The fashion industry is becoming more inclusive — at a snail’s pace, perhaps, but with palpable momentum behind the march of progress. It’s largely thanks not to the industry itself but to everyday people, whose beauty and bodies have long been overlooked and who have now stepped forward, demanding to be seen.
Chastity Garner and CeCe Olisa are two of those people, and they’ve stepped into view first as plus-size lifestyle influencers and bloggers and presently as founders of the popular annual event known as theCURVYcon. Now in its third year, the body-positive, curve-embracing event will take place in New York City on Sept. 8 and 9, bringing designers, fitness experiences, influencers, and speakers to town — including none other than Chrissy Metz, who stars on This Is Us, to deliver the keynote address (you heard it hear first, folks). Another first? TheCURVYcon will be live-streamed on Yahoo Style, bringing insightful conversation to millions of people who can’t make the IRL event.
Olisa and Garner are dedicated to promoting visibility of different body types within the plus-size world. That, in addition to Metz’s Emmy nomination, made the beloved actress the ideal woman to represent theCURVYcon this year. “A lot of times, in our space, the women who are celebrated are hourglass women — they’re a size 10 to 14, like the perfect version of a ‘plus-size’ woman,” Garner tells Yahoo Style. “I feel like [for] having size diversity and getting out of that hourglass shape, Chrissy Metz is a great representative for that. We love Ashley Graham, but she’s definitely the poster child of what a plus-size model ‘should’ look like. Someone like Chrissy Metz, her body type is a little bit different — we’re so happy to celebrate that.”
A post shared by Chrissy Metz (@chrissymetz) on Jun 23, 2017 at 6:01pm PDT
Olisa adds: “Representation is so important, and just seeing people who look like you anywhere is great. So when the hottest show on television has a very visibly plus-size girl who is cute, and falling in love, and doing her thing on the show, it’s inspiring.”
While current conversations might make it easy to believe that such a space for plus-size women has always existed in the fashion community (during New York Fashion Week, no less), the reality is that it’s a recent phenomenon, spurred on by Garner and Olisa’s insistence that the industry make room.
“If inclusion isn’t happening by invitation, then we’re just going to move in ourselves,” Olisa tells Yahoo Style.
I want to say THANK YOU because #theCURVYcon is officially sold out for the third year in a row. Your support means everything to us especially this year as we take a big risk and move our event to #nyfw… thanks to everyone who sees our vision and supports it. I can’t wait to see you all in September
A post shared by CeCe Olisa (@ceceolisa) on Aug 19, 2017 at 8:28pm PDT
The idea for theCURVYcon came first from a simple Gchat conversation. After Olisa and Garner met a few years ago, already as influencers, the two women started up a friendship — they were both running small businesses, both devoted to empowering plus-size women, and both crazy about fashion. “We saw a question mark for the future of plus-size fashion and the plus-size fashion community,” Olisa says. “We knew that we had hundreds of thousands of fans and readers and followers that were looking for more.”
Sensing the void, they began pondering how to fill it, particularly considering the fact that 67 percent of American women are considered to be plus-size. “We were Gchatting about hopes and dreams and what we were doing, and slowly the idea of theCURVYcon just crystalized,” Olisa says. “We talked about ‘well, what if we made a conference for our audiences? What if they could come to one place and meet the brands and meet the bloggers and the celebs who inspire them instead of just following them on social media?’”
A post shared by Chastity Garner Valentine (@garnerstyle) on Jul 6, 2015 at 10:59am PDT
Looking at this year’s theCURVYcon lineup, it’s clear that their initial idea has blossomed into a massive success. The two-day event is brimming with plus-size designers who will be showcasing at on-site pop-up shops and inspiring speakers from Metz to plus-size Project Runway winner Ashley Nell Tipton to Whitney Way Thore, star of TLC’s My Big Fat Fabulous Life, to Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg (two of the most influential names in this space) and founders of the clothing line Premme. Popular health coach Massy Arias will host a live fitness event.
A new addition at this year’s theCURVYcon is that of a fashion show, hosted by plus-size subscription styling service Dia&Co. Through the show, Olisa notes, it will be “very impactful to see diverse bodies on the runway looking amazing and wearing clothes that any girl would want to wear.” The move to hosting the two-day event to the same time as New York Fashion Week, as opposed to in June, when it was hosted in years past, was a very deliberate one.
“June is not an important calendar time when it comes to fashion,” Olisa says about the calendar move. “We felt like, if we really believe that plus-size fashion is just as important and should be aligned with mainstream fashion, then we had to take the risk and put our stake in that by moving our event to Fashion Week. There’s no point in being a part of the fashion conversation when no one is talking about fashion.”
What both women emphasize is the importance of community, particularly within this community. “I think being a plus-size girl can be somewhat isolating sometimes, you might be the only plus-size girl among your friends wherever you live, and I think a lot of these girls turn to the internet for that community, but they never get to meet girls who are just like them — who are plus-size and still super fashionable and want to put themselves out there and are more fearless. So we decided to try and create that space even if it was just for a weekend,” Olisa says.
Garner adds that her decision to present an event of this magnitude came from a personal reckoning. “On my 25th birthday I looked in the mirror and I said to myself, This is me, this is what I look like; I’ve looked like this all my life, and I’m not going to not accept who I am anymore,” she shares. “I’m going to move forward with this.”
Olisa was on the same page. “I decided to build things so that people would feel less alone,” she says. “And theCURVYcon is included in that.”
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty: