A Woman, a Friend and an Idea
Read the inspirational story of how Kiyonna got started.
In 1996, Kim Camarella-Khanbeigi was an aspiring entrepreneur with just one
problem. She didn’t have a business idea. Nope, with the rise of the “dot com” era,
revolutionizing how plus size women’s clothing was perceived and distributed was not
something she could have dreamed up. Well, that is, until she went on vacation.
In her last semester at USC (studying Entrepreneurship ironically), Kim went on
vacation with one of her best girlfriends. As they were hanging their clothes for
the trip in their hotel room, Kim noticed that none of her friend’s clothes had any
labels in them. When asked why, her friend laughed and said it was her mom who had
to make everything for her as no cute clothes were available past a size 16. At this
point in the story, please picture Kim’s face and then up and slightly to the left a very
So armed with her lightbulb moment and needing to finish a business plan ASAP,
she went to the local mall and stood outside of one of the largest plus-size chain
stores. For the “random” sampling she was supposed to collect for the research
portion of the plan, she decided to ask just 2 questions.
1. Where do you shop?
2. Where would you like to shop?
Survey after survey, the answers came back the same – or should we say not
the same. The women asked wanted to shop everywhere other than where they
were delegated to going. What’s more? With the chain and department stores
monopolizing the plus size market, these women were shopping at the same
places as their moms and get this, grandmas. Oh no, thought Kim, mom jeans
are bad but grandma jeans?!?!?!
So let’s fast forward 5 months, the business plan is done and now it’s time to
graduate and get a “real” job. Well what kind of dreamy green entrepreneur
does that? Not Kim. She decided to form a partnership and get a stylish line
out there for small boutique owners to buy. Isn’t that amazing? What a great idea
right? Hmmm….it was pretty tough actually. Instead of the hugs and kisses she
expected from each and every boutique owner who saw the line, she more often
times than not received the phrase….”That’s just not my customer”.
Ahhh, it is and you just don’t know it!, thought Kim. In the meantime now, picture
stylish fashion editors who had to complete that “token” piece of plus size content
for their newspaper or magazine finding Kim. They were giving hugs and kisses for
sure. But their affections didn’t pay the bills – and bye bye went the partners. So, alone
and with a $1500 phone bill after Kiyonna’s 888 number was featured in Seventeen
Magazine (but um, no where to find the line retail), Kim had an epiphany.
OK – back up here one sec. She knows her dad might actually read this so to be real
we need to give dad his props. This is what he said (1999):
Dad “You should get one of those websites.”
Kim “Dad, you don’t know anything. No one is going to buy clothes from the computer.”
Now, Kim is a smart cookie for sure but foresight on that day she did not have.
However, she listened to Dad and created Kiyonna.com. James Earl Jones said it best.
“If you build it they will come.”
As sales gained momentum, so did Kiyonna’s team and depth of offerings. Today,
Kiyonna can be found in over 100 stores nationwide and beyond. Online business
accounts for over 80% of sales, and in 2007, the company opened it’s first Flagship
retail location called the Upstairs Boutique in Anaheim.
“We’re in business still, after all these years, because we’ve always sold a feeling,
not a product. I’ve always believed in the idea that curvy women deserved to look and
feel stylish and amazing. Why not?” Kim Camarella-Khanbeigi.