How Two Friends Built a Successful Retail Business That’s Changing Women’s Perception of Plus-Size Fashion

The fashion industry has long forced unrealistic expectations on women. What if there was a boutique that women could frequent (both online and IRL) that was welcoming, accommodating, and the equivalent of a giant bear hug? It exists and is called The Plus Bus. Founders, Jen Wilder and Marcy Guevara-Prete, dominate the apparel space with a completely different message – one of inclusivity, camaraderie, and style no matter what size you are.

The average woman in America is between a size 16 and 18.  She flips through countless magazines with ideas of styles she would like to replicate, only to find consternation and judgment from retail employees when she tries to execute the said vision. This sends her into a shame spiral and an idea constantly being reinforced – “You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve nice things.” Jen and Marcy know this because they felt that way for too long.

Empowering Women

Marcy, a born and raised Angeleno, grew up “wanting to be on TV.” She spent several years in the early aughts in front of the camera as an on-air stylist, particularly in the plus-size fashion space. Marcy wanted to empower women and help them find their confidence – not just in the dressing room, but in life. If this sounds ambitious, you haven’t met Marcy.

Marcy was working on spreading her message of acceptance in Hollywood long before nomenclature like “body positivity” was part of the daily lexicon. This was before Lizzo (more on her later) took the world by storm encouraging her fans to feel “Good as Hell.” 

Marcy used her platform on TV to help women become self-confident via wardrobe choices. She didn’t want weight to be the reason someone didn’t attend a Halloween party or a black-tie function. She wanted to empower women and show them that it was possible to look and feel fantastic at any size.

Marcy’s business partner, Jen Wilder, is a designer for plus-sized brands in Los Angeles. Both are like-minded and influential in the plus-sized space. But Marcy will be the first to tell you that she didn’t imagine owning a boutique. She says, “I believed in Jen as a designer but I had no desire to own a boutique.” Early on, Marcy had her heart set on being in front of and behind the camera, in a producer capacity, or let’s be honest, Oprah-adjacent with multiple distribution avenues.

Jen believes in the importance of color and a powerful shade of lipstick.

They first met on Facebook. Marcy was doing a lot of television work. Jen had a similar passion for fashion and loved to shop as well. The two came up with an idea: They had thousands of dollars worth of clothing sitting in overstuffed closets. It seemed like a waste. Marcy said, “Let’s do a swap. Let’s get everybody together. Let’s get the fat community together.”

Bringing People Together

This practical way of freeing up their closets ended up being a special opportunity to bring people together who share a common experience. They hadn’t even thought of the impact for others, and themselves, as they set up the swap. “We were all used to being the ‘fat friend.’ And I remember at the time going through auditions and casting agents would tell me that they wanted to create a fat Sex and the City. They would ask me to bring four hot fat friends. But I had no idea what they were talking about. I was the only fat friend of my group.”

The event became the start of a beautiful community. Marcy and Jen helped nurture and create a safe and fun space where plus-sized women could bond over quality threads and conversation.

The swap was a roaring success. There was just one problem. “So many people came and took clothes, and yet we were left with an entire boutique full of clothes. Jen turned to me and said, ‘I thought it was going to be a wash – people will come and get clothes, take clothes, and go their separate ways.’” They were NOT anticipating all of the extra clothing. 

The duo called in reinforcements. Marcy says, “I called my dad, I called my husband – ‘Please bring trucks downtown. We have all of this clothing.’” They had to figure out where to store all of it, too. That’s when Jen said, “I’ve always wanted to go around the country in an RV and sell clothing.” The lightbulb moment came after that. Marcy asked her, “You mean like a Plus Bus?” Cue their accidental business idea.

Carbon Footprints and Consignment

Consignment was important to the duo because it helped reduce retail carbon footprints. Marcy stresses that, “Fashion is the second biggest polluter of the environment.” She and Jen know this firsthand from their various roles in the industry. There’s a reason why fast fashion is so cheap.

Driving an RV wasn’t the most feasible idea. Marcy’s husband brought her down to Earth. She admits to being “dreamer”, and he asked her what she knew about RVs. (Answer? Nothing.) He reminded her that maintenance, oil, and parking would be expensive. There were so many challenges, but Marcy and Jen were dreamers who took the critical feedback and decided on their version 2.0. The name stuck, though. It was just too good.

The clothing ended up at Marcy’s house and the duo decided to do pop-ups. It was a chance for “random, little events” similar to the first swap. The pop-ups grew and grew. The team added another funnel. Jenn started showcasing her unique designs for the consignment customers. It was an absolute hit.

At the time, both had full-time jobs. Jen leaped from designing fast fashion for large brands that she found completely unrewarding to working with smaller high-end indie stores that nurtured her vision for plus-sized women as more than just an afterthought. 

Marcy says their business model was, “If you build it, they will come.” And did they ever. A little less than a year after their very first swap, The Plus Bus found a tiny warehouse space in the “middle of nowhere,” aka Glassel Park, California. The partners picked an affordable space where Marcy could sell her clothing, and the master thrifters could also build out a high-end consignment store. 

