Imagine going in store after store, searching for stylish clothes but never being able to find anything that suits your size and taste. Well, that's just what happened to Monif Clarke. However, instead of the 29 year-old Rutgers University graduate sulking about it, she started her own clothing line for other voluptuous women like her. In 2005, Clarke launched Monif C., a full collection of affordable (no item is more than $450), plus-size apparel for women. In just three years the New Jersey native's line has caught the attention of divas like Raven-Symone, Jill Scott and Jennifer Hudson. ESSENCE.com caught up with the budding designer and entrepreneur to get the scoop on the hottest fashions for curvy women.
ESSENCE.COM: So Monif, what is your professional background? Did you ever study design?
MONIF C.: Well, I actually went to school for math and computer science. My parents wanted me to be an engineer. After working in corporate America and then the nonprofit field, I realized it wasn't my calling, so I decided to branch out and do my own thing. My grandmother was a seamstress and I was used to having a lot of my clothes made. It seemed like a natural fit that I would figure out what I could bring to the [plus-size] industry that was missing. I took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and did some traveling throughout Europe so I really got my hands dirty in fashion. This line is my baby that I birthed and I didn't know how far it would go but here we are today.
ESSENCE.COM: And why did you decide to focus on the plus-size market?
MONIF C.: Because I am myself a plus-size woman, it wouldn't have made sense for me to do a line other than a plus-size one. I've always been curvy, I feel like I came out the womb a size 18. I would have a date or a big wedding to attend but have no options of things to wear after going shopping. I created this line out of necessity. Really, it's about designing what I like to wear and I find that if I like it, someone else will like it.
ESSENCE.COM: What are some of your inspirations as a designer?
MONIF C.: I say okay; I want a leopard-print dress, so I design a leopard-print dress or I want a purple silk dress so I design a purple silk dress. It's very organic in that way. This is how I developed my swimsuit collection as well. For whatever reason, I couldn't find any sexy, contemporary swimsuits for plus-size women in the market so I figured if no one else is going to do it, I might as well do it. The swimsuit collection was actually our best-selling line last season. Women were really responsive to it.
ESSENCE.COM: You've established such a huge following so soon with celebrities like Jill Scott, Raven-Symone and Jennifer Hudson wearing your designs. Who else have you dressed and who are you dying to get to?
MONIF C.: Yes, I've also dressed Toccara, Sherri Shepherd, Mandisa Hudley and Frenchie Davis from "American Idol," we've been on BET's "Rip the Runway" three consecutive years and we've also been featured in a variety of magazines including ESSENCE. I think, basically, people are responding to something that they've never seen before. These are not clothes that you wear when you want to shy away in the corner. I also think the media is becoming more comfortable with showcasing plus-size women, and I think that is a result of the different plus-size women that are in the spotlight now. I would love to dress Queen Latifah. She has a really great eye for what fits her body well.
ESSENCE.COM: What are common mistakes curvy women make when dressing and how can they be avoided?
MONIF C.: The biggest mistake I see is putting limitations on ourselves. Saying, ‘Because I'm plus-size I can't wear white or because I'm plus-size I can't wear stripes.' I believe that if you find something that fits you well, it doesn't matter if it's yellow, purple or green, it's going to look great on you. The fit is the most important thing. People who limit themselves to wearing black, brown and tan make me sad because fashion is about expressing yourself. I also think that not wearing the proper undergarments is a common mistake but that is a universal issue, not just one of plus-size women.
ESSENCE.COM: What's next for Monif C.? Menswear? A junior's line? Accessories?
Monif C.: Well, we already have a boutique in the heart of Manhattan but I would like to open more in other parts of the country. One of the other things we've been exploring is doing plus-size or larger size shoes for women with wider feet or large calves. I would also like to do a plus-size, luxury lingerie line. I would love to bring full-figured women a selection of sexy, quality lingerie.
For more information on Monif's collection, visit Monifc.com.