Designer Gayla Bentley could be the poster child for the word potential! From early on, she was never defeated -- never willing to shrink from a challenge. Instead, she saw the potential in situations and honed her skills to become a style saavy woman who has pioneered her way into the curvy fashion industry.
Now, let’s get personal with Gayla Bentley --
[Valery] Care to share a story about how Gayla Bentley found her passion in fashion?
[Gayla] When I was growing up, my whole life I wore uniforms. From Catholic school uniforms, to uniforms at the YMCA, to the New England everyday “preppy” uniform; life was uniformed, and size was never an issue because everyone looked the same. I was 14 when my Catholic school closed, and I had to go to public school; for the first time in my life I would be in “street clothes.” With no other option, my mother dropped me off at the mall with her credit card and wished me luck in finding something appropriate to wear for my new school. It was all that she knew to do, and I didn’t have a problem with that either because I never thought of myself as more curvy, or different from anyone else, I just knew that I was going shopping! I went to a store, and the sales associate dressed me in clothing that my grandmother would wear (large prints, oversized garments, nothing age appropriate whatsoever). It was at that very moment, that I felt inspired that my future was to be a style educator, I would help girls embrace their beauty, enhance their style, and overall look and feel better about themselves. I decided that I was going to teach myself how to dress, and I would educate others to do the same. As cliché as it may sound, I decided I was going to “fashion my own destiny.”
I left the mall that day empty handed, but fueled with a new sense of confidence about life, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be. Until I went to college, I was a prep wearing the New England uniform: a polo shirt and Levi’s; I may not have been glamorous, or even feminine, but at least I knew I would not be ostracized for my weight or size.
[Valery] How did you take your passion to concept?
[Gayla] I went to college, and had the most AmaZing roommate. Her family owned a jewelry business, and they had the creative touch. It was with her help I learned about hair, makeup, and different styles; I was creating my own look, and developing my personal style. As my confidence grew, I started taking people shopping, changing their wardrobes, and educating them on how to create their own personal style. Through these experiences, Gayla Affairs was born. I became a style consultant, and created a successful business that I was able to earn money for my educational expenses. At this point, it was never about size, it was about style, about dressing well, and about teaching style to others.
When I graduated college, I did not go to New York City because I could not afford to give my entire pay check to rent, and bills. In the mail, I would receive postcards from my college friend to come live in the “tropical paradise,” Houston. With $140.00, 14 suitcases, and a passion for fashion, I was on my way to take on Sakowitz, the best department store, as an associate. The First day living in Houston, I did not get the job at Sakowitz. The Second day living in Houston, I received a phone call from a college client that wanted me to take her shopping for a new wardrobe in Europe…all expenses paid. I was on my way shortly after we hung up. As I traveled, I sent postcards from all over the world to the store manager of Sakowitz. When I returned to Houston, I called to see if I could schedule an interview.
My first client at Sakowitz was the Queen of Jordan. It was an incredible experience, and I was promoted quickly. Style was my passion, style was my focus. I began designing and creating my own collection after I was a style consultant for 25 years. I have built my business on my education from women in the dressing room. It is behind those closed doors that I learned about what was needed.
[Valery] Why did you decide to focus exclusively on the curvy woman?
[Gayla] Working with major department stores, I noticed that “high fashion” stopped after a size 10. I spent years, and years adding gussets to seam allowances to make things larger. I had clients spending extra money, and buying doubles of things to make their clothes larger in size. As special size departments slowly were introduced in department stores, I saw the lack of beautiful, must have; clothing that was available for women with curves. Meanwhile, I was taking clients on fashion “Co-Tours” to Paris, France, the place I consider the Fashion Capital of the World, and the same thing was occurring. There was not fabulous clothing available for women over a size 10. Curvy women, myself included, wanted fine clothing, luxurious fabrics, the perfect fit, and all around glamour. This neglect was the reason I chose to focus and design for women with curves.
