Jill Alexander Designs chosen for New York fashion show

Sumer Noelle models a dress by Jill Alexander in Santa Cruz, Calif. Alexander is one of 13...
Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel/MCT
Story by Jondi Gumz
(Santa Cruz Sentinel/MCT)
Sun, Jun 5, 2011
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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Designer Jill Alexander knows what curvy women want.

She got hearty applause for her styles at the inaugural Full Figured Fashion Week Los Angeles in October and compliments from celebrities like Miss Plus America.

Now she’s been selected to present her line at the Full Figured Fashion Week in New York City, June 16-18.

“I’m really excited,” said Alexander, 42, though she acknowledges being a little nervous. “I’m really quite shy. I like to be behind the scenes.”

Her fashions, however, are anything but low-key, offering bright colors, striking patterns and innovative designs, which is why women with curves appreciate her.

“Jill Alexander blew my mind with her off-the-shoulder dress,” said a fashionista named Natasha, in a post-show interview posted on YouTube.

Sumer Noelle Lucksheider is a fan.

“Jill’s designs are unique and different than most ’plus size’ clothing,” said Lucksheider, who can be seen modeling on Alexander’s website. “We don’t want to wear shapeless muumuus, we want to wear clothes that make us feel good, that celebrate our curves, that make us feel confident and powerful ... and she gets that.”

Jill Alexander Designs is only 2 years old, but it’s built on Alexander’s two decades of experience in the fashion industry. In addition to the off-the-shoulder dress, her Steel Magnolia collection — currently in production — includes a wrap-style cotton dress, silk tops, cotton capri pants, skinny stretch denim jeans and a jersey jumpsuit, each selling for $100 or less.

Sales are currently in six figures.

“I’d love to be in seven figures,” Alexander said.

Her styles are only available online.

A resident of Scotts Valley, Calif., where she lives with husband Ernie and two daughters ages 14 and 16, she described her career as a series of unplanned but fortuitous moves.

After graduating from San Diego State University, she went to work for Ann Taylor, where she learned visual merchandising. She discovered buyers like to see a full collection but they might scrap a third of it when they place an order.

“It’s all about the marketability,” she said.

Recruited by A Pea in the Pod, a high-end maternity fashion company, she learned how materials could be cut different ways to accentuate a growing body.

“The shape of clothes has to change to accommodate a curve,” she said.

“I’ve been curvy always. I’m a size 18 right now.”

She found customers with curves sought her out, asking her to dress them.

“They were paying me to shop,” she said.

After her children were born, she got involved in costuming through her younger daughter, who has been involved in local theater for seven years.

She decided to go back to school, enrolling at West Valley College to study design and learn about manufacturing, before starting her business.

She makes frequent day trips to Los Angeles, where her clothing is manufactured though she is looking for a manufacturer in San Francisco.

“It costs more to cut a curvy seam than a straight one,” she said, noting that designers who don’t understand the market cut corners. “To structure a plus size, you need to start doing it at size 12.”

The industry definition starts at size 14.

Almost half the women in America are size 12 and up, yet they have been overlooked by designers and retailers.

“Mostly there are online retailers,” Alexander said. “There are few brick and mortar stores where people can actually try things on.”

Merchandising is another challenge.

“None of it looks appealing on a hanger, and they don’t stock plus-size manikins,” Alexander said. “It’s kind of a vicious circle.”

She got positive feedback when she participated in the 2009 fashionART Runway Show organized by Angelo Grova, which filled the 2,000-seat Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

“When they see plus-size girls on the runway, they go crazy,” Alexander said. “People want to see themselves.”

Thanks to the Internet, she is getting international exposure, selling in a boutique in Australia and fielding queries from Mexico and Finland.

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