Men still dominate the tech startup scene, including in Leipzig, but the women from Wundercurves are helping break the glass ceiling one shard at a time.
Despite still fighting to become a self-sustaining enterprise, they’ve come a long way with their platform, which hopes to make female fashion a more inclusive space. Based in the alumni offices of the HHL SpinLab, their team of about 15 is half female, including two of the founders.
On top of that, as the name of their e-commerce startup suggests, the two millennials proudly wear their curves and have built their company mission around helping other women feel the same way.
In further exploring the Plagwitz startup neighborhood, I hung out with Wundercurves co-founders Christiane Seitz and Tiffany La.
The other evening, we sat comfortably among SpinLab’s bean bag chairs, a favorite place for informal meetings, before moving on to their desks. La and Seitz said they like to rent their office space on the premises partly because they have access to other startup teams, and can ask them all kinds of questions.
Wundercurves had previously been through SpinLab’s accelerator program in the same building at Spinnerei. This helped them navigate German bureaucracy and obtain an important grant from the state.
Their platform is innovative on the German scene. It aggregates products from dozens of small and larger fashion brands catering to plus-sized women and connects them to shoppers in a very interactive, attractive way. They show what might work best with their body type, illustrating it with women who have worn such outfits beautifully, in and out of the spotlight.
They’ve turned part of Wundercurves into a digital magazine, for which they also write and model. They are whizzes with social media – for instance, drawing in the style, charisma and following of Instagram fashionistas by featuring them on their site – and even give personalized fashion advice in real time. It became clear to me, from our chat and looking at their website, that Wundercurves has the female shopper in mind first and foremost.
Most shoppers visiting their platform probably had no idea there were so many options of what to wear to match and accentuate their shape. La and Seitz were once searching for similar answers.
The two German 20-somethings told me about their eureka moment: a shopping trip together in Berlin, about three years ago.
“She’s a size 44, which is actually the average size for German women, and I’m a size 46-50,” said La. “We couldn’t find anything for us out in Berlin. It was all either sold-out or very ugly.”
We asked ourselves what women with even larger sizes feel like, and how hard it is for them to find clothes in their size.
La noted the situation is especially dire in Germany when compared, for example, to the UK, “where bigger sizes are more accepted as the norm for women,” giving them a whole lot more clothes and accessories to choose from – and more visibly so. But the problem with plus-sized fashion is of global scope, especially considering big brands’ globalized mass production of sizes and styles.
Seitz and La described a vicious cycle where women considered plus-sized don’t feel represented in fashion advertising or the variety of pieces available in stores, which makes them too insecure to demand the style they want, and in turn leads to the industry not producing the appropriate variety or quantity to put in stores. They noted that most stores they know in Germany neglect a whole range of bigger size customers who could otherwise make for handsome profits.
Instead, young women find themselves resorting to the aisles for the pregnant and elderly to find something that fits them, remaining stuck in a fashion rut, without knowing where else to look.
Many women share the same frustration when going shopping, but few decide to do something about it.
Seitz said she and La, finally having had enough, “went home and did some research online, and had to look for information in forums and blogs. There was only one small platform aggregating [specifically plus-sized] brands, and it didn’t have many options.” They’d met each other by chance and stumbled upon a niche that was so central to their own lives that perhaps it’d taken them a while to see it as a business opportunity.
So the two friends chose to combine their interest in fashion, experience working with online platforms and social media, and their drive to solve a practical issue not only for others, but also for themselves, into what was to become their Wundercurves. Gradually, the platform took shape into something readily linking curvy customers to myriad brands and fashion products, catering to all kinds of styles they knew or didn’t know they had or liked.
But to start with, Wundercurves needed a developer. This, Seitz and La observed, is a problem many women face when wanting to enter the startup sphere, as most tech professionals are men. As luck would have it, their mutual friend Stephan Schleuß had e-commerce experience and knew a bunch of developers who could help.
These friends became co-founders and made their way into SpinLab, which prompted their move from Berlin and Hamburg to Leipzig. At some point they had to quit their previous jobs and dedicate themselves entirely to this project.
Wundercurves has plans to expand to other German-speaking markets, and to have a fully operational cart on the website. Seitz calls the cart icon and capability a game-changer, because it would allow customers to pick out items from different shops and pay without leaving the platform.
Their business model right now involves both commission from sales (cost per click, cost per conversion) and native advertising deals. Seitz says it will be a while before they can turn a profit, though. “This is something every well-established online company has had to contend with,” she pointed out with a hopeful smile.
Check out Wundercurves, and keep up with their journey: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest
Cover shot: Friends and Wundercurves co-founders Tiffany La (left) and Christiane Seitz. (Photo: wundercurves.de)