Co-founders CeCe Olisa and Chastity Valentine have created a sold-out event where brands come for the chance to learn about plus-size fashion.
Though New York Fashion Week has style influencers galavanting around Soho and Spring Studios trying to get the perfect Instagram shot, fashionistas above a size 12 spent their weekend in Midtown at what has become one of the most buzzed-about events in the plus-size community: CurvyCon. Now in its fifth year, the three-day-long convention has expanded greatly, featuring runway shows, panels, brand booths and activations that show how the future of fashion is "Fat" — with a capital "F."
"We just want our community to have all the clothes they want and all the styles they want and to be able to express themselves that way," says CeCe Olisa, co-founder of CurvyCon. Olisa created the event five years ago with Chastity Valentine as a means to serve curve women who so often — especially back then — were denied access to stylish clothing. What began as a one-day, 500-person event in half of a two-floor building quickly doubled in size within a year.
When year three came around, Olisa and Valentine chose to move CurvyCon to the same week as NYFW to showcase body inclusivity in the mainstream market. Since then, CurvyCon has continuously sold out, including this year; the demand was so high that added tickets still couldn't guarantee enough room for those who wanted to attend.
There are many ways to measure the success of CurvyCon: The number of attendees increase greatly every year, social media goes crazy for the event, media coverage captures it now more than ever and financially, it's increasingly a hit. But perhaps the best way to measure its success is to examine whether or not CurvyCon's mission has been reached: Is the mainstream market catching on to body inclusivity in fashion? According to Olisa, the answer is a resounding yes.
"The biggest indicator that the CurvyCon is a catalyst for change is the fact that brands who are considering going into plus buy tickets to the CurvyCon first as part of their research about expansion," she says. "Once I realized that there were brands on our mailing list that we weren't working with, but that were watching us, that's when we started to understand that they're seeing the success of CurvyCon. They're seeing the success of how the community engages with the brands that do come, and it's a little homing signal to other people maybe this is something they should invest in."
One of these brands is Loft, which launched plus sizes in 2018. Representatives from the brand attended CurvyCon in 2017 to take in panels and learn more about the plus fashion community and market. After the event, Loft reached out to Olisa and their relationship began. Olisa now serves as an ambassador for the brand and Loft has been present at CurvyCon since. The same goes for Nike, which made headlines a few months back for incorporating plus-size mannequins into its stores. At this year's CurvyCon, the brand had a large booth and even brought the mannequins along. Olisa has worked with Nike since, and now serves as an ambassador for them as well.
"Watching legacy brands like Nike, Anthropology and Loft — who have traditionally not served plus-size women — expand, that is the move, because Nike is a global brand, right? I don't know if they [financially] need plus or not, but they're deciding to serve us. That to me shows that things are starting to move in the right direction."
CurvyCon is powered by Dia & Co, a subscription-based plus brand making waves of change in the market.
"I think of [Dia & Co] as a fashion disruptor, because the whole idea of trying on clothes is a pain point for plus-size women. The fact that they put together a box to eliminate some of that anxiety — that, to me, aligns with fashion as well," Olisa says. "We're not just trying to get all the old-school players to come, but we're also aligning with the startups that see other problems that need to be fixed as well: brands that are coming in and disrupting the space like we are, and then legacy brands that are like, wait a minute, we need to be a part of this as well. We like to sit at that access point."
Another such brand is Target, which put on one of the three runway shows at this year's CurvyCon. Before the show began, Olisa explained to attendees that five years ago, Valentine started an online boycott of Target because of its lack of plus options. The brand instantly listened, reached out and took action. Target soon launched plus — working with the CurvyCon gals — and Valentine even opened its runway show at the event.
In addition to Target, two other runway shows were held: One by Macy's and one by The Knot and Kleinfeld. All three incorporated the most diverse bodies possible on the runway. Often at NYFW, designers will simply use a token plus woman who is almost always a size 12/14. But the three runway shows at CurvyCon accurately showed the spectrum of what it means to be plus-size. It was an experience those in attendance were overjoyed about: Before the Macy's show, half of the runway room stood up and began dancing in unison. It was a moment of pure happiness where plus-size women of all sizes and races could breathe, be accepted and have fun.
"Our mission is to always put plus women in a positive light. I think a lot of times plus-size women are like the butt of the joke, or just the friends in the corner, but here, plus-size women are part of what's going on and everything is for them," Olisa says.
But CurvyCon is just getting started. The impact it's had on the fashion community is all the evidence Olisa and Valentine need to keep expanding it in years to come. They've got big plans to make it more accessible, more inclusive and more impactful. "The demand and appetite is there, but we want to make sure that we're growing at a pace that doesn't compromise the integrity of the event."
To Olisa personally, CurvyCon truly represents the future of fashion. Moving to NYFW was the first big step in getting brands and designers to pay attention, forcing them to understand that inclusivity should not be a trend, but should be the norm.
"For me, the future of fashion is when any woman who has a fashion emergency can find a store within a 10-mile radius that has clothes in her size," Olisa says. "Until that happens, we have a lot of work to do."