Party season is upon us and the shops are full of lovely Little Black Dresses to enable us to dazzle at the annual Christmas parties. The majority of these dresses seem to be sleeveless and for various reasons there are a lot of ladies out there who avoid sleeveless dresses like the plague, opting for a dress that is not necessarily what they want but it covers the arms or they end up buying THE dress but spoiling the effect by adding a shrug or cardigan – and getting too hot in the bargain! My guest this week is the lovely Michelle Ellis, who came up with a brilliant product – Wingz – to give ladies a trendy and alternative option! I caught up with this busy lady to find out more – welcome Michelle:
Hi! I’m Michelle, 36 years old, married to Steve for the last 8 years with 3 lovely children – Marshall (9), Athena (7) and Jasmine (6). We live in a village called Methley, near Leeds.
What was the inspiration behind Wingz in the first place?
I needed to solve a problem. My lipoedema had given me large arms, I was self conscious and wanted to cover them up, my friends were getting married, all my dresses were sleeveless, it was summer, it was hot, wearing a cardigan or a shrug was not a good solution (far too hot) so in the end I came up with Wingz.
After applying for a patent, you began to sell Wingz via Ebay. In 2010 you appeared on BBC’s Dragon’s Den. Although you didn’t manage to get investment you did come away with good feedback. Was it daunting to appear in front of the “dragons”? What advice did you take note of and applied to your product or to the business in general?
We were told by Theo that if he were to come up with a model for a start up online business, he would be telling people to go about it exactly how we had done it. He was very complimentary but then he said ‘why do you want to ruin all that by borrowing all this money?’ He didn’t think we needed the investment or to change what we were doing. We were advised to keep at it, stick to our business model and grow organically. That is what we have done. We were also given some words of caution about selling to the big retailers. It can obviously go very well, but with the increased volumes comes risk and it can go horribly wrong very quick. We’ve built the business without going to the retailers and instead sell directly to customers or through some small distributors.
I wear quite a few tops and dresses that are sleeveless, but going sleeveless is a big problem for a lot of women which results in the wearing of cardigans, jackets or shrugs over pretty sleeveless dresses regardless of temperature! So, when picking the material, look and choice of colours did you go by your preferences, fashion trends, other people’s suggestions or a mix of all?
I’m very much into fashion, it’s a big passion of mine. I therefore knew what colours, designs and fabrics were needed for Wingz. I started out with the black chiffon flare, a light fabric with floaty sleeves. Then I introduced more colours in this style before bringing out new designs such as fitted sleeves, cowl sleeves, volume sleeves and split sleeves – all in a variety of colours and materials.
I really like the black stretch lace full sleeve, the purple chiffon flare wingz, and the Big Cat chiffon volume wingz. In fact with one elegant shift sleeveless dress you can create so many different looks by adding different wingz! What wingz style has been the most popular to date?
There are 4 designs that are all very popular – black chiffon flare, black fitted (3/4 or elbow length), black stretch lace and black cowl. Yes, it seems black is very popular! Probably due to the flexibility it offers.
Have you got your own favourites?
Definitely, the black fitted elbow length is the one I wear most often!
Although you are UK based, you do ship worldwide with 40% of your sales going to the export market to places such as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Singapore and The Netherlands. I’m impressed by your sizing system too, four sizes catering for UK sizes 6 to 28; US sizes 6 to 28; and Euro sizes 34 to 56. Which style “wingz” seem to be most popular overseas?
That’s a good question and the answer depends upon the territory. Most countries will want black, the Netherlands are probably the most experimental with different colours. As for the styles, countries in Europe, USA, and Australia are similar to the UK in terms of styles. However, in countries with a large Muslim population the preference will swing towards long sleeves that offer full arm coverage – this would be the long sleeve fitted wings in black or white.
