“Thick sauce, Mampie, chubby, fluffy, plump, puffy, huge, whale, fat...” There are a lot of names for plus-size women; some of them hurtful. Being fat is often seen as a negative, and not just because of its possible negative health indicators. It’s a reason for children to be bullied at school and the basis for discriminatory practices on planes and other public places. From the entertainment industry to the corporate boardroom to the fashion runway, thin is in.
“But a Caribbean woman is a plus-size woman,” said Sheanna Alleyne, managing director of Carivog International and CEO of Caribbean Fashion Plus Week. Her experience in fashion and beauty pageantry is extensive—she runs the Ms T&T UK pageant, Positive Runway (Caribbean franchise), and she’s also trained some of our international pageant representatives, including Heidi Rostant and Alexia Charlerie. “Even if we are between size 0 to 8, we might have a fuller bust or a bigger butt.”
And if you pinch your arm and get more than an inch of skin, you’d be considered plus-size by some in the international fashion industry. Yet when we look at international beauty pageants, our standards of beauty still adhere to rules that few Caribbean women can attain or maintain.
But this attitude may be changing. Alleyne and her team of organisers, models and supporters are part of a movement that is refusing to accept that beauty equals thin. Now in its second year, the newly rebranded Caribbean Fashion Plus Week (CFPW) extends from November 1 to 4, and includes a huge launch, two major fashion shows, workshops and other plus-size fashion activities. Their slogan: one size does not fit all.
Big is good business
Alleyne argues that people often look at plus-size fashion as a cause for pity and donations, not as a viable business. And most of the plus-size fashions sold in T&T are imported from designers who are making millions off of the full figured niche market; from 2010 to 2011, plus sizes made up over US$17 billion in sales in the USA alone.
Still, University of Trinidad & Tobago fashion graduates are only taught how to draw patterns for sizes 0 to 12, and many designers are not familiar with the kinds of fabrics and cutting techniques that flatter fuller figures, Alleyne said.
Why aren’t local designers selling more clothes that fit more women?
“If someone has a health problem, they should do whatever is necessary to ensure that they live longer and have a good quality life,” Alleyne said. “But at the same time they are entitled to dress themselves properly. Slim people may also be unhealthy because of something in their lifestyle, but they have access to a wider variety of clothing.
“We need to re-educate ourselves. I am not downplaying the present industry, they are doing a fabulous job. And they should not be forced to come out of their comfort zones if it doesn’t make sense for them. But we do need new designers to come out and discover this industry.”
The CFPW model crew has been busy over the last months. From a Peter Paul Rubens-themed photo shoot to a shoot in Clico Sforzata’s pan yard to public ‘pop up’ photo shoots in Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Arima, the 34 sassy, full figured local models have helped to spread the word about a different type of fashion show: one that’s open to all comers.
Tshenelle Bethel, one of the CFPW models said, “We are showcasing the fact that beauty comes in all sizes and even more so, inspiring women to love themselves. The public shoot done at Library Corner, San Fernando was met with such warmth and acceptance. That in itself shows me that as plus size models we are making steps in the right direction.”
And they’re not the only ones. Eleven international plus size models, including New York’s Katrina Hayes, Jessica Marie Rivera from Puerto Rico and South Korean model Vivian Kim are also slated to strut their stuff at the Pan In Style and Runway Caribbean fashion shows for CFPW. CFPW has also found staunch support from local sponsors like Cascadia Hotel, where many of the events are being held, or partners like photographers Andros Belfonte, Antony Scully, Sancho Francisco, fashion blogger Leanna Camacho and fashion designer Wayne Sankar. The plus size army is growing in numbers.
Alleyne said that changing the public mindset from stigmatisation to celebration of plus size fashion must start at a place that you wouldn’t expect: with plus sized people themselves. She helped establish pageants like Miss Big and Beautiful T&T to help lift the self esteem of women of size.
“And we found that one of the greatest areas that we can develop self esteem is in the area of clothing. When you wear something beautiful, you feel better,” she added. “For years women of size were made to feel inferior when they walk into boutiques. By having a fashion week that showcases clothing for people of all sizes, we’re changing that. Even in our selection of models we try to have a very realistic picture of what the Caribbean woman, the Caribbean body represents.”
CFPW has a much wider agenda than just encouraging the design and commercialisation of bigger clothes. Plus size fashion needs to be taken more seriously and to be made more accessible to the public that’s clamouring for it, said CFPW marketing strategist Janine Charles-Farray.
“We’re not a punch line in a Learie Joseph show anymore,” Charles-Farray said bluntly. “Statistics from the Ministry of Health dated September 2012 show that Trinidad and Tobago’s population is now 58 per cent plus size. This has serious business implications for the fashion industry in both the medium and long term. It’s time to start getting serious about industry development for the plus size fashion industry.
“The most important aspect for us is inclusion into trade,” Alleyne added. “It is definitely an industry that needs to be developed.” CFPW is talking possible long-term collaborations with chairman Anthony Rahael of T&T Fashion Week, Sandra Carr of the UTT Caribbean
Academy of Fashion and Design, local and international designers and retail stores. The 11 international plus size models they’ve invited are part of their networking efforts with the global plus size fashion industry. It’s a community building effort, and it all revolves around making everyone feel like they can be happy, no matter what size they wear.
Charles-Farray puts it best: “CFPW is saying don’t wait. You don’t have to be a certain size to dress the way you desire and to live your own fashionable life.”
For more information, check out the Caribbean Fashion Plus Week Facebook page.