For years, New York Fashion Week was looked at as an exclusive experience, a place where only the fashion elite could dare tread. Angular, predominantly pale models stomped the catwalk, with buyers and editors filling the seats, nary a blogger or "influencer" in sight — mainly because they didn't even exist yet.
As the years have passed, NYFW has transformed into an occasion that barely resembles the original exclusionary events; commercial mass-market brands have shows sandwiched between illustrious high-end designers, front rows are filled with Instagram icons, and runways are finally beginning to more closely resemble reality, with an increasingly diverse mix of ethnicities, shapes, sizes and genders.
But for many, that evolution toward inclusivity is still happening too slowly. So they're taking matters into their own hands. Enter The Curvy Con, brainchild of plus-size bloggers CeCe Olisa and Chastity Garner.
Bigger than it had been in the last two years, The Curvy Con included two days of shopping, a keynote address from "This Is Us" actress Chrissy Metz, a runway show that featured both professional catwalkers and influencers, and multiple panels that touched on everything from body acceptance, sex as a bigger person, representation in fashion and more. The first night's panel included the founder of NYFW and former executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fern Mallis, style expert and "What Not To Wear" star Stacy London and the first plus-size supermodel, Emme.
Olisa and Garner initially created The Curvy Con as an opportunity for plus-size women to make an in-person connection with the bloggers, influencers, models and fashion they adore. "For us, a lot of the plus-size experience happens online, and with that we wanted to have a day of fashion, fun, and fitness in person," explained Garner. "I think The Curvy Con is a unique experience because it is in person, and I think for us there is power in mobilizing," Olisa added. "In a lot of ways, the plus-size woman has been sold short in the things that are offered to her, whether it is clothing or events. As influencers we have been writing about beauty events or other these greatly curated events, and it was almost a gift to our audience to let them have a taste of what we do everyday."
For its third year, the two-day Curvy Con was deliberately moved from mid-summer to mid-NYFW. However, this scheduling change wasn't done maliciously in hopes of competing with the still straight-size focused designer shows. "We had to make an intentional choice to align ourselves with mainstream fashion, because that is what we believe should be fashion," explained Olisa. "For us, by having a plus-size fashion event during an irrelevant timeframe, we were doing the plus-size industry a disservice. Moving The Curvy Con to New York Fashion Week was us taking a risk and doing what we believe in."
Although The Curvy Con is not listed on the "official" NYFW schedule, the power of holding it during one of the most fashion-focused weeks of the year was clearly felt by other bloggers and attendees, as all I spoke to gushed about the date change. Writer and Premme designer Nicolette Mason said, "I think it is a really amazing thing to have an event specific to plus-size individuals during New York Fashion Week because we are so often excluded from the mainstream conversation and alienated from what is happening during New York Fashion Week; to have an event that exists in tandem is really great for everyone that gets to attend."
"Obviously plus-size women deserve fashion, and for so long we have been left out of the mainstream fashion conversation," added fellow Premme designer and blogger Gabi Gregg. "I am so happy to see more and more plus-size models being included in the mainstream runways, but at the end of the day there are so many community members who aren't invited and can't attend those events so this gives access to everyone who wants to come and participate."
And even for those who couldn't afford to travel or purchase a ticket — prices ranged from $125 for general admission to $500 for VIP "Platinum" tickets — the event was live-streamed exclusively on Yahoo Style, giving viewers an opportunity to witness the panels and speakers in real time.
Retailers and designers also filled the venue's first floor, giving attendees an opportunity to interact with them in person. Two of the panels were devoted to some of those retailers, one specifically allowing the decision-makers of Lane Bryant, Dia & Co, Target, Macy's and ModCloth to discuss improvements and respond to questions from the audience. Unsurprisingly, the crowd didn't hold back, with one audience member pointedly asking the panel, and more specifically, Lane Bryant chief marketing officer Brian Beitler, when she would see more women like her in their advertisements. I asked Beitler a similar question earlier that afternoon, and he explained that akin to their "The New Skinny" jeans campaign that starred both professional models and blogger Kelly Augustine, future advertisements will feature bloggers, customers, employees and professional models.
More retailers and designers should take note of the conversation and questions that were posed at the panels, as 67 percent of American women wear a size 14 and above. That buying power alone is valued at $20.4 billion, and for the currently struggling fashion industry, the plus-size woman should be taken seriously. After all, money spends the same, regardless of size. "I feel like there is always that stereotype that plus-size women don't spend money, and the biggest thing is that if you give that girl what she wants, she will spend the money," said Garner. "Our VIP tickets are $500 and they sell out every year and they are first to go. You also have to listen to the people and your consumers who pay for things; if you don't they won't buy it."
"I feel like we've known all along through our comments and emails that the plus-size woman wants more, wants better, wants to dress better, wants to be more risky with her fashion, and then we sit down in these meetings and it doesn't translate," added Olisa. "So we have been playing the bridge between that relationship and encouraging brands to do more and do better and take more risks. I feel like those changes are starting to happen. There are brands that did not participate in The Curvy Con in the past few years that are here and are starting to show up in major ways, and this is showing the impact the plus-size woman is making. She is in control of her dollars and what she says she wants and we are just trying to make her voice a little louder."
With the success of The Curvy Con increasing every year, it's unsurprising that it's outgrown its current venue. "For the past three years we have sold out at 500 tickets," said Olisa. "This year, there are hundreds of people on our waiting list. Once the tickets sold out, there were people still trying to get in, so we are pretty clear there is an appetite for more attendance. So our goal for next year; we are moving to a bigger place since we have outgrown this space. We have had a lot more retailers, brands, and designers sign on, so we'll be moving to a bigger location and going from 500 tickets to 1500."
"We would love to offer additional programing," added Garner. "Everything is so tight here, and our girls are wanting more panels, and more exclusive classes, and things like that, so to be able to have a larger space will allow us to have more." Add us to that waiting list, ASAP.