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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.

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.”

For more information, visit henningnyc.com.

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