After the age of 35, Forest Park resident Dana Todd said the experience of shopping for clothing felt dismal at best. That's why she launched her made to measure clothing website Balodana in December 2018.
"I had a fashion crisis when my hair went grey," Todd said. "If you try to have cool clothes and don't have the body of a 20-year-old, it's hard. Like most women, I blamed myself and my body because I couldn't find clothes I liked for my body, even from higher end brands."
Todd called the fashion industry a "broken system," because of the way most brands mass produce limited sizes, which leads to environmental degradation and women feeling insecure in ill-fitting clothing. Todd says that she seeks to inspire women to enjoy their clothing and their bodies by purchasing items that fit their unique measurements.
Balodana operates much like Amazon and Etsy. Customers input their exact measurements into a custom "fit profile." From there, customers can choose from more than 500 items made by 10 different designers across the globe. Once items are selected, designers custom make the clothing based on the customer's personal measurements, ensuring proper fit. According to the Balodana website, the items take one to three weeks to create and ship and, with clothing that fits properly, customers save time because they don't have to make returns.
Before Balodana, Todd, a native of Texas and Oklahoma, started her career in digital marketing in 1997, owning her first company at age 30. But outside of her career, Todd was always passionate about custom fashion.
Todd sought out an alternative way to find clothing that she enjoyed, and she began ordering her clothing from a Romanian designer on Etsy, who custom stitched items to fit Todd's exact measurements. The experience was empowering for Todd, who found communicating directly with the maker of her clothing to be a special experience.
"She really listened to me. I understood [the relationship] our parents felt with dressmakers," said Todd.
After travelling to Romania and meeting her designer, Todd sketched out a rough business plan on a napkin for a website where customers could order made to order clothing from a variety of designers and tailors. By the end of her trip she had four designers signed on to join the website.
For Todd, a core focus of Balodana is sustainability, which they see as going hand-in-hand with made to measure clothing due to the decreased need for returns and unwasted fabric from mass production.
"With made-to-measure clothing, there are not 10,000 pieces of the same piece of mass-produced clothing sitting in a warehouse unpurchased," said Todd.
Above all, Todd hopes to help women in America return to a personal relationship with their clothes and the people who make them, an experience that was the standard when tailoring was still a widespread trade.
Key to rekindling that personalized relationship, said Todd, is using personalized measurements.
"Women attach their sense of self-worth to the letters and numbers of sizes, but those sizes are arbitrary because they are not uniform across all brands. Women blame themselves when they should be blaming the system," said Todd.
She added: "Current sizing is confusing and frustrating. We've been taught for the past 40 years to define our bodies by one letter and one number. With personal measurements, women are able to see their true numbers."
One of the biggest hurdles is motivating women to take the extra step of getting measured, which can be difficult to do on one's own, Todd said. Balodana uses a specific measurement guide, and Todd encourages customers to get their measurements taken at a tailoring shop for accuracy.
While certain brands offer made to measure clothing, Balodana is the only businesses creating a marketplace of designers, according to Todd. Todd sees that as an opportunity rather than an impediment.
"I love creating new things," she said.
Todd said she sees an opportunity to bring fashion tech back to the United States, and back to Chicago, which she said was once a hub of retail and fashion.
Along with reconnecting women to the source of their clothing and their true sizes, Todd hopes to bring excitement back to tailoring and clothing design, as the artisans who create clothing are as necessary as customers.
"The young workforce doesn't see tailoring as a viable career option," Todd said. "But there is no shame in loving to make clothes. There is joy and fulfilment in making a garment."