in 1880 when Johann Popken founded the Popken Textile Company in the town of Hameln on the banks of the Weser River in northern Germany. The family business operated until 1960 when Johann's son Karl Friedrich Popken was forced to lease out the company on a long-term basis due to ill health. Eight years later, Karl's son Friedrich and his wife Ursula (Ulla), young parents of a baby daughter (Astrid), continued the family's tradition in textiles by opening a shop in Oldenburg called "Mami and Baby," specializing in maternity and baby wear (see current photo, right).
By 1978, the business had blossomed into what would become a nationwide chain of retail maternity shops. The next three stores opened in Bremen, Hannover, and Hamburg in 1978 quickly followed by more. From there, the business expanded into the mail order market, initially operating from the attic of the Popken family home in Rastede. With the start of franchising operations in 1984, the company became the market leader in maternity wear. However, this tale of accomplishment and expansion was only the beginning of a greater success story, discovered only by chance.
One day, Friedrich observed an employee packing more than 15 maternity items for a single mail order customer and wondered why a pregnant woman would order so many items. The answer was unexpected. The customer was not pregnant! She was a regular customer who had written to the company explaining that she had trouble finding young fashion in her plus size, but found our maternity fashion to be both young as well as comfortable. This was the spark for the entire niche market for "young fashion in plus sizes", and Ulla Popken.
After extensive testing through the mail order operations, the Popkens registered their new company as "Ulla Popken, Young Fashion Starting at Size 16" in March 1987. Within a year, 10 new Ulla Popken retail stores were open and paving the way for unparallel success and expansion. The company now includes a chain of over 300 company-owned or franchised retail stores (photo left)across Europe and beyond, as well as a substantial catalog and internet presence.
The Popken's daughter Astrid and her husband, Thomas Schneider, brought the company's vision to North America, opening Ulla Popken Ltd in the United States in 1993. The company is headquartered in a rural setting outside of Baltimore, Maryland where it is dedicated to offering apparel uniquely designed for today's women who want style with quality, value, comfort and fit.
In the spring of 2008, the Popkens transferred the majority interest in the European operations to Astrid and Thomas Schneider, and Thomas began his new role as that firm's managing partner that July. While still retaining ownership, Thomas and Astrid appointed Phyliss Sorese Mosca to assume the role of President of Ulla Popken Ltd enabling them to focus on the European operations.
Phyliss (photo right) has a long history with the company, and is an experienced plus size industry insider dedicated to offering the most contemporary and stylish collection of quality plus size clothing at moderate prices, anywhere.
In 2011 the German division has come full circle to their roots by opening four Johann Popken menswear stores in Germany. Phyliss attended the grand openings of these four new stores (photos below) during her trip to Germany in September of 2011. One of the store locations is in Munich, where she was able to experience the start of Okotberfest. Phyliss even wore an authentic dirndl that Ulla Popken Germany is selling (photo left).
Ulla Popken USA is proud to be an American company; however, Phyliss' trip to Germany helped her appreciate our strong German roots.