Welcome to E!'s Tales From the Top, our series on women who are leaders in their fields and masters of their craft. Spanning industries and experiences, these powerhouse women answer all the questions you've ever had about how they got to where they are today—and what they overcame to get there. Read along as they bring their resumés to life.
Not too long ago, thigh chafe was an embarrassing affliction sufferers felt compelled to hide. Then came Katie Sturino.
But before she became the purveyor of adorably packaged products aimed at handling our many bodily afflictions (we're talking thigh chafe, buttne, any manner of B.O.), she was learning the tools of the marketing trade.
Formerly the founder of her own PR agency, the Wisconsin native spent her earlier years in the business promoting others—on two legs (mostly working with fashion brands) and four. Yes, you may recognize her as the proud dogager of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Toast, a puppy mill rescue Katie adopted and turned into a star (Toast's wedding was, after all, on The Real Housewives of New York City). And as the dog's fandom grew, so did Katie's.
"@toastmeetsworld changed my life," she proclaimed in an Instagram post after Toast's death in December 2017. "Not in a 'Who Rescued Who Way', but in a real life altering way."
As a self-proclaimed "shy person," Katie continued, Toast "provided me a way to showcase my creativity without putting myself on display. I was able to help dogs and live out my crazy dog fantasies. But when Toast was invited to do a shoot with the @manrepeller I met Amelia Diamond. And she asked to do a style profile on me."
The experience and response it garnered was shocking. But in a good way. "I just didn't realize that other people in the world had my thighs and body," she admitted to E! News in an exclusive interview, "because working at fashion PR for 10 years, you just get kind of conditioned to think that you're 10 times bigger than everyone you see because that is the case."
But outside the narrow measurements of the designer fashion world where she got her start, Katie found a very interested audience, receiving enough positive response from her profile to make the leap to fashion writing with her blog The 12ish Style. "When I read people who were like, 'I like your shorts,' 'I like your jacket,' 'Where did you get that?' I was like, 'Woah, I can help these women shop,'" she recalled, "and I really realized also that my body was not so strange and that it was just that I had been working in this hyper-specific environment and it was time to stop feeling that way."
When sizes above a 12 are still often relegated to the back of stores—if at all—Katie's content has served as an increasingly louder microphone for those the fashion industry has long ignored. Take her #SuperSizeTheLook series, in which she replicates celebrity ensembles on herself. "What I realized is that people were inspired by a lot of other women's style, but they felt that they themselves couldn't pull it off," she explained, "so all I was trying to do is show that this size 0 woman looks great in this outfit, and also this size 14/16 woman can also look great in the same style and so can you, whatever size you are."
Scrolling her Instagram, it's hard not to also notice the pictures of Katie struggling to put on new clothes that, in one way or another, just don't fit—a scenario anyone watching has likely endured at least once in their life. What spurred her to take a situation that can often be frustrating, embarrassing or downright painful and share it with the entire Internet? Katie decided the blame was misplaced.
"I had put on some weight and I did this big order from a store and nothing was even close to fitting me," she recalled of the turning point. "I was like, you know what, this is absurd. I'm a New York City-based fashion blogger person, and I can't even find something to wear in this very large order from a very expensive retailer. I guess I just decided to take the shame out of my head and just put it on the clothing makers because I was the average size of a woman in this country."
Those posts make up her ongoing series #MakeMySize, where she unabashedly calls on brands to expand their size ranges while using herself as living proof that there are customers not being served. "I don't call brands out. I call brands in," she said. "I invite you into a dialogue. I don't put you on blast. I'm not like 'Boycott this brand.' It's never like that."
Her stance, meanwhile, remains crystal clear. As she declared to E! News, "Brands that don't have a size for the average-sized woman in this country still don't make sense to me." So as more retailers start to listen and play catch-up, listen to Katie: "When you're in a fitting room, and you can't get the jeans above your knees, and those are the biggest size they make, that's not really your problem."
An actual problem in need of a solution, though, was the aforementioned thigh chafe. You know, when your inner thighs rub together and the friction causes that burning, chapped skin that makes it quite miserable to keep moving? Before she tackled it as the first product of her body care brand, Megababe, Katie had already been talking about it on her platforms as early as 2015.
