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CurvyGirls Bridal catering to full-figured ladies

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Tears streamed down Rebecca Reyes’s face as bridal consultant Kim DePasquale fitted her satin-trimmed veil. The headdress completed the silk satin gown Reyes, 46, donned before a full-length mirror at CurvyGirls Bridal in Fairfax.

It had been a frustrating journey to finding her perfect wedding dress. Every bridal boutique Reyes visited had little-to-no selection of gowns to fit her size-20 figure. After several months of shopping, she stumbled across CurvyGirls while visiting Eternity Jewelers next door.

“The store had such a wide selection. Other shops told me they could order a dress in my size, but had nothing for me to try on,” said Reyes, a Herndon resident, who was at the salon for her fitting. “Here, it’s different. They make you feel special, like every bride should.”

Standing within earshot of Reyes, CurvyGirls owner Ruth Sutton burst into a wide smile.

“This is the best part of the job,” said Sutton, who runs the shop with her husband, Bob. “We’re proud of what our customers say about their experience here; we want them to walk away happy.”

In the year since it opened, CurvyGirls has amassed a collection of 400 designer gowns from size 12 to 32, priced from $800 to $10,000. The store is part of a budding niche of local bridal boutiques, including Curvaceous Couture in Columbia, specializing in wedding dresses for full-figured women.

Shows such as TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss,” which documents plus-size clients at Kleinfeld bridal salon in New York, have brought this burgeoning segment of the $2.5 billion wedding gown industry into focus.

“There are more full-figured women who have accepted their size and decided to find dresses that complement their body type,” said Lerkia Lee-Tidball, a bridal consultant based in Laurel. “Salons, as a result, are working a little harder to meet their needs.”

Designer Reem Acra started a plus-size bridal line last year, around the same time that retailer J. Crew began carrying gowns up to a size 20. (The average woman wears a size 14, according to Women’s Wear Daily.)

A dress to try on

“Up to three years ago, most boutiques only carried sample dresses up to size 10,” said Catalina Maddox, fashion director at David’s Bridal, where a third of the dresses in stock are available up to a size 26. “Stores have realized that women deserve to at least try on a dress in their size.”

Even with national chains such as David’s Bridal providing gowns for full-figured brides, those customers are still underserved. Which is why Sutton opened CurvyGirls.

“We realized that the market being neglected the most was the one that had grown the most,” she said.

Sutton spent 20 years as a bridal gown buyer, seller and show producer, before leaving the industry to earn a better living as a bookkeeper for defense contractor Northrop Grumman. But the “joy of being a part of a bride’s special day” lured her back into the wedding industry.

To cover the $800,000 in start-up costs, Sutton used money from her 401k retirement plan and a Small Business Administration loan. About $520,000 of the budget went into retrofitting the salon, with its wrap-around showroom, hubby-to-be lounge (with flat-screen TV) and spacious dressing rooms.

The boutique houses a tuxedo salon run by Savvi Formalwear, as well as a collection of jewelry, shoes and other bridal accessories. Sutton is especially proud of her generous line of flower-girl and bridesmaid dresses. A growing number of her customers purchase the bridesmaid frocks to wear as evening gowns.

CurvyGirls serves 60 to 70 brides a week, with a 80 percent sale rate on first-time visits. Through the first three months of this year, the salon rang up $300,000 in sales. It turned a small profit at the end of 2011. Now the Suttons are trying to acquire the empty store next door to expand.

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