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'Curvy Brides' Debuts Friday On TLC


We are entering peak wedding season.


THE DIXIE CUPS: (Singing) Spring is here. The sky is blue...

INSKEEP: And the TLC Network is inviting you to check out its latest reality show. It explores the needs of plus-sized brides.


"Curvy Brides" starts tonight. It highlights two sisters who serve only big, beautiful brides. The $5 billion-bridalwear industry often overlooks them. Here's Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR's Code Switch team.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: How are you feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Like a bride (laughter).

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: "Curvy Brides" focuses on the lives of African-American entrepreneurs, Yukia Harris-Walker and Yuneisia Harris, and their bridal salon, Curvaceous Couture. They're both beautiful, with tawny skin, hazel eyes and big, bright smiles. And while the Harris sisters are devoted to each other, they do love a little one-upswomanship.

Who's the oldest, Yukia?

YUKIA HARRIS-WALKER: Well, if you ask like that, of course - I'm the oldest.

BATES: And also the first to marry, which she enjoys teasing still-single Yuneisia about. Curvaceous Couture began when newly engaged Yukia began to look in stores for her dream dress, only to discover there was no joy in that experience - nothing fit.


HARRIS-WALKER: They were squeezing me into dresses, throwing dresses around my neck and asking me if I liked them.

BATES: Yukia, then a size 14, had very few options. She finally bought a dress she so hated she wouldn't even look at her wedding photos.


HARRIS-WALKER: The dress ruined the pictures.

YUNEISIA HARRIS: The dress ruined them all. The bust cups were not large enough to actually fit her bust.

HARRIS-WALKER: The poor straps looked like they were hanging on for dear life.

BATES: So the sisters decided to open a shop that offered chic gowns in large sizes for future big brides, and Curvaceous Couture Bridal was born. In the beginning, the sisters worked from the basement of their parents' home. Their dad generously gave up his man cave so it could be stuffed with clouds of satin, lace and tulle. Papa Harris even played traffic cop for a steady stream of visitors.

HARRIS-WALKER: He would be outside on the lawn mower pointing people to where to walk in - the store's in the back, ladies. He loved it.

BATES: Soon they moved into a sleek storefront in suburban Maryland. And for more than six years, they've been helping brides from sizes 12 to 44 find the dress.


HARRIS: Thank you for calling Curvaceous Couture. How may I help you?

BATES: Sometimes, Yukia says, the brides come in with an entourage and the sisters have to gently re-direct the posse's attention.

HARRIS-WALKER: We have to let people know that this is not your day. This is the bride's day, and we have to be focused on her needs and her needs only.

BATES: Each bride is different. In the first show, Jenn Uniglicht is confident and vivacious. She fell in love with her strapless, crystal-embroidered, ball gown-style dress the minute she put it on. She even posed for a test photo.


JENN UNIGLICHT: I saw how it sparkled on camera. It's the one.


BATES: Other brides need more reassurance. Quiet Elizabeth Bennett came with her mother.


ELIZABETH BENNETT: I had weight-loss surgery last February. And I was worried about, one, if I could find a dress that would fit and, two, how it would look on me.

BATES: She found and bought her dream dress and is now back for alterations. When Elizabeth walked out in her white, cap-sleeve gown, everyone in the room got a little teary.


BENNETT: Every bride on their wedding day should look and feel like a million bucks, and I certainly do. And I never thought I could be that woman, and I'm so glad that I am. So I thank you both for this.

BATES: Yukia Walker says she and Yuneisia work long hours to get the right dresses for their brides, and experiences like Elizabeth's are the best reward.

HARRIS-WALKER: Every time I see a bride get the experience that I didn't get on my wedding day, I know we're doing something special here.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.