You are a sufferer of Lipoedema – a genetic condition whose symptoms include disproportionately large bottom half of the body, painful legs and swelling in legs and arms. In 2011 you founded the support group Lipoedema Ladies. How old were you when you was diagnosed with Lipoedema? What are the main benefits and aims of the support group?
I was 27 when I got a diagnosis but I had my ‘big blow up’ with the birth of my first child 2 years previously. The symptoms had really flared up during the pregnancy and birth so it was a big relief to get the diagnosis and understand why my body was doing what it was. Lipoedema Ladies is there to support women with the condition by sharing knowledge, offering help advice and a place to turn to in order to share our problems and feelings. Our objectives are also to raise awareness by helping women receive the diagnosis they deserve and to help doctors, GPs and nurses become fully aware.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing ?
I normally go for pyjamas as house wear if I’m completely honest (can I say that!? I sleep in the nude – so I think that still counts as getting dressed! Casual wear is NYD Jeans (which I have 18 pairs of as I love the fit) with a top that suits my mood; summer is maxi dress time which I have over 150 of. My style/look is somewhere between lonesome cowgirl and smart/clean boho (is that too contradictory?) On the flip side I absolutely LOVE getting ‘dolled up’ and slipping into full length evening gowns and heels and at 6ft2 in heels I like to make an entrance. I love to play with my clothes and they really are an extension of my personality and my mood.
Long Tall Sally is great for my beloved pyjamas and fluffy robes. Kiyonna and Not Your Daughters Jeans are two of my favourite online stores – both are USA based so I do get hit with the import duties, but they are worth it. Debenhams is top for underwear, they have improved their styles and range so much in the last half a dozen years, my only issue is stopping myself from buying too much, my underwear drawer is almost an underwear chest of drawers, it’s getting silly. One moan – I have a real problem getting shoes as I have big feet – a UK 10 and a wide fit, a few years ago Evans shoes would have been on my ‘fab List’, but unfortunately the sizing and quality has really gone downhill, and recently from bad to worse – I would love to get my hands on their shoes buying department. On a lighter note, the Debenhams jewellery department is my absolute favourite and cannot be beaten come January sales time…I arrive home with carrier bags full of earrings and necklaces bought with my Xmas gift cards much to Steve’s dismay.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
A perfect fitting pair of outrageous cowboy boots in finest leather and a high quality white cotton fitted shirt.
Boots or Shoes?
BOOTS! Every time…I wear compression socks/stockings through necessity, and these do not look good with shoes! Lol They suit my personality more anyway – sturdy and ready for anything – no matter what the weather or terrain.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my sites and what I am doing, everything I do is for a good reason – I have never just done anything for money alone – I truly believe we are put here to be useful in some way, no matter what that reason may be.
I must give credit to Sarah Clark for all the Social Media we do. Sarah is amazing. She is a published author with a mean sense of humour; efficient and organised I am blessed to have her work with a tangent lover like me. Thank You Sarah X
www.fatphrocks.com is my Tall Plus Size website and I am moving towards specialising in dresses only. FatPhRocks has an amazing blogger called Eloise, she has more spunk than even me, I adore her and always have a giggle when reading her posts.
www.wingzfashion.com is my Wingz website, simple and easy to use with links to our social media. We give a 50% discount code to customers that post a photo of themselves wearing Wingz with their outfits on Facebook. We hope this gives other ladies ideas about how to wear their own Wingz and add sleeves to what they wish.
www.lipoedemaladies.com is my website about Lipoedema, it is lifestyle focussed and I hope it is and positive place for those with Lipoedema. All links to Lipoedema Ladies facebook pages and twitter can be found on there, there is also a ‘Hub’ page on this website that has live posts from our social media, so those that do not want to be a part of the ‘Social Media World’ can still read the latest news without having to be members of these sites.
Thank you very much for sharing with us Wingz and the work you are doing to bring awareness about Lipoedema. I wish you continued success in both ventures. So ladies, have you got a favourite “Wingz” style? Do share !
All photos have been published with kind permission from Michelle Ellis.