Lauren Chan on Creating Plus-Size Workwear that Women Actually Want to Wear
The movement against perpetuating cookie-cutter body standards is here and now, and you can thank Henning CEO and body diversity expert Lauren Chan for helping lead the way. The former Glamour fashion features editor used her platform to highlight the ways in which the fashion industry could empower all shapes and sizes before creating her own company of fashion-minded workwear for women sizes 12 and up—Henning. Based in New York, Henning is coupling Chan's knowledge of plus-size women's style desires with crowdsourced design elements from its followers. Here, the concrete jungle-living Canadian, who's a plus-size model herself, talks building a business from the ground up, recycling your wedding pieces, her best volume hair hacks, and more.
When and why did the goal of “build my own brand” come into consciousness and spring into action? Was there ever an “aha” moment or was it always in the back of your mind?
I built Henning after spending years as a size 14 to 20 fashion editor who had a really hard time getting dressed. While my peers were wearing designer clothes, I was stuck in cheap, fast fashion because that’s all that fit me and was kind of on trend. I always wanted a designer-level suit to wear to important meetings or a well-made dress to show up to events and be photographed in. Henning now makes the pieces I’d been vying for.
CEO and model—you kinda have the coolest job title. How and why did you get into modeling?
I became a plus-size model as a way to break into the fashion industry. Really, I wanted to be a magazine editor but those roles are hard to come by. Right after graduating from university in Canada, I went to an open call for the plus-size division of Ford Models in New York and was signed. The rest is history.
In what ways has your experience as an editor who champions body inclusivity shaped Henning’s marketing strategy (social and digital)?
Being an editor taught me so much—the biggest lesson that’s applicable to my work at Henning is how to talk to readers. Now, they’re considered followers and customers, but the conversations that we are having are very similar to those that I used to have with the women who read my inclusive content. I take a lot of pride in fostering an open, constructive, two-way conversation in our community.
What role does crowdsourcing play in Henning’s business plans?
A big one! At the end of the day, we need to make clothes that people want from a brand they believe in. The best way to do that is to talk to those people—and then actually listen. I’m not a designer, I’m an entrepreneur—so I’m more obsessed with creating a viable, problem-solving business than I am with artistic vision.
It’s so cool that you feature entrepreneurs on Henning weekly. Speaking of entrepreneurs, how important was surrounding yourself with fellow entrepreneurs for bringing Henning to fruition?
Extremely important. Women like Rebecca Minkoff, Daniella Yacobovsky, Leslie Voorhees Means, Mollie Chen, Emily Heyward, Ghizlan Guenez, and many more have been incredible mentors to me. They’ve helped me dodge landmines, trust my gut, learn industry standards—you name it. One of the best surprises of this process has been how readily supportive and encouraging the founders that I look up to have been.
In addition to being a body diversity expert, you also had a network of friends and business owners who you asked for advice along the way. What pointers would you give to an aspiring business owner who has a well-planned goal and strong business acumen but doesn’t necessarily have connections/friends AKA valuable resources to inform their business plans?
Find them! Platforms like Female Founder Office Hours, the Wing, Elpha, Girlboss Collective, and hell, even Instagram were great resources for me and are open to everyone.
What was the most challenging part about jumpstarting Henning and how did you tackle the issue?
The hardest part of starting Henning was that I had no idea how to make clothes. I do now, ha! But it took me about half a year to do my research, talk to people, and practice. It continues to be the most personally challenging part of my business, but I now have the right people around me helping, teaching, and leading by example.
Where do you get inspiration from for designing Henning collections?
Honestly, it’s as simple as making the things I’ve always wanted to have in my closet. My style is tailored, kind of minimal, and menswear-inspired, so the clothes reflect that.
What can women expect in these collections?
I’ve taken to calling our pieces “fashion-minded workwear”, which to me means pieces you can wear to work and beyond, and have a strong fashion point of view. So, we’re starting with menswear-inspired suits, separates, and outerwear.
You conducted a survey that asked hundreds of women how they felt about plus-size clothes. Do you think that same survey, if conducted today, would yield different results? What can media and society do to amplify the conversation about the lack of high fashion for women sizes 12 and up?
I conducted that survey in 2017 because I found that a lot of the data commonly used to reference women above size 12 and their shopping habits was from around 2012 and 2013. I don’t know that much has changed in the past two years, but anyone observing fashion or the culture at large probably recognizes the change surrounding body-positivity and inclusive sizing from 2014 onwards—making that 2012, 2013 data outdated. Sounds like it might be time for another survey…
You’re also an ambassador of NEDA and have experience helping brands launch their own size-inclusive pieces. How did these opportunities come about?
It might seem blunt, but I make them happen. I really believe in walking the walk—so when I have critical opinions about, say, diet culture or size inclusion, I try to do something about it. The issues that I care about are deeply emotional, since they’re issues that have negatively affected me for decades. So I’m passionate about fixing those issues as best I can, wherever I can.
What’s one fact about your job or everyday routine that people would be surprised to learn?
My schedule revolves partly around walking my dog. (Hi, Pepper!)
Because you’re Canadian, we have to know: if I only have 24 hours in Canada, where/what should I absolutely go, see, do, eat?
Well, if you go to Canada, you may never come back! It’s the best place on earth. In Toronto, where I’m from, I say: the St. Lawrence Market, Trinity Bellwoods Park, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. I haven’t lived there in a long time, so I’m not going to sound cool if I recommend any restaurants, but luckily Toronto Life and Airbnb have great recommendations. My husband lived on the west coast for a few years, so if that’s more appealing to you, try staying lakeside in the Okanagan and hitting a few wineries.
Are there any books that you think everyone must read once or on repeat in life?
Some books that helped me genuinely appreciate my body are Lindy West’s Shrill, Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not an Apology, and for fun, Sarai Walker’s Dietland.
You have gorgeous skin. Can you let us in on our skin secrets and/or routine/top products/tools?
Oh, thank you! It’s kind of freaking out thanks to New York City summer humidity and pollution. I use Dermalogica’s Special Cleansing Gel and Microfoliant, Fresh’s Black Tea Firming and De-Puffing Eye Cream, Clinique’s Moisture Surge Intense Skin Forifying Hydrator, Drunk Elephant’s Vitamin C Day Serum, Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen, and for nighttime, Korres’s Wild Rose Vitamin C Sleeping Facial, or Peter Thomas Roth’s Retinol Fusion PM.
You mentioned having naturally flat, fine hair. What’s your best hack for achieving major volume and making it last?
I love OUAI's Volume Shampoo and Conditioner, R+Co’s Park Ave Blow Out Balm, Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray, and Bumble and bumble’s Prêt-à-Powder. To be completely honest, the best hack is to pump my day two or three hair full of texturizing and volumizing products.
Name one app that changed your life and why.
Instagram—hopefully it helps me sell some clothes, ha!
Motto or quote you live by?
What makes you different makes you great. Really.