Their style is unique and funky, and they wanted to share their aesthetic with everyone that had been stifled by designers who only manufacture for a select few body types (usually sizes 0-12). The rent was nominal: just $500 a month for a sublease. It was a total experiment. Marcy said, “We both looked at each other. We said, ‘If no one comes, we’ve only lost money on the rent.’” But that didn’t happen. The opposite did. The Plus Bus was turning a profit.

The other tenant sharing their space moved out and The Plus Bus ended up renting the entire space. Marcy and Jenn were selling their clothing mostly through word of mouth and their community of plus-sized fashion aficionados. But they wanted to have an even greater impact, and for that, they needed foot traffic.

They started driving up and down their dream neighborhood, Highland Park, looking for the perfect spot. The qualifications were quite specific: “high foot traffic, a place to amplify their voice, and to be seen on a major street with other fun and fashionable stores, vintage stores, and coffee shops.”

Their wishes were answered, but it just happened to be in the middle of a Global Pandemic. “During the Pandemic, we found the perfect space, 1,200 square feet, right on a beautiful street in Highland Park, about two miles from our old store.” They moved for foot traffic but Covid-19 and all of its variants kept rearing their ugly heads. They needed to pivot.

The Perfect Store in the Perfect Location

Pivoting During a Pandemic

The community they worked so hard to cultivate and grow wanted to support The Plus Bus. But how do you do that when you’re “Safer at Home?” That’s when Marcy decided to try something. The two were sitting in the empty shop, ten feet apart, dressing and undressing mannequins. Marcy admits, “We were both really scared. We needed to pivot as we were sitting on all of this merchandise.”

Marcy and Jen used Instagram Live to showcase their clothing in a modernized QVC style flash sale. To say it was successful would be an understatement. The team blew through their inventory and ended up netting $10,000 in sales. They continued fire sales on IG Live and that number stayed consistent. 

The ladies also built their website to facilitate e-commerce on a more manageable level. It gave people outside of Los Angeles the ability to purchase clothing. Marcy says, “We’re shipping to Honolulu, Alaska, Arkansas, and all across the country. But the majority of how we sell is from stories and through the live sales.” 

Marcy is pushing herself to do one IG Live every single day as another test. If it’s successful, she will get ready to leave her full-time job and devote all of her attention to The Plus Bus. The team even has an active TikTok account.

Marcy’s work in the entertainment industry and her absolute likeability have brought her so many clients and referrals in Hollywood. These are superstars who happen to be plus-sized. The coolest part? The celebrities ask their assistants to drop off bags of clothing for The Plus Bus to sell on consignment. 

Marcy and Dr. Oz

Gabourey Sidibe, Nicole Byer, and Lizzo are just a few of the powerhouses Marcy and Jen work with. Marcy gets calls from actresses who are told to, “Bring your own clothes on set,” because they’re deemed too hard to shop for because of their weight. This happens to almost no other demographic in Hollywood. The plus-sized actress is both humiliated and frustrated when she shows up to a set only to find a wardrobe catered to her thinner peers.

Everyone Wins

Influencers are another way that The Plus Bus gets merchandise. Marcy explains, “Influencers receive many magical clothes and in multiple sizes, too. They take a picture for social media but then it sits in their closet. They don’t have the time to sell it. That’s where we come in. Everyone wins.”

Marcy says, “It’s a shared experience for many people. The average American woman is over a size 14. So the fact that women don’t feel welcome in many stores or don’t feel accommodated by most brands – oftentimes if there is plus-size clothing, it’s only available online – is so frustrating. We’re one of the only places where you can come and try things on and experience the brand and have someone help you and not have to order five sizes online to figure out which one is going to work. We also expose people to so many brands that way, that they maybe saw online and were curious about.” 

Models Erica Lauren, Ashanna Bri and Sommer Boogie

For the first four years of The Plus Bus, Marcy and Jen broke even. Once they found their groove in 2015, they have consistently doubled their income every single month. Just to give you an idea of how profitable this is, the duo started at $15,000 MRR. The more they sell, the more inventory they have to buy upfront. Nearly everything comes from the community and brand partnerships. 

For example, Marcy and Jen are beginning to wholesale jewelry and graphic tees from local artists. This year, The Plus Bus has a collaboration with a luxury brand, 11Honore, to help them sell their overstock, damaged, and photo samples and returns at fraction of their original prices. This makes luxury more accessible at the same time.

Owning their space 

What’s next for Plus Bus? This team has big aspirations. Marcy looks to Oprah for inspiration. The sky’s the limit – or is it? Plus size astronauts need to look good, too.

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Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew is an award-winning serial entrepreneur with three exits. He’s the founder and CEO of MicroAcquire, the world’s most founder-friendly startup marketplace, and its rebellious child, Bootstrappers, which gives voice to the entrepreneurial underdog. When not building businesses, he writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and now, Bootstrappers.

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