As an esteemed public relations executive in the retail industry, Shannelle Armstrong Fowler spent much of her career keeping her finer on the pulse of fashion trends. But when she opened a boutique bridal store in Chicago, she never anticipated just how much the experience would touch her.

While serving as Director of Public Relations for the Sears Holdings retail empire, Shannelle had a series of conversations with female friends and associates chagrined over the shortage of sophisticated wedding dresses for women with curves.

Now the owner of Haute & Co. Bridal Boutique, specializing in luxury designer wedding dresses for curvy and plus-size women, Shannelle says few things about her business give her more gratification than“when you get into the dressing room with a woman who hasn’t been able to find awedding dress, and she cries because she finaly found it with us.”

Business has been burgeoning, and with the help of a $3,500 loan from Accion, Shannelle was able to add a new designer line to her ensemble at Haute & Co. Bridal, which quickly emerged as her best-seller. “Most small businesses— especially those headed by women—don’t surpass $1 million in revenue. The biggest reason is access to capital. But Accion has been a wonderful partner. I can ask them questions and bounce ideas off of them, and they’ll support my growth.”

What Shannelle didn’t necessarily anticipate was the emotional pay-off she reaps when brides who feel defeated by a marketplace that shuns them finds salation in her store. After all, the chance to feel beautiful in a wedding dress is an iconic milestone in a woman’s life. “I wanted to give women the opportunity to have those moments,” Shannelle says, “I’m very grateful to my customers for putting their trust in me.

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