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Henning founder Lauren Chan wears a blazer from her new collection at Guide Fabrics in New York.Arkan Zakharov/The Globe and Mail

“I’m definitely not a designer, and I don’t claim to be,” says Lauren Chan, the Canadian, New York-based founder and chief executive officer of newly launched plus-size brand Henning. Chan cut her teeth in the fashion industry as a writer, then editor, and also as a model. It was these combined experiences that led her to the conclusion that a chic, well-made workwear brand for women sized 12 and up was desperately needed. “I was in an office with women wearing the most luxurious designer clothes every day and I was wearing Forever 21,” she says. “I needed a nice suit for meetings.”

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To develop Henning’s offerings of slick blazers and tony trench coats, Chan reached out to her future customers, generating discussions through social media. “It’s rewarding to dive into a subject in as much detail as we have,” she says. The approach not only fostered a community that most other fashion labels would envy, but also allowed Chan to have a better understanding of their wants and needs. She recalls an occasion when she solicited dress size and bicep measurements to problem-solve an armhole issue in a design, and that within a few hours 20 responses had cropped up on Henning’s channels. Despite their busy schedules, Henning fans took the time to answer for a brand that hadn’t even started selling clothing yet. “I don’t know a brand I’d do that for,” Chan says.

Open this photo in gallery:

To develop Henning’s offerings of slick blazers and tony trench coats, Chan reached out to her future customers, generating discussions through social media.Arkan Zakharov/The Globe and Mail

This customer collaboration has been particularly helpful for Chan, who has never enrolled in a fashion design program. She did, however, work on a collection with retailer Lane Bryant while in her position as fashion editor at Glamour magazine. That, and her time as a model, made her aware of just how challenging making clothing is, and deepened her resolve to get Henning’s wares right. Chan views her non-designer designation as a benefit as she builds her business. “It’s an advantage of mine. Coming at this from the side of somebody who’s a consumer and now a business person will allow me to pivot when I need to and [make] things work, rather than be married to creating a collection that feels artful and tells a story.”

So, what exactly is Chan thinking of while developing the Henning collection? “The design is informed by what I was missing as a consumer,” she says, noting that men’s wear-inspired pieces are high on the list (Chan wore a thrifted Armani men’s sports jacket when she appeared on The Globe and Mail’s Best Dressed List in 2018). Henning’s pieces are made in New York, which Chan admits comes with a higher price tag, but also value and prestige. “It’s a quality I want to be on par with," she says. "To tell our customer that she’s worth it.”

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