[Valery] What sets Gayla Bentley apart from other fashion designers?
[Gayla] We are a business on style, not on weights, sizes or shapes. It just so happens that we concentrate on designing for sizes 10 and above, creating more selections and choices for women with curves.
We focus on fit, and lifestyle wardrobing. Being a woman of curves myself, I understand our special interests. NO-body is perfect, and no two bodies are the same; women have the same issues regardless of size. I cater my designs to these special interests. As well, my clothes create a lifestyle wardrobe. I design clothing for who women are today. I design clothing from daytime casual to evening elegance. I design for women who want to be chic, and modern. My designs reflect comfortable sophistication, femininity, and glamour. I enjoy building on the basics, but adding the “wow” effect.
[Valery] What does it take to get ready for each season? How many people are involved in the process?
[Gayla] I draw on different inspirations for each season. Some seasons it is a fabric that inspires a style based on design, color, and texture. Other times my inspirations come from customer feedback, European runway shows, Street fashions that I observe in Paris, and old Hollywood movies. These inspirations come together to form a theme that I am designing around for the season.
I have a very strong management team that gives daily input about styles, fabrics, and production. As well, we have a small village of people that are involved in the process of getting each season ready. It is a team effort.
[Valery] How have you been focusing on fit for the curvy figure? How does this differ from "Straight" fit issues?
[Gayla] Being a woman of curves, designing for the curvy figure is nothing unusual to me. I create a style that is flattering to our curves. Our patterns and designs flatter a woman’s figure by accentuating the positives. We do not focus on all trends that may be fabulous, for all trends may not be fabulous on a curvy woman. We will never design hot pants for curvy woman, no matter how popular they are. We focus on creating an end product that has a comfortable fit, a modern appeal, and a timeless look that women desire to buy, opposed to just having to buy coverage clothing.
[Valery] Let’s chat about your travel collection –- What should the savvy curvy women be packing in her bag for her great travel adventure and where is your favorite place to travel?
[Gayla] Mix and Match separates are the way to go. Basic, simple, solid choices. It is important to take things that can be worn different ways with a change of one piece or a change of an accessory. For example, you can my travel wear trumpet skirt, a classic white blouse with a sash, pearl studs, and coral lips to an afternoon event, but for an evening cocktail party you can leave the skirt on, put on a travel wear Bust Tie Top, add chandelier earrings, and red lips and you are ready to go in style and in comfort!
Always pack a casual black, and a dressier black shoe, and plan your outfits before you go.
As for me Darling, Paris, my favorite place to travel, will always have my heart, and my curves.
[Valery] We always love a great story – do you have one to share about yourself, the industry, yourself in the industry, etc.
[Gayla] I broke my neck, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was in a car accident, but with the support, strength, and sheer intelligence of my incredible husband, Russell, the plan for Gayla Bentley came into fruition. He developed the business plan, and I created and designed the collections. Medical challenges, try as they may have tried to control my destiny have simply made me stronger, and appreciative. I showed my first collection in New York City wearing a colostomy bag, and I conducted interviews from my hospital bed wearing an IV.
But, the greatest achievement for me is that my husband and I have fallen in love all over again through our experiences with this company. We work together, and live together. We have the passion and the heart for this business – together.
(Gayla and Russell Bentley)
[Valery] What can we look forward to in the near future with Gayla Bentley?
[Gayla] Get ready for the creation of two additional lines, a moderately priced line for mid-level retailers, and a lower priced line for mass merchandisers. We want to provide style to women of all socioeconomic levels on a global scale!
Now, visit www.gaylabentley.com and experience for yourself the stylish fashions designed to enhance your beauty to its fulle st potential! Also, take advantage of this AmaZing offer! Visit www.gaylabentley.com and receive Free shipping on orders over $150. This is a limited time offer valid until 10/31/05. No promotional code needed.
||Do you have a question or comment for the author? Would you like to share your thoughts about this article with our readers? Click here!