The plus-size community continues to break barriers in the fashion industry. In 2015, Tess Holliday became the first size-22 model to be represented by a major modeling agency. La’Shaunae Steward was recently signed to Revolt as its first size-24 Black model. Both women are also notably under 5 feet 8 inches, a standard for the modeling industry. These various strides mark the accomplishments of plus-size activism. However, there is also more to be done.
Last year’s New York Fashion Week offered a mere 1.2 percent of plus-size models represented on the runway, according to the Fashion Spot’s Diversity Report, not counting exclusively plus-size shows like Torrid and Addition Elle. Increasing that percentage is the purpose of theCURVYcon, a three-day event dedicated to celebrating the plus-size community that takes place during New York Fashion Week. CeCe Olisa and Chastity Garner created theCURVYcon after recognizing a need. Now plus-size women who have only one clothing store option near them or can only shop online have the opportunity to patronize 20-plus different retailers at the event. It’s a chance for people to come together for a weekend, see themselves reflected in one another and be inspired by plus-size influencers, activists and celebrities.This is the second year theCURVYcon has taken place during New York Fashion Week. Launched four years ago, the event was held earlier in the summer twice before moving to its current time period. Olisa and Garner say the move was a conscious decision. Garner tells ESSENCE, “We want to be a part of the conversation that’s happening now.” For the affair, the cofounders brought in some big names in fashion and entertainment, including designers Ashley Nell Tipton, Tracy Reese and Rachel Roy; actresses Chrissy Metz, Gabourey Sidibe and Sherri Shepherd; rapper, singer and body positivity advocate Lizzo; tennis star and clothing designer Venus Williams; and model Ashley Graham. Olisa says the industry is starting to take note of plus-size apparel: “The fact that Fern Mallis, who created fashion week, was speaking at our inaugural show was a great nod of approval.” But what is most inspiring about theCURVYcon and its attendees is that they are not waiting for industry approval. They are forging their own path. This year, Lizzo not only sat front row at multiple New York Fashion Week shows, but she also spoke on a panel for theCURVYcon in which she discussed the struggles of being able to buy plus-size clothes only from Dressbarn—and she is putting both on her Instagram. People traveled from the farthest corners of the globe to attend theCURVYcon. They came from Germany, Ireland, South Africa and Puerto Rico, to name a few places. Garner even described a platinum ticket holder who took a 31-hour bus ride from Atlanta. (Platinum is the highest tier.) While this example shows a dedication to supporting the plus-size community, it also unfortunately highlights the lengths in which plus-size consumers must go to find clothing as well as representation. Reese, who’s a CFDA board member; Williams; Lizzo; and Dia&Co cofounder Nadia Boujarwah discussed the issue at the Dia&Co showcase and panel. “It’s very upsetting that plus sizes have been only online, or they’re in the basement or up on the top floor,” says Reese. “It’s not cute there; they don’t play good music.” The sentiments shared during each of the panels, breakout sessions and keynotes were that while a space such as theCURVYcon is necessary and empowering for the plus-size community, much more work needs to be done with retailers, marketing and design education. That was the largest takeaway from the event itself. So what is next? Attendees, speakers and sponsors must ask themselves what they can do to continue pushing plus-size fashion and body positivity forward. Events such as theCURVYcon occur only once a year, so what does this movement look like when New York Fashion Week is over and how can it continue to grow? Positioning theCURVYcon during New York Fashion Week gives visibility to plus-size consumers and further echoes the need for inclusion in the fashion industry.Sidibe perfectly summed up what theCURVYcon means to the plus-size community and the sense of visibility that it provides: “I don’t think we know that we exist unless we can see ourselves in media. Growing up I didn’t see myself enough, so I just assumed that I was wrong, that everything about me was wrong. So with theCURVYcon, if you can see yourself, then you know that you actually exist in the world and you’re not some weirdo.”