There are many plus-sized women around the world. Right here in Australia, 67% of people are plus-sized. But despite these whopping numbers, most Australian clothing companies don’t offer sufficient options for plus-sized shoppers.

Holly Richards is one of those women. And, just like her peers, the AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA alumna had felt the impacts of the fashion industry failing people like her, long before she started to work out during the 2020 COVID pandemic.

“It was the first time I really got into exercise,” Holly explains. “I was mad for it, exercising every day.

“I was ready to buy a sports bra because I wanted to commit long-term to working out. But I looked everywhere and couldn’t find one in my size.”

Holly’s story is a common one, especially when it comes to fashion. For years, the industry has been dominated by the same image of the ‘right’ type of body. Holly says these stereotypes have played into clothing labels ignoring the need to produce pieces in sizes and shapes that don’t fit those who fall into the taller, fitter body ideal.

“We don’t see plus-size people in the media or in advertising often,” she says. “There’s that confirmation bias that most people are slimmer.”

Now the Geelong-based business owner is doing something about it with AmpleFolk, an activewear brand for plus-size women that she will officially launch in the first half of 2023. It’s a great example of how emerging companies are finding success serving a specific audience, who are more than ready to support a business that answers its needs.

“I created this because I needed it,” Holly says. “But while researching to see if this was a good idea, I found out just how many other people need it too.”

Sportswear that goes beyond ‘fit washing’

Companies that continually ignore the needs of tens of millions of people eager to support products and services they need are leaving plenty of potential revenue on the table.

Holly kept hearing and reading it’s more expensive for manufacturers to create plus-size clothing. But when she drilled into the numbers, the difference was very marginal.

“Retailers say nobody wants to buy larger sizes,” Holly says. “But these companies aren’t marketing to that audience. The stats supporting the need for these products are there, but nobody is spending the time or money to crack the code.”

Holly likened some clothing labels to companies that greenwash (ones that say they’re environmentally friendly but aren’t). Instead, they undertake what is known as ‘fit washing’. Labels claim they’re making size-inclusive clothing, but it only goes up to size 18 – which Holly says isn’t big enough. A growing online community – both in Australia and abroad – also proved there was a huge, underserved population waiting to be marketed to and produced for.

It was during her AGSM MBA that Holly (left) got her big idea off the ground. Photo: supplied

When Holly put up a poll in the Curvy AU Facebook group asking if her peers thought AmpleFolk was a good business idea, she received 600 positive responses within 24 hours.

“It was just so obvious there was more here. From there I discovered more influencers and activists in the space – this whole thriving, though small, community.”

And that online community is growing around the world, with influencers such as Virgie Tovar, Aubrey Gordon, Katie Parrott, The Bodzilla and brand Superfit Hero all developing loyal followings of tens of thousands of fans.

Next steps: Getting the funds to make AmpleFolk a reality

“Everyone’s journey is all to do with timing,” Holly says. Her AmpleFolk trip is certainly an example of that.

In 2020, halfway through her AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA (Executive) program, around Holly got a fortuitous email calling for participants in the UNSW Founders New Wave program, a two-week intensive incubator that aims to empower women to start their own business.

“I was like screw it, I’m just going do it,” she recalls. “And it was so messy – I was still working out if I wanted to really try to start a company.”

Holly credits the New Wave program for turning her into a founder and introducing her to the foundation skills for running a start-up.

“It was the first time I was learning about things like design thinking methodology. I absolutely fell in love with the process of defining a problem and narrowing your focus to find a solution – that whole business model framework.”

Holly won her cohort’s New Wave Showcase event in September and was awarded funding. Then it was time for her to make a choice.

“To determine if a business is going to get off of the ground, you need to figure out its viability, feasibility and desirability,” she says. “The only way I could do that was to go all in.”

So Holly started fully dedicating her professional life to the business in 2021.

Read more: AGSM alum Nick Nikolaiev is helping leading brands make virtual meetings more effective with his start-up

Using emotional intelligence to build the company up

As a one-woman-band, Holly relies heavily on building relationships with contractors. She says giving feedback can be “very difficult, fraught with tension and emotion.”

But with the help of SBI (situation-behaviour-impact) frameworks, Holly can keep everybody on the same page.

“I was relying on cold hard facts, and not the delivery,” she says. “My contractors are experts in their field, and I need them. But I also need them to understand my vision. And it’s not like we’re sharing an office. When they’re overseas and you only get a few minutes with them each week, I need to be able to work on my delivery and clearly communicate to keep them on course with where I want AmpleFolk to go.”

Holly used the final year of her executive MBA to start building AmpleFolk. She based her strategic leadership, growth, innovation and transformation assignments on the business.

“I was looking at one of those assignments today,” she says. “One of the growth strategies I came up with for an assignment is the exact one I use for AmpleFolk now. I apply so much of that final year directly to my business.”

Holly also uses the soft skills she learned in her MBA – things like emotional regulation and the psychology of being a great leader.

“It was really great having my mind cracked open, and it changed my perspective forever.”

UNSW Sydney
Holly Richards, AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA (Executive) graduate. Photo: sourced

Expanding AmpleFolk - her way

Holly knows she has a long road ahead of her.

“I’ve never chosen the easy path, that’s for sure,” Holly laughs. “I think that while it’s getting easier, being a female founder is still quite difficult – especially when you’re flying solo.”

The company will launch in the first half of 2023 with a flagship plus-size adjustable bra (patent pending),the first of its kind available in Australia.The first collection will also feature leggings and a towel.

While AmpleFolk will ship all over the world from launch, Holly is hoping the label will have a dedicated US presence in the next two years. But market share and sales numbers won’t quantify her success.

“If I can help just one person feel better in their body and embrace exercise – for them, not for everybody else – then that’s a win. Truly just helping one other person would make me so happy.”

With a waiting list of 400-plus waiting for her products to drop, she’s well on her way.

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