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Plus W alk into any major department store or corporate clothing retailer and you can find men's clothing ranging f rom extra small to triple extra large. Within a few minutes, most men can find a screen T-shirt, polo or dress shirt that fits their size reasonably well in the neck, shoulders, chest and midsection. Women reading this know that the female shopping experience is not this convenient, and, for plus-sized women, it can be infuriating, or worse, down- right demeaning! e vari- ety in shape and where those shapes take shape on a woman's body are as individual as the fingerprints furiously flip- ping through hangers to find the right blouse. And forget about shopping online, where it seems like corporate retailers each have their own definition of what size 18 really means. Growing up a bigger girl, Melissa Andrade knows the struggle of plus-sized women. She remembers being bullied in school for her weight, hav- ing trouble finding the right clothes for job in- terviews and finding it difficult to be comfortable with herself when her clothes aren't comfortable. "I know what it's like to want to cover every- thing up and how it brings you down to where your self esteem is really low," Melissa said. It was a time of low self esteem that ulti- mately inspired Melissa to hang up her old pur- chasing routine and put on a new outlook. Just months after being a cost-cutting casualty of corporate fast food, Melissa decided to open a store for plus-sized women. But after months of looking, she was starting to think her search for a dream store was just another shopping trip with skimpy results. en, one night, she was driving through downtown Visalia when she noticed a "For Rent" sign hanging in the window of a cozy retail space on Willis Street. Melissa said she felt the butterflies in her stomach and knew this was her spot to take the first step in her new life and to take a stand for plus-sized women. "I was missing out on my kids' sports and activities," said the 44-year-old single mom. "I told myself, 'If I'm going to work hard, it might as well be for myself and do- ing something that makes me feel good.'" She opened the store at 114 N. Willis St. and called it e Curvy Closet, a store for plus-sized women that literally began in her closet. "I didn't have any clothing to start to the store except what was in my closet and my sister's closet," she said. "So that's what I did, and people really seemed to like the store." e popularity of the store prompted her to expand into the space next door just nine months after opening. e Curvy Closet is one of the few stores in Tulare County that carries plus sizes for women, and if you take national retailers Lane Bryant and Torrid out of the equation, it is the only boutique store in the county that specifically caters to plus- sized women. Melissa opened the store in March This S tor e is a f or Women Text and Photography by reggie ellis "I know what it's like to want to cover everything up and how it brings you down to where your self esteem is really low." m e l i s s a a n d r a d e o w n e r , t h e c u r v y c l o s e t 2 017 H O L I D AY M A G A Z I N E 9

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