Size does not define us, says Yorkshire boutique owner Leigh Unwin, who is on a mission to spread the word that women no longer have to define themselves by a number or a letter stitched to the back of their dress collar.
Through her Leeds-based company the Style Attic, Leigh has launched a “free-size” clothing range of pieces which can be worn flowing or form-fitting, depending on your shape and how you chose to style them.
“We want to help women realise that the size of clothing we wear has absolutely no effect on our worth,” she says. “For too long, women have equated smaller sizes with being happier, and looking better, but it’s time to change that. We believe that everyone deserves to feel happy, comfortable and beautiful in their clothes, regardless of their size.”
This summer, Leigh launched her #sizedoesnotdefineus campaign on social media, and found it was quickly embraced by fashion influencers including Leeds-based Hannah Briggs and body positive activist Natalie Kersey, who says: “This campaign shows that my size 22 body can wear the exact same dress as someone who wears regular size clothes. This divide needs to stop – size inclusivity is the way forward. Plus sizes are normal sizes.”
Leigh, 35, lives at Great Preston with her partner and two small children. After years of experience in the fashion industry, she opened the Style Attic in the attic of her former home in Rothwell in 2015, but now has a store in Swillington, near Leeds. She has a degree in advertising and spent a year in Australia working in a high street store, where she won a styling competition and gained an insight into fashion buying.
Before launching the Style Attic, Leigh was working full-time in fashion. “A job in this industry is not your typical nine to five,” she says. “Working hours are long and stress levels are often very high. In 2014, I welcomed my baby girl, Edie, to the world at just 25 weeks, weighing a tiny 710g. After a tough six months in hospital, she was finally allowed home, but I knew that Edie’s arrival meant that my hectic work schedule had to change.”
So she decided to set up her own business, with the aim of making women look good without feeling the pressure of size stigma. “Especially with the
prevalence of social media, it can feel like you have to change yourself for your clothes,” she says. “Our customers are women based in the UK between the ages of 25 and 65, with a core customer base of 30 to 50-year-olds. With the launch of our website last year, we now sell clothes further afield, with some of our orders going as far as New York, New Zealand and Australia.”
The Style Attic now has five full-time staff and five part-time, and most are family and friends. “Working with my family every day, it means that you never truly feel like you are working,” says Leigh, who models the clothes (which are sourced overseas), selfie-style, on the website. She also sells a range of home and wellbeing products.
“When you work for yourself, work/life balance is hard. You give up a nine to five but then end up working 24/7, which is an ongoing challenge, but one that I’m happy to take on if it means that I get to do what I love. The feeling of helping other women to be confident and feel good in themselves, that’s incomparable.
“We would also love to expand our product range as we continue to grow and evolve. With my children being such a huge driving force for me, and Edie being the reason the Style Attic was started in the first place, I’d love to one day launch a children’s line,” says Leigh.
LEIGH'S FESTIVE STYLE TIPS
“Don’t let your outfit wear you,” says Leigh. “It’s easy to feel that, at Christmas, you need to wear something completely out there and go out of your comfort zone. That’s not the case. You still want to feel comfortable and confident. A great way to add festive sparkle to your current wardrobe is with bold footwear, accessories, jewellery and a bright lippy.
“Get co-ordinated. Co-ord sets are huge at the minute, so take this trend into the evening with our Annie top and Sandy pants. Having a head-to-toe co-ordinated outfit can make you look ‘put together’ without actually having to put much effort in – you don’t need to worry about matching anything up. Plus you can then mix and match the items with different pieces from your wardrobe to get more wear over the festive period.
“Go free-size – free-size items are great at Christmas. You can style with a belt for a more fitted silhouette but then take it off once you’ve hit the buffet.”
“We will continue to empower and embolden women of all shapes, sizes and ages to show that fashion really is accessible to everyone.”
* The Style Attic is at www.thestyleattic.co.uk and Woodland Drive, Swillington, Leeds.