Go Figure — S.F. entrepreneur dressing women on the fringe

Eye candy — that's what at least one customer has called Carolyn Honig's Clement Street boutique, Go Figure. It's easy to understand why: Festive handbags crawl the walls, playful necklaces and earrings surround the counter; hats and shoes stake out one corner; and, of course, lots and lots of colorful, abundantly proportioned clothes fill the small San Francisco store. Why so many things? It's one of only a handful of Bay Area shops catering to the larger woman.

"I get thanked a lot for having the store, for pulling these things together because I think a lot of these women — including myself — don't feel that we're acknowledged enough," she says. "It's not fun being on the fringe and having trouble finding things you should be able to find."

Voluptuous women can find most of what they need here; in fact, Honig calls it head-to-toe shopping. She even has a whole room off the back devoted to sexy lingerie. She says she'd be tempted to bring in sports clothes, too, if she had the space.

Indeed, the almost 2-year-old store has become somewhat of a mission for the tall, stylish Honig. The idea came to her while stuck in traffic on her way to an East Bay clothing store for plus-size women. She found herself frustrated that she had to go all the way to Berkeley to find good clothes for her figure when she lived in a major metropolis.

One thing led to another and before long, Honig, the daughter of California's former Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, decided on the lower Clement location, a spot not far from the Jordan Park area where she grew up as a fifth-generation San Franciscan. That she encountered more than one surprised reaction on the proposed location left her somewhat mystified.

"First thing people said to me was, 'Why did you open up here? It's an Asian area; Asian people aren't large.' OK, where do large people congregate? Where am I supposed to open a store? Hello?"

Setting up shop in San Francisco's multiethnic Richmond District, Honig has worked with Orthodox women seeking longer skirts, T-shirts with higher necks and long robes for Shabbat as well as women from the former Soviet Union who request animal prints ("I'm not a big animal-print person") or clothing that's "a little flashier." She also has provided a number of women with special High Holy Day outfits.

As a small shop owner, she keeps a client book, giving her regulars a call when something suitable comes in. She'll also check her vendor books with clients and will special order.

"My philosophy is not to follow fashion," Honig said. "It's more about developing a personal style with classic items."

The clothing store morphed from her original plan to open a children's bookstore. Honig, a bookseller for 11 years, sees similarities between the two.

"It's finding out about vendors, imparting what knowledge you know to other people," she says. "And it's sharing that knowledge and letting them in on a secret like, 'Here — buy this shirt. Isn't it a great designer?' like, 'Read this book. Isn't it a wonderful thing?'"

One of the secrets she's been letting her clients in on are clothes from several Israeli designers, including Kedem Sasson, Ginza, Heydari and others. Many of these are roomy, one-size-fits-all designs that work for plus-size bodies because the designers aren't creating clothes for the more "thin-minded" American woman, Honig says.

Though she's still waiting for the spring collections to arrive, she says Ginza is among the most striking. It's easy to see why. The Ginza designs are loosely structured yet traditional, with whimsical, well-made touches throughout, such as pockets lined with vibrantly patterned fabrics or a row of multicolored buttons running up the front of a jacket.

For Honig — sporting black Eileen Fisher pants and a teacup-and-flower-covered Blanque blouse ("You want to collect them. I have about six of them, " she says) — purchasing Israeli designers wasn't a political statement. It was about the clothes.

"I didn't go in saying I'm only going to carry Israeli designers. I got them in because I thought they were great clothes, and, 'Oh, here's something fun: They're from Israel.' I had fun promoting who they were. "

Still, Honig, 40, whose family has long been affiliated with Congregation Emanu-El on Lake Street, where she was confirmed, acknowledges that carrying these designers is a win-win situation.

"It is a source of pride. And if I can help them promote their wares, then all the better. I get beautiful clothes; they get awareness."

While the Israeli imports can be a bit pricey, she says that shouldn't stop customers from leaving the store with what they need. She stocks clothes in a wide range of prices. For example, shirts run from $50 to $150. And even if it is the Israeli-designed — or other higher-end — clothes that clients covet, Honig insists she'll work with her customers.

"If they can't afford the price, they can always offer me a price, and I might accept it, because I want them to have the clothes." And that is, in part, what makes her store different from going to a chain department store.

There are other differences, too, like the sense of community that comes with running a small store for a specialized clientele. She frequently tells her customers that it takes her three times before she recognizes a customer by name.

"It's like a coffee klatch," she says. "We sit there; we shmooze. It's the sense of community, a belonging — not that we're afflicted with the same problem; we have something in common. "

In the end, Honig says her business is about finding solutions.

"I really try to work very hard in solving a problem. Like, 'OK, I need this to wear to some event, something that makes my body look good or makes me feel good.' We are not all about the sale. It's solving the problem for the customer."