Bridal boutique opens this spring in South End

Haute & Co. opens this May in South End
Haute & Co. opens this May in South End

A Chicago businesswoman is opening Charlotte’s first plus-sized bridal boutique in South End.

Construction is underway on a 2,500 square-foot store for Haute & Co. Bridal at 2222 Hawkins St., near Spectrum South End Apartments. Before the boutique opens in early May, it will operate as a pop-up shop nearby, at 201 Rampart Court, starting Feb. 2.

Haute & Co. will carry wedding gowns up to size 32 in designer brands including Amaré Couture and Casablanca, founder Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler told the Observer.

Armstrong-Fowler, who previously worked in corporate communications at both McDonald’s and Sears, said she saw a need for an alternative bridal-boutique experience in 2013 when she and a friend were getting married around the same time. Armstrong-Fowler had already gotten her wedding gown, but her friend was taking longer to decide on one.

Finally, the friend told Armstrong-Fowler that she was discouraged by the shopping experience because the stores she’d visited didn’t have designers who carried her size.

“She was embarrassed but also deterred by the entire experience,” Armstrong-Fowler said.

So Armstrong-Fowler opened the first Haute & Co. in Chicago as a way to improve the shopping experience for plus-sized brides. The boutique, for instance, has employees who are certified in a “Body Inclusive” training that Armstrong-Fowler created. The training goes beyond understanding sizing, Armstrong-Fowler said, and includes reading non-verbal cues and understanding how to overcome body-shaming.

“With curvier brides, because they’ve had challenges shopping with ready to wear clothes, one of the biggest challenges is understanding the process,” Armstrong-Fowler said.

“We really focus on being stress-free, working with her, helping her understand the process (and) giving her the confidence to make a decision.”

Haute & Co., a boutique for plus-sized brides, opens as a pop-up shop in South End in early February. Construction of the shop’s permanent location is underway, and it is expected to open in May. Courtesy of Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler

Brides can first visit the Haute & Co. website to make an appointment, as well as chat with a live stylist to answer any questions about beginning the process, according to Armstrong-Fowler. Customers can also use the boutique’s digital lookbook to select the gowns they want to try on before arriving, she added.

The plus-sized women’s clothing market is a $21 billion industry that’s long been overlooked, according to a recent CNN Business report. Roughly half of women ages 18-65 wear sizes 14 and up, but “extended sizes” make up less than a fifth of women’s overall clothing sales, CNN reported, citing statistics from Coresight Research.

A handful of retailers, including Nordstrom and Nike, have started adding larger sizes amid heightened demand, according to CNN.

Haute & Co.’s permanent South End store will be next to Savvy Bride Boutique, which carries sizes 0-14, according to its website. That means that the two shops don’t directly compete for customers, Armstrong-Fowler said, but their proximity to one another will make the area a “bridal destination.”

As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.