This post is the third installation of our Because of Her series, spotlighting the women of color that were the early voices in the plus-size fashion space in honor of Black History Month. We teamed up with Marie Denee of The Curvy Fashionista, who has been chronicling the strides made in the industry for over a decade, for her insight on the early adopters and game-changers who have made way for plus brands like Dia&Co to exist.
Written by Marie Denee.
Last week, we shined a light on the producers and models of color who have helped pave the way for plus-size fashion but there are so many more women whose work has positively impacted the plus-size industry and community. When it comes to plus-size fashion content creation, there have been quite a few bloggers of color whose work has helped usher in the plus-size fashion industry we know today!
These women have leveraged their platforms to challenge ideals of beauty, shatter stereotypes of what plus-size women want to wear, and have inspired trends. We all know plus-size personal style bloggers like GabiFresh, GarnerStyle, and Girl With Curves, but there are other incredible women of color who have put in work over the years to shape the content we consume, that are worth knowing. At Dia, there is a saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and the plus-size women of color that first began sharing unapologetic images of themselves in gorgeous outfits have paved the way for more influencers to arise, for more brands to take notice the plus market, and even sparked confidence for the everyday women that followed them.
From podcasters to bloggers-turned-businesswomen like Chenese Lewis, Chante Burkett of Everything Curvy and Chic, Alissa Wilson of Stylish Curves, CeCe Olisa, and Kelly Augustine, these women have put in years of hard work and have transformed their passion for fashion into a platform to positively affect change. With the rise of the internet’s various perspectives and platforms, one thing is clear: social media and blogging has been one of the most important driving forces that has helped shape plus size fashion. It gave these women a voice that has now been echoed by countless other women. So, it’s only right to speak with a few of these early thought leaders and trailblazers who have helped shape the industry.
I had the chance to speak with Chenese Lewis and Chante Burkett, two of those first voices in the space. I got to ask them what inspired their start, their inspirations, and what they feel is still missing in the plus-size space. Back before podcasts were ubiquitous (remember how they were dubbed podcasts because they were webcasts being streamed on iPods?), and when Blog Talk Radio was the only platform available, Chenese Lewis started one of the very first plus-size podcasts. Chante Burkett has been a master of her platforms, emerging from the beauty space into plus-size fashion, and now runs a plus-size boutique in Ocala Florida. These women have married their passion with their purpose to help amplify the strides in plus-size fashion.
What prompted you to start this journey? Why did you choose this path?
Chenese Lewis: “When my podcast launched, I lived in Los Angeles and was pursuing a career as an actress, plus-size model, and television host. I created the podcast to practice my interviewing skills as suggested by my teacher. There was nothing out there that catered to the plus-size fashion and modeling industry, my podcast was the first for what was considered a ‘niche market.’
For me, the podcast served two purposes: sharpening my interview skills for mainstream events like the Essence Music Festival, and providing a reputable platform for the plus community which in turn strengthened my brand and influence.”
Chante Burkett: “When I first started blogging 8 years ago, I definitely didn’t know the impact that it would have on my life. My blog started out as a hobby, just something to get me away from all of my case management work. The funny thing is that my blog started out with me reviewing Rachet TV shows like VH1 reality TV. But once I posted my first full outfit picture and read the responses, I noticed that so many other plus-size women were scared to step out their comfort zone when it came to fashion and it changed my path.
Yes! I was the girl turning ASOS straight size tops into crop tops, long before we had them in our size.”
Who has inspired you on this path?
Chante Burkett: “I’m inspired daily by Kelly Augustine, I love her creativity. I also love Phat Girl Fresh, her realness can’t be matched. Gorgeous In Grey is another, I love her passion to help others heal while still navigating through life. And of course Marie Denee, I love how she’s all about her business! When it comes to business, Marie has definitely inspired me to level up in so many ways.”
Chenese Lewis: “My friend, Tomiko Frazier Hines, the first African-American model to be the face of Maybelline Cosmetics, was taking hosting classes and suggested these classes to me. Prior to that, I was not pursuing hosting even though it was something I was always interested in doing. Upon her recommendation, I enrolled in hosting school and one of my hosting teachers was IDalis De Leon. She was an MTV VJ from the 90s, turned TV host coach and media strategist. IDalis was pivotal to my hosting career because, as my teacher, she was the one that suggested I start a podcast to practice my interviewing skills.
I was blessed to have met and befriended powerful women that were positive influences on me during my time in Los Angeles. They are both still supportive to this day.”
What do you feel that plus-size fashion is missing or could use more of?
Chenese Lewis: “I feel the plus-size fashion industry lacks diversity in leadership roles on the corporate level. The grassroots plus-size community where the trends and movements start, are led by women of color, a large portion of that being African American.
The independent events are mostly produced and attended by African American women. However, that does not translate to a lot of positions on corporate boards, which is also reflected in the marketing and advertising.”
Chante Burkett: “When it comes to plus-size fashion, my main problem is not being able to get the same items as my straight-size friends. I would love to see the same styles across the board. I feel like many brands miss the mark by assuming what a larger-bodied woman feels comfortable in, instead of asking us: the customers.”
Well, there you have it! Two women of color on the forefront of their own plus-size spaces, leading the charge for change and chasing their own dreams. Without plus-size bloggers and content creators, we would not have the platforms to amplify new collections, designers, and retailers catering to our bodies. We would not have the space to challenge, call out, or reshape a more accurate picture of the plus-size fashion lover.
Not only does social media lend itself to creating a space for bloggers and content creators, it also lends itself as a platform for activism within the plus-size fashion space where we can advocate for more diverse sizing, models, shapes and style choices for the community.
These women definitely help lead the way and if you do not follow them, you should now! Make sure you come back next week as we continue to recognize various plus-size women of color in the industry whose work you should know.