Curve Style: Re/Dress is Back
Queer fashion guru Rachel Kacenjar revives the beloved plus size shop.
“The word redress actually means ‘to remedy or set right an undesirable or unfair situation,’ which is something we’re trying to do with mainstream fashion. We want fashion to be expressive and empowering for all people!” says Rachel Kacenjar, 30, who took over ownership of the online plus size shop Re/Dress in May.
For the openly queer, body acceptance activist and fat fashion guru it was the perfect intersection of her passions. “I worked for Re/Dress Online for the last year and a half managing the artistic direction, photo shoots, customer service, and fulfillment. Deb [Malkin], the owner, told me—with a heavy heart—that she planned to sell last Fall…it really tore me up. I was happy for Deb, but I was really worried that Re/Dress and the east coast fashion community surrounding it might just disappear entirely, so I started negotiating to buy the assets of the store from her.” Now just a few months after taking over, Kacenjar has expanded to brick and mortar, opening a boutique in her native Cleveland, Ohio in September.
Re/Dress isn’t Kacenjar’s first foray into the fashion world. Her career began in her teens in true riot grrrl style. “I’ve always been creative and I’ve always been fat. But when I first started to be really interested in expressing myself with fashion there wasn’t much out there for me. A friend of mine knew how to sew, so I started designing hoodies, pants and skirts. We called our clothing company Pritty Kitty—I’d take pictures of my friend wearing the clothing, and then we’d make cut-and-paste zine catalogues and pass them out to cool kids in the mall. We actually got quite a few orders!”
Kacenjar’s fashion career was put on hold while she attended college and began a career in women’s health and non-profit administration, finance and fundraising. But still the retail world beckoned, “When I went to New School University in N.Y.C., I wore mostly plus-size vintage clothing that I bought at thrift and secondhand stores back in my hometown. Plus-sized women would stop me on the street and literally offer to buy dresses off my back. So, when I came back home to visit family, I would ship myself boxes and boxes of plus-size vintage that I thrifted and sell it to people both locally and via a fashion resale group called “fatshionista” on Livejournal. It was the beginning of my plus-size vintage shop, Cupcakes & Cuddlebunny.” C&C was absorbed into Re/Dress when Kacenjar took over, so along with new styles, you can purchase hard to find plus size vintage items. And this is just the beginning as she has plenty of other big plans for the future of Re/Dress.
What is Re/Dress?
It’s a plus sized online and brick and mortar fashion boutique that caters to sizes 1x-5x. We offer personal styling services, fitting sessions, as well as closet audits, where we come into a person’s home and reorganize and remix their wardrobe so that it works better for them.
Who is your customer?
My average customer is feminine presenting, aged 20-40, and size 16-28. However, as of this fall, we will be carrying more masculine styles of clothing and will have a larger selection of bigger sized plus—4x-6x—so hopefully our customer base will grow as we do. We want to provide style to all flavors of plus sized fashion.
Why are stores like Re/Dress important?
Considering that nearly half of the population is plus sized an under 5 percent of U.S. retail is plus size specific, we have a huge gap we need to fill. Stores with radical and empowering politics like Re/Dress are rare. We specifically care about and hope to elevate the experiences of the plus size shopper. Big chains that simply have a plus section generally only wish to make extra revenue—they usually don’t care about the lived experience of the shopper or what a garment may mean to them.
How does your queerness influence the vision for Re/Dress?
I have always been fat and I have always been queer, even if I didn’t always identify as fat or queer. I think these two things about me have informed the way I move through the world, thus informing my business decisions, how I treat people, and why I work like a freedom fighter instead of a capitalist. Our mission is to empower marginalized people who have been made to feel like shit for having a body in a way that mainstream society doesn’t like.
When did you come out as queer?
I was 14 when I came out to my mom and friends as bisexual. “Queerness” was introduced to me as a college student in N.Y.C., which meant I ended up coming out again as an adult at 28, when my ex-partner and I bought a house together.
How has queerness and fat activism influenced your aesthetic?
I think queerness allows most folks within the bubble of it to escape the patriarchy and the male gaze that dominates mainstream media and fashion. Queer folks have experienced so much indifference to the way they live their lives that it allows for a blanket of acceptance among us. I’m not saying it’s perfect; there’s definitely fatphobia in some queer circles. In mine, however, it’s allowed me to feel gorgeous, seen, embodied and clever.
What’s the future of Re/Dress?
I want to see the website grow by leaps and bounds. I’d also love to offer styling services and closet audits via the Internet to those I can’t reach locally. Ideally, I’d love to have a West Coast, East Coast, Southern and Midwestern store within the next 5-7 years, but that’s a big goal. I dream big, like my butt! (redressnyc.com)