Black-owned business UnLESHed+ practices inclusivity in KC thrifting community

Rebekah Shackelford

Kansas City is home to many upcycled fashion boutiques, but not many cater to plus sizes or are Black-owned. Alesha Bowman, owner of UnLESHed+ (pronounced “unleashed”), is working to close that gap.

UnLESHed+ focuses on body positivity. The boutique’s brightly-colored decor and self-affirmations posted on the walls and in the dressing room encompass embracing self-love, which is something Bowman wants to share with her clients.

“There’s a lot of self-sabotage that goes on in the dressing room,” Bowman said. “That’s why I don’t have mirrors in there. I want it to be a place where women go in; they see clothes; they get inspired. Then with that they come out and look at themselves in the mirror at their clothes, and a lot of times there are other women hyping you up.”

Bowman started UnLESHed+ three years ago online while she lived in Indiana. When she moved back to her hometown of Kansas City a couple of years ago, she knew she wanted to grow her store and find a brick-and-mortar storefront.

“Being a plus-sized market, you have to try things on. That’s why it was important to have a storefront,” Bowman said. “Women are really out there not wanting to come out of the house. The more women I meet, the more I get inspired and realize, ‘Okay, this is needed.’”

After sharing a space for a while, Bowman found a spot of her own in February of this year. When scrolling through UnLESHed+’s website or Instagram, it would be easy to assume the store has a whole team of style consultants. But at UnLESHed+, Bowman does it all.

When talking about UnLESHed+ though, Bowman talks about everything with plural pronouns, which sums up how she feels about her store and client base. 

“When folks come in, it belongs to all of us,” Bowman said.

All of the clothing in UnLESHed+ is hand selected by Bowman, and she does online or in-person style consultations or closet revamps.

“My favorite way to get clothes is for folks to bring them in,” Bowman said. “But I buy from boutiques that have a hard time selling plus size clothing, or I go to thrift stores.”

Bowman received a bachelor’s degree in fashion business and then a master’s in college student personnel administration, with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. She worked in upper education for years, but she always knew fashion was where her heart was.

Bowman intentionally chose her location on Troost because she wanted to serve a community that wouldn’t have access to trendy, higher-end plus size clothing, and wanted to combat the gentrification she saw in the area. Her business model allows her to sell upcycled clothing at a lower price, making it easier for everyone to get into fashion.

Bowman says being a strong, reliable member of the community is important to her, especially due to the gentrification many inner-city communities experience.

“If [large companies gentrifying the neighborhood] keep pushing us out or we choose to go to the more popular places, then our kids that are here won’t have nobody to look up to,” Bowman said. “Just because you’re lower-income shouldn’t mean you don’t get to have that fashion boutique.”

In addition to her fashion work, Bowman also teaches plus-size burlesque dancing and is a hairstylist at the salon right next to UnLESHed+.

“The ultimate goal is to have hair in the same place [as the clothing store],” Bowman said. “Seating at salons can be very restricting for plus-sized women.”

For now, Bowman focuses on practicing inclusivity and helping plus-sized women in the KC metro area to unleash their potential by finding confidence.

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