Fashion Week is slowly but surely opening its doors to the idea of body diversity, but the anti-fat rhetoric that plagues the industry still means that plus size women and their fashion experiences are far from good enough. Whilst a fully inclusive fashion world would be the dream, it's often down to the marginalised to find their own way to celebrate themselves.
UK Plus Size Fashion Week has teamed up with the Be Real Campaign to raise money and awareness for the organisation's ongoing work in schools, businesses, and the industry itself. The event's agenda is vast, including: a fashion show featuring plus labels and plus models; a panel with industry experts and influencers (plus our editor, Terri Waters!) talking about all things plus size; the Proud Gallery, a perfect place to find inspiration; a body confidence booth, and more. The evening will be wrapping up with a charity auction, with wellbeing packages, clothes, celebrity donations, and more up for grabs. The event will also be celebrating the launch of UKPSFW's campaign, #BeProudBeYou, which is working to open up the conversation around body image.
We got to chat with Rianne Ward, the brains behind UK Plus Size Fashion Week, to talk about her career, plus size representation, and how the industry can improve.
Rianne, describe yourself in ten words.
A woman with a passion to help to make change.
Why plus size fashion?
I didn’t choose it — it chose me!
I was working in television and as a singer and was looking for a plus size sponsor to get involved with a tour I was doing. I realised at the time there wasn't enough out there to inspire plus size women. So I decided to start a newsletter... that was all. Nearly 10 years later, here I am.
Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’? What was it?
Kind of, it as in the process of holding a casting for a plus size model. I was so surprised by the response — people came from all over the country and told me why they wanted to get involved. They wanted to feel acknowledged because we are beautiful. On top of that, every message I received from women talking about how what I was doing helped them with their self-esteem made me realise I had to continue.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Everything! But the conversation is really important. As an industry, we've come so far, but we have a huge way to go, and we can only do that by having poignant conversations together. And then, of course, seeing some fresh fashion to inspire.
How important do you think it is to have UKPSFW as a separate entity, rather than integrating it in to the BFC’s Fashion Week calendar?
I used to feel that it was important for us to stand out, but we as an industry have shown time and time again that we can look just as good in magazines, in campaigns, and on the runway. The majority of UK are still plus size women - so why are we still separated? It's time that BFC acknowledge our industry. We don’t need them, but we don’t want to continue to be ignored either.
How have you found the general public’s reception to UKPSFW?
What do you think the biggest hurdle has been for you personally as a plus size woman?
My biggest hurdle has been accepting myself with all my flaws and extra curves. You can't be pushing for change whilst not loving yourself. I still have my off days like everyone else, but I'm proud to be me.
Similarly, what are the biggest hurdles for the plus size fashion market?
I think now that we have brands understanding the power of the plus pound(!!!), it's about working with the brands that are genuinely here for the change. Those that aren't just going up in sizes, but thinking about the curves of our body — and to do that, they need to be talking and listening to us. I also really want to see some serious couture designers come through with plus sizes. I like looking different...
How easy has it been to collaborate with brands? Have you found it difficult to find brands whose values align with yours?
When I first started, it was really hard as brands didn’t really understand what I was doing and they were nervous. That changed, and they're now supportive. But the industry has definitely changed. Brands are starting to think outside of the box with regards to their campaigns. I absolutely love Simply Be's latest campaign, and the advert with real curve women. Also, with Missguided collaborating with curvy celebrities such as Stef London, it's a step forward.
How important do you think it is for plus size women to have representation in the fashion industry?
Extremely important - who knows us better than us? I personally think that BOF needs to have a key person from the plus industry to advise them on our industry. Let's face it — until we kicked the doors down as bloggers, magazines, fashion shows, influencers and so on, they didn't know what to do with the curve community. So they still need to continue to learn from us.
Describe your ultimate freakum dress.
My freakum dress, hmm, let's see. I'm a bodycon girl, structured and shapely. It moulds you in the right way and shows off your curves. I usually feel confident in that. A pop of colour, some great heels, and drop dead gorgeous earrings and I'm done.
What’s your best piece of wisdom for body confidence?
I would say work on your inner self first. Our body changes and can go up and down, but if you're ok with your inner 'you', your body confidence will embrace that and you'll shine from the inside out.
UKPSFW takes place tonight, May 5, at The Yard, EC2 from 5.30pm. Tickets are available in advance for £15, and all of the evening's profits will be going to the Be Real Campaign.