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Young entrepreneurs open store, begin design career

In Churchill Square in St. John's, go through the door set between Bellissima and the Pizza Hut and head up over the rough, worn carpet stairs. There you will find Katie Burke and Jessica Mealey's Structure Wardrobe and Styling clothing boutique.

Step inside onto the sleek, dark hardwood to wander between the rows of blouses and wraps and other items of plus-size clothing - some even fashioned by Burke and Mealey themselves.

Model Sonja Massey wears clothing by Lotis. . - Submitted photo by Donna McMullin

In Churchill Square in St. John's, go through the door set between Bellissima and the Pizza Hut and head up over the rough, worn carpet stairs. There you will find Katie Burke and Jessica Mealey's Structure Wardrobe and Styling clothing boutique.

Step inside onto the sleek, dark hardwood to wander between the rows of blouses and wraps and other items of plus-size clothing - some even fashioned by Burke and Mealey themselves.

Then pick a piece and try it on.

Open since May 2009, Structure Wardrobe and Styling caters to sizes 14 and up, although occasionally people wearing size 12 clothing can also make a find, Mealey said.

When the two wom-en originally developed the store concept, "we were thinking like working, professional women in their late 20s, early 30s," she said, explaining the market choice was more a reflection of the fact the clothing was being selected to their own tastes and they were not certain how it would be received.

The clothing has sparked much broader appeal.

"We definitely have a lot of regulars which, when you're in business less than a year, is good," Mealey said.

The store focuses on providing "basics with a twist," bringing items into a local market where a variety of plus-sized clothing is not always easy to find, said Mealey.

"There's a lot of women here who have trouble finding clothes, and I hear about it every day," she said.

Even when women find clothes, size consistency can be a problem, Mealey said, adding her boutique can offer advice on who makes a size 14 that is actually a size 14 and what designers are creating the best items for plus sizes.

"Our customers, they don't want to go to a store and buy something where the quality is not great or it's expensive for what it is," she said.

However, designers working in plus-sizes and producing the styles that interest Mealey and Burke are not common.

"Not long after we opened the store, we were having some trouble getting the right merchandise we wanted for here," Mealey said.

The constant searches for specific products at designer showcases and fashion sites led to the development of Lotis, Burke and Mealey's very own line, to cover some of their needs.

"We always knew we would get into the design part of it, but we didn't know it would be so quickly," Mealey said.

Yet quickly it came, and the pair turned to Renee Lethbridge, a Newfoundlander now living in Toronto and working in fashion design, to help them get Lotis clothing off the ground.

"Katie and I aren't designers, but we know what we want," Mealey said. She said Lethbridge helped them to graphically realize their ideas, work out problem areas and secure their manufacturer in Asia.

Lethbridge actually once worked at the shop where Lotis clothing is now made, Mealey said.

"That's the only reason that we went that way, because we trusted Renee and Renee trusted them," Mealey said.

After a small manufacturing run was made for Winter 2009/2010, the store owners and now designers began phoning friends who owned or worked in other clothing stores.

The result saw Lotis clothing being carried in 10 stores in Canada, from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia.

In this province, Lotis items can be found at Fabulous Figures in Labrador City, Wescal in Bay Roberts and, of course, Structure Wardrobe and Styling in St. John's.

"Our spring collection is in production right now," said Mealey, who is expecting the first samples of the designs to arrive for review next week.

They will have to receive a final approval from Mealey and Burke before production begins.

However, retailers have already pre-ordered clothing from the line and Mealey said interest from wholesalers in Canada and the United States has been increasing steadily, with retailers in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York now interested in Lotis.

As the spring/summer collection completes production, it will be made available to individual orders and in stores.

Lotis clothing has so far been developed without government assistance. But Mealey said the clothing company is planning to apply for assistance with marketing in the future.

"We're realizing now it could really go somewhere, so now we need these supports to make it work," Mealey said.

The clothing label's latest line is scheduled to be toured in March on a Chicago trade mission and to the Stylemax fashion trade show, also in Chicago.

More information on Structure Wardrobe and Styling and the Lotis clothing label are available at the store (open every day at 10:30 a.m. aside from Sunday and Monday), by phone at 709-753-2662 and online at www.lotisclothing.com.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Pizza Hut

Geographic location: St. John's, Churchill Square, Chicago Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Toronto Asia British Columbia Bay Roberts United States Philadelphia New York

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