Meet the two influencers who are breaking boundaries at NYFW this year by giving plus-sized women a seat at the table
It’s no question that we’ve approached an era where radical change is imminent and representation is demanded in all industries and on every societal level.
Few areas has this been more prominent in recent years than in the fashion industry, where boundaries and traditions are being broken daily, differences are being celebrated and body-positivity is slowly (but surely) becoming the new norm.
But even in these revolutionary times where stick-thin isn’t viewed as the only desirable body type anymore, the plus-size fashion community can still feel, at times, like a forgotten piece of the puzzle.
For CeCe Olisa, plus-size lifestyle influencer and founder of CeCeOlisa.com, this is especially apparent in the lack of on-trend and ‘of-the-moment’ clothing items available in plus sizes:
“When you see a trend, you see it in plus-size a season or two later … the fact that it’s so delayed, it still kind of gives a dated aspect to plus-size fashion which is really hard. A lot of woman are still fashionistas no matter what.”
On the same page is fellow influencer Chastity Garner Valentine, founder of GarnerStyler.com, who views the lack of plus-size clothing that's actually affordable to be equally as frustrating -- something she actually boycotted (and won) against Target for:
“[I was] trying to get Target to one, expand their plus-size section, but also include plus sizes in their designer collaborations, because their designer collaborations are always really cute clothes at a great price point that [should be] accessible to all girls … we’re all Target shoppers.
Being able to have affordable fashion accessible to [plus-size shoppers] … a lot of people economically, they have to have those price points.”
For both women, being able to find plus-size pieces that are on-trend and desirable shouldn’t be something that’s be mutually exclusive with being affordable — nor should access to all of the opportunities, events, conversations and experiences that go on inside the fashion industry be something that’s only available to the rest of industry.
Thus was born theCURVYCon, which will enter its fourth year during New York Fashion Week this year from September 6 to 8.
“[Chastity and I] connected and realized that we have a similar ethos and mission about our work as influencers and being more impactful. So that’s where theCURVYcon came from — we were always talking about ‘How can we make a bigger impact? How can we serve our girls more?’”
Founded by the two women in 2015, the conference is described as a “diverse international community of plus size and body positive content creators, celebrities, fans, and brands” and is meant to foster community amongst all variants in the plus-size world through panels, media and brand activations, talent experiences and (newly this year) subject-specific workshops.
For Garner Valentine, a major part of theCURVYcon was installing and executing a proper pop-up shop area where attendees could find a tangible solution to the seemingly never-ending quest of finding clothes that were cute, affordable and most importantly, that fit correctly:
“There aren’t a lot of brick and mortar stores that cater to plus-size women … I love a boutique experience and there are parts of theCURVYcon that are modeled off of a really swanky boutique experience, because that [plus-size] girl doesn’t get that experience everyday … we definitley want to cater to that girl and make her feel special.”
“Our goal from the fashion side was our pop-up shop … How can we create the dream mall for a plus-size girl? If you go to any mall, there’s maybe two stores that are going to serve [plus-size shoppers], and are they in your age range or are they more for your mom? So what if we could have all the e-commerce stores come in, bring a size run, let the girls try the clothes on … that was kind of the first stake in the ground.”
Both women can attest to the difficulty in shopping as a plus-size woman — ordering multiple sizes from numerous e-commerce vendors with no guarantee that it all -- if any -- will fit can be tiring, inconvenient and downright expensive.
But trying to create that ideal shopping world for the millions of plus-size girls at home who may struggle with something as seemingly simple as ordering a dress online is just one example of the core mission in what Olisa and Garner Valentine are striving to do through theCURVYcon: Giving plus-size women a seat at the table.
Garner Valentine explained:
“A lot of our girls interact with us, other influencers, celebrities, people who they look up to who look like them — being able to bring all of those women into a room to have a conversation and to interact … allowing them to come into a room where everyone looks like them, we all wear similar sizing, everything is catered to this one girl is an amazing experience. But also seeing people that you see on television that reflect you and that you can relate to and that are having conversations that affect your life … our community supports us so much.”
Olisa couldn’t agree more when it comes to the transformative nature of conference:
“To put [that plus-size girl] in that same room with the community that she really is only experiencing online, it’s very transformative and it’s inspiring — it makes things more ‘real’ for them. I think it kind of creates a more authentic moment where they can kind of engage with body positivity and plus-size fashion in a space where there’s not judgment or any shame or anything like that.”
At theCURVYcon, plus-size women aren’t only included, but celebrated. It’s an opportunity for the woman who felt like she existed adjacent to world for so long to not only be welcomed in to it, but to become the star of it.
And it’s these attendees — the ticket purchasers, fans, followers, business partners and supporters from afar — that are the core foundation of theCURVYcon spirit.
In fact, they’re the reason the conference itself even exists, as Olisa explained:
“The story of how theCURVYcon launched, to me, is like the foundation of our business and how we interact with people who come and who support it even if they don’t show up.
We had the idea, we bought the domain name, we both had these followings and we’re putting ourselves out on a limb and basically from the beginning, it was community supported, even if [the community] didn’t know it. We knew we had to put the deposit down on this venue space, so we did a massive closet sale to our readers.”
Through a method that Olisa described as “very bootstrap and very homegrown,” the women were able to connect with the loyal followings they had amassed since they began blogging in 2008 and raise the funds needed to begin to pull the conference together:
“[We] had so much good faith with this audience that we had been cultivating and talking to and connecting with for years, so a tiny fraction of both our audiences sold out theCURVYcon — that’s years in the making, that didn’t just happen in six months.”
The years of grit and building a foundation online certainly paid off for the women, who have now expanded theCURVYcon into multiple arenas.
One major recent venture was the launch of theCURVYcon Games in Los Angeles, a team-based, free fitness event run in partnership with Dia&co Active.
But the women’s reach hasn’t stopped there — Olisa and Garner Valentine have also rolled out an 8-episode podcast titled ‘Cocktails & Confidence.’
“Even though our brands differ, the question of ‘confidence’ is something that we both get all the time — how do you get confident, how do you stay confident and maintain confidence, confidence and fashion, confidence and fitness — it’s just a reoccurring theme all the time, and a theme that we don’t feel is size-exclusive. Every woman is trying to figure out this confidence game and for me, it’s always fascinating how you can be so confident in one area of your life and completely destitute in confidence in another. So for us, we feel like it’s a conversation that we can have forever and I think it’ll be fun to kind of dig into that in the podcast format.”
Still, the conference is the focal point of all that Olisa and Garner Valentine do, no matter how big their ideas — something that Garner Valentine will always hold close to her heart:
“One attendee that I always love is the girl that comes by herself. She’s always so scared and then we’ll have our facebook group and girls will be like, ‘I came by myself but I left with a group of friends and now we’re traveling back to theCURVYcon together’ so it’s kind of a testament to how warm the environment is and how welcoming it is — that’s something that we both strive for … with the convention as it grows and grows.”
And as Olisa puts it, it's that attendee that will be the leading force for everything that's to come for herself and Garner Valentine in the future:
“theCURVYcon attendee is such a special girl … she’s always at the center of everything we do.”