Several weeks ago, I was invited to attend Sccop, a twice-yearly event held by a clothing brand called CAbi. CAbi stands for Carol Anderson by Invitation, and you may not have heard of it because it’s not sold in stores. Carol Anderson used to design for Nordstrom, but more than a decade ago she decided to take her clothing line out of the retail environment and create a company that sells the CAbi line exclusively through consultants via in-home parties. Many of my former office coworkers and current friends and colleagues are HUGE CAbi fans and gush endlessly about the designs, so I was curious to learn more. But I’ll level with ya: I haven’t attended a CAbi party. In fact, the very idea of going to a friend’s house and get cajoled or guilted into buying something I didn’t want or need made me want to run for the hills. But if you read on, you’ll see why I’m warming to the notion.
I attended the fashion show that launched the CAbi Spring 2013 line, and it was a high-energy, high-production event with 3,000 CAbi reps in enthusiastic attendance. The photos in this post all show looks from the spring line, which were brought down the runway by a happy, dancing group of models. I’m pretty focused on classics and basics myself right now, and many of the garments were more on the fun and distinctive side, so while I appreciated the looks there weren’t too many that leaped out at me. I was also invited to peruse garments from past seasons and select a few for myself. Again, I didn’t find armloads of stuff to take home … but the pieces I did nab were extremely well made, fit beautifully, and felt great. (You’ll see them soon in outfit posts!)
CAbi clothes come in tall sizes and the line includes US sizes 0 -16 for most pieces. Most tops are in the $50 – $80 range, with sweaters, jackets, and bottoms between $80 and $115. Based on the runway show, photos I’ve seen, catalog images, and conversations with customers and consultants, it does seem that these clothes work on a relatively wide range of figure types. The clothes will hang differently on a woman with prominent hips than a woman with no hips, but they’ll work on both.
In terms of the sales side, anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of CAbi consultants do not support their families on sales. It’s typically a side job, additional income for a dedicated purpose (college fund, retirement), or a fun and profitable activity for post-retirement years.
All of the consultants in attendance, all of the CAbi employees I’ve spoken with, and all of the customers I’ve ever met express a deep and abiding loyalty to this brand. Since my own experience is limited, I asked a few women to talk a little about their experiences with CAbi. First, I checked in with Alison of Wardrobe Oxygen who wears CAbi clothes fairly frequently in her own (fabulous) outfit posts. I hit her with the tough questions first: Did she find the sales system of in-home parties to be awkward? Did she feel pressured to purchase? If she doesn’t feel that pressure now, did she the first time she attended an event?
“I’ll be honest, my friend started selling CAbi, so I first saw the line in her dining room,” she said. “It was just me, her, my sister and a full length mirror and I just played with the clothes and she knew I wouldn’t buy anything. My first CAbi party was one I hosted. I think there were a dozen women, only about four of them made purchases. I had been to many other at-home parties where I felt major pressure to buy, but with the CAbi one, the way it was set up, you didn’t even realize if someone bought or not. There’s the spiel, then you’re encouraged to touch and try on the clothes and everyone splits up, sales happen but it’s not super obvious. I would feel pretty comfortable attending one even if I knew before I arrived that I wouldn’t purchase.”
I asked my friend Ann – an executive coach at Target corporate – the same question.
“I don’t go to any parties where I don’t intend to purchase something. I’ll turn down candle parties, food product parties, intimates, and more. Everything but CAbi and jewelry. Because of this, I don’t ever feel pressured to purchase and I appreciate the honest opinion from friends to keep me from buying something that doesn’t look good.”
When asked what appealed to her about CAbi clothing, Alison responded, “I like that there’s major thought put into each piece. How it will drape on a woman’s figure, how to make it versatile, how to launder it. A lot of the pieces I think look far better on than on the hanger or even their model because the pieces are made with such thought to multiple women’s bodies, lifestyles, and sartorial needs. I also like that they incorporate current trends but not so strongly that the pieces can’t be worn a couple years from now; a good blend of current and classic.”
Ann said, “I love the trend-right fit and fabrics that are so easy to mix and match. I work in downtown Minneapolis and while many of my peers wear business suits, I like CAbi’s professional style because it isn’t too formal.”
I also checked in with Twin Cities CAbi consultant Lisa Weber, and asked her why she decided to move from a CAbi shopper to a CAbi consultant. She said, “I have worked a corporate job for over 20 years, following the rules of others and letting them define my success. I wanted to know what it was like to make my own rules and define my own success while doing something I really enjoyed. All of the money I make doing CAbi goes towards my kids college education fund and has allowed me make significant progress.” Lisa also works a full-time, nine-to-five job.
When asked how she responds to folks who feel that the CAbi price points are a bit high, she said, “That is probably my biggest challenge from those who are not familiar with CAbi. The reality is that your CAbi clothes will pay you back ten-fold from a price-per-wear standpoint. You will find yourself reaching for your CAbi pieces all the time. You’ll look and FEEL great in your pieces, and eventually build a wardrobe that makes it so easy to put amazing outfits together.”
My overall impression is that the two features of CAbi clothing that appeal to fans are quality and quirk. The pieces are sturdy, well-made, and hold up to wear and tear. There are some basics, but many of the designs are eye-catching and unusual, utilizing vibrant prints and soft embellishments. These clothes appeal to women who are bored with mall offerings and looking for interesting pieces with personality. I’ve also heard CAbi devotees say that they adore the interchangeability of the garments. “Garanimals for grown-ups” is a phrase that’s come up at least three times from three different women.
But what really struck me about attending Scoop? The women there were SO HAPPY. They love these clothes, they love the designers and models and corporate leadership, they love the community of CAbi consultants and customers, and they love spreading the word about this line. It was a real joy to see. I believe that personal style should be fun and make you feel confident and capable, and I think CAbi helps women enjoy dressing. Some are rekindling an old love, some are delighted to have finally found a brand that resonates with them, but all feel invigorated, excited, and confident. This is a brand that works to empower its sales staff and help its customers look and feel their best. I can definitely dig that.
I plan to bite the bullet and attend a party this season. Still a bit hesitant, but curiosity is getting the better of me! Since so many smart, confident, stylish women are dedicated to this brand, I feel it’s worth exploring.
More reading and background on CAbi:
- CAbi – A Home-Based Business Opportunity for Fashion Lovers via The Work at Home Woman (includes sales stats, comparisons to other companies using this business model, and retention rates)
- CAbi Clothing – An Honest Review via Wardrobe Oxygen
- CAbi: The Line of Traveling Pants via The Right Hand Mom
Are any of you CAbi fans? Do you sell the line, host parties, or shop? What do you like about it? What would you say to women who are hesitant about attending a party? If you’ve never seen CAbi clothes or attended an event, would you be interested in investigating further?
All images courtesy Rob Terry/CAbi LLC, except confetti shot by me.