Helen Teague: Designer

But why did Helen go into beautiful big clothes in the first place? She was a successful architect and could have gone on to an illustrious career, designing buildings. Instead she turned to designing clothes!

It all began with her mother in Ghana (Helen is one quarter Ghanaian) who was a well loved African seamstress in that she designed and sewed wedding dresses for, among others, Presidents’ wives. She could look at a photograph in a fashion magazine and cut and sew a replica without needing to draw any lines on paper!


Left to right: Great Grandmother, Great Grandfather, Grandmother, Grandfather. Immediate family at a cousins wedding in 1950. Helen’s Mum at 2, at 6 at 19, at her sisters wedding, at her own wedding.

Helen was brought up in her early years, in England. When she returned from school as an eight year old she would help her mother with sewing for clients. Much later she qualified as an architect having graduated with a distinction and awarded the annual prize for design.  Seeking greater independence she decided she wanted to work for herself and returned to her love of fabric. Something mysterious had happened in that everything she had learned in architecture became strangely relevant to clothes’ design. This can be summed up in one word, proportionality.

Initially she thought of a company name “Fine Clothes for Fat Feminists” but settled on “Big Clothes”  It was started on April 13th 1986 in Swiss Cottage Market and within a year had moved to a small shop in Boundary Road (NW8 – opposite the Saatchi Gallery and a minute from the Abbey Road Crossing.).

In 1990 Helen founded 1647 – the name being based on the “fact” that at least 47% of women in the UK were a size 16+.  In 1991 she teamed up with Dawn. (see “How We Met”)

What existed in 1991 in the big clothes marketplace for mass production was a rather crude method for grading big garments. It still exists in some manufacturers’ products today. Result – wrong length arms, and disproportionate bodies. By developing a special ‘architectural’ formula to cover the variety of shapes that people come in, Sixteen47 clothes have proven a great success. Not only that but Helen developed her range of clothes to cover every possible size – beautiful, big, creative designs in top quality fabrics. And all sizes for the same price!

SIZE 1 will suit anyone from size 16-20 Bust – 42 Hip – 44
SIZE 2 will suit anyone from size 20-24 Bust – 46 Hip – 48
SIZE 3 will suit anyone from size 24-28 Bust – 50 Hip – 52
SIZE 4 will suit anyone from size 28-32 Bust – 54 Hip – 56
SIZE 5 will suit anyone from size 32-36 Bust – 58 Hip – 60
SIZE 6 will suit anyone from size 36-47 Bust – 66 Hip – 70

In 1991, 1647 was a long needed breakthrough in this marketplace. There are still many loyal customers who have been with the company since those early days – for twenty five or more years!

“I still have the first top I bought!! Your clothes may be slightly more expensive that some of the high street stores or other online shops BUT…. the quality is fabulous, the prints and colours are incredible and the garments last and last and wash very easily. I’ve not yet thrown out a 1647 garment!! I have several tops that people say “wow” to whenever I wear them. Finally, the delivery has improved incredibly over the last few years and delivery to Spain now takes about 3 or 4 days!!! “

“….the clothes are good – beautiful fabrics and prints – we use such limited ranges of fabric types – characterised by unfailingly beautiful colours and prints – in high quality mostly natural fabrics. Simple shapes which address the basic requirements of proportion and comfort and secure cover. They are well detailed and well made – and we do our best to avoid exploiting anyone and in our own enterprises we push hard for our colleagues to learn new skills and be emancipated enough to choose to stay or leave and hope they stay (if they were good enough) out of choice and not just because we provided better terms and conditions than others….” Helen Teague.