I started doing plus size stuff because I've been a plus sized person most of my life and up until recently, have always struggled to find the type of clothing I've wanted to wear. I've had a deep love for vintage clothing for as long as I can remember, and so much of it is really small in the bust and waist even if you're lucky enough to find it in larger sizes. Vintage clothing has so much to offer that today's clothing doesn't have- impeccable construction, glamour, fine details. What's not to love?

The dilemma here is that when you're a modern size 18 like I am, you end up searching for cute stuff in vintage size 22-24, which is basically the chupacabra of clothing. Its hard to find, and when you do find it, its usually overpriced at an actual vintage store, as opposed to the cheaper items you can score at the thrift store or at estate sales.

When I moved to New York City to finish my psychology degree in 2005, I found that there were basically no thrift stores that carried plus sized vintage (Re/Dress NYC wasn't open yet), so when I'd visit my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, I'd thrift my little heart out and come back to NYC with garbage bags full of dresses that needed repairs or alterations. This is basically when I began to teach myself how to sew.

I moved back home a couple of years later and my friends and acquaintances noticed my style and I started to get a lot of requests to do personal shopping and make stuff for folks. I think a lot of people have that special garment that they have a lot of sentimental value wrapped up in, and often our bodies grown and change and that garment sits in some one's closet for the rest of their lives. I really wanted to unearth those garments for folks and alter them to fit again, so couture ended up being part of what I offer. I certainly am no couturier by the strictest of standards, but I believe that one of a kind, hand sewn, custom garments are special, and people of size deserve them!

By the Summer of 2008, I had a six month long wait list for custom garments, and I thought I should probably open an Etsy store; you make my order management easier, so that's how Cupcake & Cuddlebunny was born.

I started designing the Sweetooth line last year because I had so many customers get irritated with me when I'd only offer one of a garment. I had never designed before, and quite honestly am a terrible drawer, so I took what I knew about pattern making (very little) and tried to create a line of 12 pieces that embodied a lot of the requests for custom clothing that I'd received. Working with a manufacturer to produce pieces brought on a whole new set of challenges that I've never dealt with before, but it was a really great learning experience. I've received a wonderful response from the Winter 2011 line, and am working on a Summer line right now.
What type of woman is a Sweetooth Couture woman?
Lollipop Dress sold on Etsy (retail $72)
I think a Sweetooth Couture woman (and I don't just want to cater to women- I want anybody who likes my clothing to wear it) is bold and confident. I don't make clothing to hide people's bodies, I want it to enhance people's bodies. Coco Chanel was at the forefront of breaking women from wearing corsets and girdles from day-to-day, and I really try to embody that spirit. I'd like to think that when people wear my clothing, they feel liberated, sexy and stylish no matter what their size or shape.
What's special about Sweetooth Couture?
 Sweetooth Couture is special because it makes people feel special. I try my best to run an ethical business as well. I'd say about 95% of the fabric I use is vintage or "upcycled" as fancy folks like to say, and most of my zippers, buttons, appliques, and trim are vintage as well. My new line uses a lot of recycled cotton and sustainable wool. I promote altering old clothing so folks don't go out and buy new stuff that's made in a sweatshop. I pack things in re-usable envelopes as much as I can, print on only recycled paper, and try to make things as affordable as possible. I employ a non-profit pricing structure that pays me $15 an hour for my work + materials costs and that's it. I'm a one-person show, so that helps to keep costs as low as possible. I am very serious about providing honest and reliable customer service, too! It gets really hard to compete with big box stores on that type of thing, but I really do try my best.
Explain how you construct your pieces? Vintage?
I am a huge proponent of doing custom fittings. Obviously, I don't always have the luxury of that when folks are ordering online, but having an accurate set of your own measurements is almost impossible to get by yourself, so when I can fit someone and then fit them a second time during construction of a garment, I know it will fit as accurately as possible. If I just have measurements to work with, I crank my adjustable dress form to those measurements and make it work.

After a fitting, I take into consideration where the customer will wear the garment and what it is for, and try to find the best fabric to suit their needs. I end up making a lot of garments out of vintage polyester, which most people despise even thinking about, but in reality, it doesn't wrinkle, has a good amount of stretch, and does not lose shape or color after several washings. (Its also never going to biodegrade, so I think its great to have people wear it instead of throwing it out.) I usually have a customer send me links to garments they like or provide me with pictures, and I go from there. I tend to put my own design spin on garments, which most people really like. If someone wants me to make a reproduction of something, I usually turn the job down. I'm a designer first, seamstress second. I don't really want to spend my time making stuff that already exists.
What are your inspirations?
Taffy Pull Dress sold on Etsy (retail $62)
 My main inspiration is the social and political implication that fat people should be ashamed of their bodies. I want to defy that notion, and I do, each and every day with the way I dress AND what I do for a living. My friends also have a huge impact on what I design. I am lucky to have many gorgeous, plus sized, confident people in my life and I feel honored that they think the art I make is special enough to actually wear out in public. They inspire me to keep plugging away when I feel like I can't do it.
Do you prefer independent designers or mainstream designers?

Independents, definitely. I think what happens a lot of the time is that Independent designers grow weary of constantly scrapping and scraping for things like food, rent, and health insurance, and end up selling out to mainstream lines and stores. That's the nature of the beast, and I don't judge anyone for doing what they have to do to get by or get ahead in this industry. Its hard to get your voice heard, you know what I mean? Some of my favorite independent clothing designers are Bertha Pearl of Size Queen, Valerie Mayen of Yellowcake, Mondo Guerra, Lucy Peterson of Hissyfit, Leanne Marshall, and Rodarte.
Who are your influences?
Though it doesn't show much in my clothing, I am undeniably in love with the more outlandish couture fashion giants. Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Heatherette, old school Karl Lagerfeld. I think my fashions most reflect Mary Quant and Coco Chanel, or at least I hope they do.
What is the average price of your pieces?
   $14-$78 with some "couture" or super fancy vintage that needed a lot of work going a bit higher. Custom work is $15 per hour plus the cost of materials.
What is your favorite piece?
The Divinity Dress sold on Etsy (retail price $68)
The Divinity Dress. It's really simple if you take off the epaulettes and really fancy when you attach them.
Do you have any side projects you want to share with our readers?

Yes! I am working alongside Valerie Mayen, from Project Runway Season 8 to build a sewing co-op and fashion incubator in Cleveland, Ohio called Buzz and Growl. (You can check it out at Its her brainchild, but I'm working with her to establish it as a non-profit and secure funding for youth programming. I'm really excited to see how it turns out! 
Sweetooth at work.
 See more apparel from Sweetooth on her website and Etsy page!

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