“Making ladies feel sexy again rather than frumpy is a huge boost and now some 15 years down the line I have a wonderful following of amazing clientele.” Preston designer Blaise De Boursiere, owner of Belladonna’s Boudoir, creates bespoke alternative clothing for plus sizes. She tells Karishma Patel her story...
After gaining weight due to an underactive thyroid, Blaise De Boursiere ballooned from a size 10 to a size 28: “I then realised how hard it was to find designs in the alternative genre that would fit anyone above a size 16 or 18.
“Even though I had since lost four stones, I was still out of the bracket.”
Although there was one seller who stocked clothes in the size range that Blaise needed, they were not to her liking.
She said: “The clothes that were available to me were very baggy, sack-type designs and although I was larger, I still very much had shape… and wasn’t afraid to make the most out of it!”
So she started to take matters into her own hands, quite literally, and began to design and make her own garments.
She said: “It wasn’t long before people were stopping me in the street asking where I got my clothes from.
“I made clothes for them taking just the cost of the fabric and nothing from it for myself.”
Unaware of the impact she would have on plus-sized women, she quickly started to build up a clientele of private customers.
“At the time I never really thought any more about it other than making clothes for big girls who wanted to look nice.”
In 2000, Blaise started selling her clothes on eBay with a push from a friend presented in the form of a domestic over locker and a £250 government grant.
Through selling charity shop clothes, revamped by herself, Blaise was able to secure the funds needed to buy herself the key resources to build a dress-making business; a camera, a mannequin and fabric.
Despite the fact that she had initially set out to cater for plus-sized women, it wasn’t before long she was receiving inquiries from smaller sized women, from various parts of the world; USA, Australia and Norway being her biggest buyers.
But people still wanted to buy the designs straight off her back.
She is still a walking-talking advertisement of her own: “I remember in Liverpool a woman and her mother had followed me for 10 minutes before finally speaking to me on an escalator.”
“I thought they were going to accost me at first, but they simply adored the floor length furry cardigan coat I was wearing.
“She asked me how much it would be to buy it, and I gave her a price.
“That night I came home minus a coat.”
A similar, more recent, incident occurred in Sainsbury’s last year.
She says: “I couldn’t believe it happened again! Crazy!”
Blaise has been continually receiving positive feedback from her designs, which is the key driving point of her business.
“It’s hard to try and keep up, but the amazing comments I get from bigger girls saying how I’ve made them feel super special again, is my biggest motivation.
“There actually are ladies out there who were proud of their size and shape and not afraid to flaunt it.
“It was for them that I worked hard to make flattering designs after all I had the perfect model.
“Me! If I didn’t feel good in my designs how could I expect others to?”
When asked about whether fashion has always been an interest, the alternative genre designer says: “Not really, fashion was for the masses, I wanted something else.
“I wanted something edgy, unusual but still feminine.”
From a young age, Blaise has always had an individual style. Coming from a relatively poor background she would frequently revamp her own clothing.
She says: “I used other fabrics or cut up clothes that were left for the ragman, sewing them all by hand as we did not have a machine.
“I often used funky curtains that no one else liked.
“I truly hated sewing at school I was a rebel and wild and wanted to be different.”
But it isn’t all plain sailing.
She says: “Trying to get funding to start up a business was impossible, as my talent was not classed as a viable career, so I had to push it on my own.
“As you can imagine within this industry there is a lot of competition, which got very nasty.
“Sellers buying my items as a fake customer then trying to discredit me: copying my designs and selling them way cheaper.”
As with many small businesses, Blaise faced her biggest obstacle around 2006, when the economy was affected by the Credit Crunch.
An influx in cheap imported plus-size designs had a devastating effect on her sales, she had to give up her unit and sell off much of her machinery and stock.
She said: “It was heart-breaking but it was a necessary move.
“I had to believe in myself and my quality to carry on.
“My followers kept my head above water with their continued support.
“I wasn’t about to give up on the one thing I could do that fit in with my children, health and lifestyle.”
Blaise opened up her own workshop Belladonna’s Boudoir in Aspden Street, Bamber Bridge.
She said: “When customers contact me with a bespoke enquiry, I ask as many questions about them as possible.
“Once I have the picture I can almost immediately assume the best design for them.
“I seem to be able to get inside my customers heads when they want a unique piece, and generate a design from that.
“Despite having a very successful eBay business for many years and subsequent sales on Facebook, I never really imagined I would one day have my own boutiques.
“This has enabled me to work with some of the UK’s top alternative models and photographers.”
Blaise opens a new boutique on May 3 on Cannon Street to conincide with Winckley Weekend.
Belladonna’s Boudoir will be holding a Mad Hatter-style gothic tea party with models serving and maybe even roleplaying somewhat.