Unleshed+ plus-size resale shop is growing and giving back

Alesha Bowman has several walls displaying positive affirmations inside Unleshed+, her plus-size clothing store on Troost Avenue.  Bowman says she wants to remind clients that they are perfect the way they are.

Alesha Bowman has several walls displaying positive affirmations inside Unleshed+, her plus-size clothing store on Troost Avenue. Bowman says she wants to remind clients that they are perfect the way they are.

ecuriel@kcstar.com

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Alisha Bowman says that fashion is the soundtrack to her life.

She was in the third grade when her grandmother, Brenda Thornton, first took her “The Profligacy.”

At first she didn’t want to be in the store. Then I spied a pair of black bell bottoms with pink and red flowers and they sold out. Old clothes were cut to fit her plus size better, and she can get 10 pieces for $10.

“It was a whole new world of possibilities for me in fashion,” Bowman said. “You’re not dressed like everyone else. It’s cool. It’s become something I’ve been known for.”

I grew up loving fashion a lot, and had a degree in Fashion Merchandising.

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Unleshed+, at 4243 Troost Ave. , caters to women in size 14 and up, with old, new and gently used clothing and accessories. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com

She now has a store, Unleshed+, at 4243 Troost Ave. The store caters to women in size 14 and up, with old, new and gently used clothing and accessories.

“I’ve been a plus size girl my whole life. We need to try things out,” she said. “They feel comfortable here and for a lot of plus-size people it’s hard to find nice things in your size.”

She called it Unleshed+ (pronounced unleashed) as a play on Alesha and also for definition: “to remove the shackles suddenly so you can run free”.

Customers can buy and sell (up to 30% of the Unleshed+ resale value) or exchange items (up to 50% of the resale value).

They also stock merchandise from local businesses, like curvy women’s torso-shaped candles—for body positivity—made especially for the store by locally owned REIN Therapy.

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Unleshed+ stocks merchandise from local businesses, including jewelry from The Creative Outlet. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com

But Bowman never considered a career as an entrepreneur while growing up.

She received her BA in Fashion Merchandising from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg in 2013 (the first in her family to earn a college degree). She then earned a master’s degree in personnel management at the college with a focus on diversity and inclusion.

She worked at the university before moving to Indiana, where she was the Director of Multicultural Student Services at DePauw University.

All along she has been hosting multicultural hair and fashion shows. She usually had boxes from thrift stores in her car – of different sizes.

“I just liked the clothes. Then my car was completely assembled and I had to find an outlet.

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The mirror in which customers try on clothes includes a poster promoting body positivity. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com

Unleshed+ opened as an online store.

Bowman returned to Kansas City in 2018 to find a less stressful day job. But as her online business grew, she looked for a physical, self-financing location because she didn’t want to add more debt besides student loans.

I landed first “along the back road” to a yoga studio at 27th Street and Trost Street. But some of her customers complained that they could not find her. So I moved to 39th place and Trust, a space that has grown more quickly than her.

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Pants, jeans, and other clothing hang on a shelf at Unleshed+ on Troost Street. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com

It set March 14, 2020, opening at its current location. Then the epidemic protection orders were announced.

“I’m so confident in everything I do because I went to school for it,” she said. “But no one can really teach you how to be an entrepreneur because it changes so much.”

She has done Facebook and Instagram Live stories to keep in touch with her clients, along with virtual dance classes focusing on body positivity.

With the pandemic, her clients were stuck at home at first, so she stocked her joggers and loungewear.

She used her savings to pay rent and utilities. Then it was called The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Bowman thought she was interviewing the Zoom producer but instead started the show.

Shutterfly, a California-based photography and photo-sharing company, was giving Bowman $10,000 to help support Black-owned businesses.

This summer, Bowman hosted the Kansas City Plus Size Weekend, a four-day festival with a plus-size fashion show, a pool party, and a burlesque dance “to help plus-size people feel better in their bodies.” The next event is planned for June.

She will also be hosting the Plus-size Market, in association with other local plus-size fashion retailers, on November 28 in the store.

As a black woman, inner-city producer and business owner, she said it was important to her to give back to society.

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Locally owned REIN Therapy makes candles specifically for women’s curvy Unleshed+ torso to promote a positive body image. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com

It has an annual bag sale, where customers can fill a large pink bag with merchandise for just $25. It raised nearly $1,000 to provide sponsorship packages to Black Lives Matter protesters.

Bowman would like to move to District 18 and Karma when the lease ends a year from now, and they also have satellite locations around the metro.

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

“I would say just do it. Start wherever you are. I had extra cash a month that I could invest in my business,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like it has to be big from the start. Over time, if you keep grinding, it will happen.”

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Alisha Bowman has published an adult coloring book promoting body positivity for plus-size women. She displays it on a golden shelf in her store. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com

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Joyce Smith has covered restaurant and retail news for The Star since 1989 under the Cityscape brand. She appreciates news tips.

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