"Essentially, every spring on my own feed I would be like, 'Ok, it's chafe season—what are we going to try?' And I would test all the products and talk about what works, what doesn't," she recalled. "I was waiting for the cool new product to come out and they just kept getting lamer and more embarrassing, and I was like...I guess I'll do this."
Born was her award-winning Thigh Rescue stick, the start of what has blossomed into an entire collection of products. Fitting the overarching theme of her career, Katie helped sufferers feel seen—and unashamed. Now that she's created solutions to some of our physical problems, Katie's here to tackle the emotional ones. Anything you've dealt with, she's probably already hurdled and she's picked up some lessons along the way. Go on, get inspired:
On why some brands still haven't expanded their sizing, according to Katie:
"I would say that when you get down to it, a lot of fashion houses or fashion corporate offices or fashion directors are still pretty fatphobic and they're happy to call a 12 plus size. They think a 14 is, like, I guess this is the biggest we can go. They don't want bigger people in their clothes. And I think that that is just a fact. And if you're not going to expand your sizes, ok, that's fine, but it is informing people that you don't care about a certain part of the population and the part of the population that you don't care about is, like, an average-sized woman in this country."
On the moment she realized their product was a hit:
"We bought 10,000 units, which was a minimum. We had them in my parent's garage and my parents were handling fulfillment," she recalled. "We launched in June and my sister and I were like, 'We are going to have to get these out of mom and dad's garage in two years, and laugh about how we started this weird company that no one wanted.' Even my parents were like, 'Does anyone need this product?'...Everyone said this was a bad idea, but I was like, 'I know from my followers and I know from me that this is a product people need.' And when we sold out in June, I knew that we had something."
On what people don't see that is essential to the company's success:
"We are really scrappy," she said of her and the Megababe team, which includes sister Jenny. "I think people think that when you are the founder of a company, then you're not going to be calling a retailer and setting aside a deodorant for someone, but that's exactly the type of stuff that all of us do. It's like, everything from the massive orders to the smallest thing, the smallest one-on-one customer moment."
On one of her biggest money mistakes in the business:
"Our second summer, I made us do these wheatpastings all over the city," she recalled. "The same day ours went up, another campaign went up and covered all our ads up and that's kind of it, so we flushed thousands of dollars that wasn't ideal to be spending on this really rogue marketing effort and I learned that that kind of marketing is something that brands who have an excess budget can afford to do, but not brands who are trying to scale in a smart way."
On the most useful business advice she's learned along the way:
"Ten people are going to tell you no, but if you know the answer is yes, then you have to follow your own gut because people don't have your vision, they're not in your brain, they don't know what you're thinking or what you can see," she said. "Sure, you can be wrong, and yes, you can have some major failures, but at least you saw some of those things through. When I was like, 'I'm going to make Toast famous and she's going to bring awareness about puppy mill rescue and we're going to do all this stuff,' people were like, 'That's weird and that's not a thing.' And I think that that's just the theme with every job I've had—where I'm making a left turn and it takes a minute for everyone to see where I'm going."
So, what's that next turn for Katie? A new book called Body Talk: How to Embrace Your Body and Start Living Your Best Life. "Every woman that I've ever met in my life has a problem with her body, and I used to have a problem with my body, too. I still do some days," Katie said. "This is basically a workbook that's going to help you, whoever you are, whatever size you are, move past, or start to move away from the obsessive bad feelings and just basically the body negativity merry-go-round that so many women that I know of all sizes live on."
And while she continues to champion for more sizes and encourage her followers to throw any restrictive notions about dressing out the nearest window, perhaps the most important lesson she has to impart is this: "At my thinnest, when I was not being a healthy person, my life didn't change," she said. "I didn't start a super successful beauty company. I wasn't coming out with a book. I didn't have a husband who I adore. All these things happened when I accepted my body. They didn't happen when I was falling asleep at 8 o'clock because I didn't eat dinner."
Body Talk is available now.