Inspired by a lack of plus size clothing throughout Ireland, Newry’s latest addition to the local business sector, The Curvy Gurl has given a much appreciated boost to the area, with the recent opening of their headquarters and store at Sugar Island.

Formerly from Michigan in the US but of Irish descent, Keven and Shelly Sands together with their son Zach and Keven’s mother Kay run the bustling business selling Clothing, Handbags, scarves, jumpers, underwear, hats, trousers and much much more.

For Newry customers virtually anything that is available on their website can be bought in store.

Shelly and Keven Sands with son Zach and Keven's mother Kay outside The Curvy Gurl in Sugar Island, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Shelly and Keven Sands with son Zach and Keven's mother Kay outside The Curvy Gurl in Sugar Island, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Keven adds “You have the ability to browse online and then take your time and come in to the shop and know what you are looking for already. You will always get a good deal.”

Speaking on how the company began Keven said “The first time I was here in 2012 it was very hot in Michigan and I forgot to bring my jacket with me, I thought no big deal I’ll just pick up a jacket when we are in Ireland, and I found I had to search an entire day and go to about 12 different shops before I found one to fit my size and I thought, what an inconvenience that is.

“Then the following year Shelly was here, she knew the story and she was looking around purposely to find ladies clothing in the plus size market and found that Belfast was the only option”

Zach Sands prepares an order for dispatch.
Zach Sands prepares an order for dispatch.

Evidence of the Business’s growing popularity can be gauged from almost 90,000 followers on Facebook (Probably the highest of any company in Newry).

It’s evident The Curvy Gurl is doing something right and their sales to Ireland, UK, New Zealand, Australia, United States, Canada, Germany, Spain, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and more are a testament to that.

Keven’s Grandfather was formerly from Ballinacraig Townland and his Grandmother hailed from Rathfriland but both emmigrated to America. Although they were both from Newry they didn’t know each other until a chance meeting in Detroit and they ended up getting married.

Although Keven’s family were from Newry and Shelly’s from Tralee neither had actually visited here but when Keven’s father, who always wanted to live out his days in Ireland passed away in 2011, it led to an Irish visit and set the wheels in motion for what was to be a live changing move.

“My Father’s final wish was to have his ashes buried in his grandmothers grave in Portadown so we came home in 2012 to bury him. 

We stayed for two weeks and just fell in love with the place.”

The Curvy Gurl logo.
The Curvy Gurl logo.

They decided to return the following year inspired by ’The Gathering’ and Shelly who hadn’t visited in 2012 came over and visited her relations in Tralee 

“When we came home from that trip we just kind of sat down and talked and said lets move.” 

They talked to their family and made the trip back for good in December 2014.

Reflecting on the move Keven commented “It is definitely a different way of life. I worked for General Motors as a Software Developer, before that it was Hewlett Packard, I’ve always come from huge IT companies. We had the nice big house and the luxury cars and we were like, lets get rid of everything. We sold it all off and we made the move over here to try our lot”

And the outcome there can be no question “No Regrets, we are all happy, we love it here”

When they originally decided to move the initial idea was to stay with General Motors and work remotely from Dublin while Shelly would run a boutique but things turned out more complicated and with a lot of travelling on the cards they decided to throw all their energy into the company.

Kevin's experience in IT proved invaluable for building the Curvy Gurl Website, especially the technical ‘back end’. They started selling locally, selling out of their home with most business coming initially from England. They moved to premises in Kildare Street in Newry but six months in realised they would be outgrowing it pretty quickly so in March this year started looking around for alternatives, finding along the way that getting warehouse space in Newry is next to impossible.

One of the stores best sellers the Royal Ballet Tea Dress.
One of the stores best sellers, the Royal Ballet Tea Dress.

When the Sugar Island building came up they went for it and now all operations, shipping, sales etc are out of Sugar Island, The Curvy Gurl Headquarters.

On Brexit Keven thinks in the long term it could be good for the firm but he certainly couldn’t imagine a border in place and thinks it won’t happen as it would be counterproductive to both Ireland and the UK.

“Maybe it’s the American side of me but, you know we weren’t too fond of having another country tell us what to do, and I think maybe the UK can stand a bit on it’s own.”

Priced competitively with all of the major companies they don’t see the local boutique as their competitor, rather the large companies.

“If you were going to go to Belfast, you’re not going to get a better deal than you would with The Curvy Gurl”

The firm see themselves heading down the franchise route. Commenting on the Sugar Island HQ Kevin points out “This is the flagship store, so everything there is set up for a reason, not just to be convenient to the customers. We want potential franchise owners to be able to come in and see how an operation can be run”

“We are going to offer a franchise opportunity that is unique to the market place, it has never been done before. One of the areas of expertise I have from my IT background is outsourcing so it’s something I know very well. 

The Curvy Gurl store in Sugar Island, Newry.
The Curvy Gurl store in Sugar Island, Newry.

“We are going to support the stores as if they are part of the corporate structure but yet they are going to be independently owned, so everything from all the technology that goes in, their point of sale system, their security system, everything will be managed by The Curvy Gurl Corporation and they will buy from us at wholesale and then sell their products in their stores.”

Keen to support local enterprises they have recently added a line of hats from Ratty Tat Hats based in Ballynahinch.

Karen Christie from Ratty Tat walked into the shop one day and mentioned her business and it was exactly the type of product they were looking for.

“She is designing one of a kind bowler style vintage hats and that really fits in with our market” Keven said.

They would love to deal with local small businesses and if you’ve got a good product they want to hear about it.

Looking to the future they want to open up franchise stores across the island of Ireland and eventually expand to England, Scotland, Wales and Jersey.

Exciting times ahead indeed for the new Newry based company.

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