Pari Passu: Plus Sizes Getting Equal Opportunity

Shanna Goldstone and Ed Slezak first met at Aeropostale, where Goldstone was the marketing and brand manager and Ed served as general counsel. They followed the CEO to Crumbs Bake Shop. Later, Goldstone started working for architecture and branding firm Gensler. Her first client was actress Melissa McCarthy, who was in the process of launching her plus-size apparel line. Ed was pulled in to handle the legal side of things.

Ultimately, McCarthy’s business shut down, but by that time Goldstone and Slezak had gotten a good look into the plus-size fashion market, and they didn’t like what they saw. Women size 14 and above represent 68 percent of American women, yet did not have the same options for fashion that their ‘straight-size’ companions did. Instead, they had clothes with elastic waistbands and shapeless silhouettes. Although the two didn’t have product development backgrounds, they knew the apparel industry and saw a gaping hole in the market. They asked themselves: “Why shouldn’t plus-sized women have equal opportunities to look good and feel great in what they wear? We said, ‘we can do this,’” says Goldstone.

Thus was born Pari Passu, Latin for “equal in all respects.” It offers classically tailored clothing for curvy women designed to fit not only their size but also their shape.

“What we learned from observation and due diligence in working with Melissa is that fit is the biggest problem. Nothing ever fits right. We looked at how product was being made and it was clear very quickly that the dressmaker forms were a big part of the problem,” says Goldstone. Most plus-size collections and ‘straight size’ brands take small sizes and grade up. They don’t design clothes specifically for curvy bodies.

Goldstone and Slezak decided to dig into the data to solve the problem, and spent the next 16 months in research and development. They started by buying a slice of anthropomorphic body data — 7500 3D scans of plus-size women — from a previously conducted large-scale bodyscanning survey (from SizeUSA) and partnering with Alvanon to analyze it. They also overlaid it with U.S. census data and demographic data to understand the plus-size customer more holistically.

The results of the data analysis revealed what they already knew: women hold weight differently. It reflected three distinct and unique body types: one where weight is held in the front; one where weight is held in the back; and one in between but that also held weight below the navel. Alvanon built 3D avatars based on this body shape data, and then three physical fit forms to represent each of the three. (Then it built its garment patterns based on the fit forms.)

“We built a proprietary fit system for the plus-size woman,” says Goldstone. “It’s similar to how women would buy a bra, by shape and by size.”

Pari Passu’s line comes in three shape and seven size options. “It’s as bespoke as you can get, without being bespoke. And it enables us to solve fit issues without using elastic waistbands or spandex,” says Slezak. The company is headquartered and produces entirely in New York City’s garment district and is available online and also via trunk shows.

Goldstone says the response from the consumer is the most gratifying part of the process. Its website and social media are going gangbusters, but the trunk shows are where the impact of the brand becomes crystal clear. “For a woman to come in and say, ‘No I don’t wear pants,’ and to see her face when she puts them on and zips them up and there’s no elastic. Or to see her put on a button down shirt and not have it pop open. I’ve had more than one woman come in and cry and hug me,” she says. “People can’t believe this exists, because it hasn’t for so long.”

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].

Editor's Note: Pari Passu is an 2019 Apparel Innovator Award winner. Read about the other 25 winners here.

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