For Kenyatta Jones, WE tv’s House of Curves is just the first milestone for her growing company of plus-size fashion. She took the time to chat with EBONY.com and dish on what it’s really like to be a plus-size fashion designer, and how she’s desperately trying to rid bigger women of “fat girl” stereotypes.
EBONY: How did you come about getting your own show on WE tv?
Kenyatta Jones: I knew that plus-size women needed a voice in fashion and I wanted people to see what it was like to be a plus-size designer. So I put some feelers out in the industry and was approached by a production company, and things took off from there. I feel very blessed to have been given an opportunity to be on a network like WE tv, because both our goals are to inspire and encourage women no matter what size, age or ethnicity.
EBONY: How long have you been working in fashion? How has that journey been?
KJ: I’ve been in fashion since 2007. At times it has been a difficult journey, because I represent the forgotten women in fashion. Being a plus-size designer is very hard when you have most doors slammed in your face before people even see your talent. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it to me to give women a voice and choices that they have never had before.
EBONY: What has been the biggest obstacle getting your clothing line started?
KJ: Getting buyers to believe that plus-size women shop or want beautiful clothing. There is a giant misconception that as plus-size women, we don’t have social lives. We are seen as lazy and homebodies. So buyers think plus-size women will not buy my clothes if they put them in their stores. But that’s not true. I feel like I have to prove myself more as a designer than my straight-size counterparts just to get orders.
EBONY: Were you afraid to promote plus-size women on TV because of the current health issue stemming around obesity in American society?
KJ: No. I believe each person has a responsibility to maintain their own body and health. But that has nothing to do with clothing your body. I don’t promote an unhealthy lifestyle or preach obesity. I promote self-love and confidence, and feeling great about yourself enough to dress the body you have.
EBONY: Why is it so hard to get fashionable clothes for women who are plus-size?
KJ: It’s more expensive to make plus-size clothes and most stores do not want to buy them. So from a business standpoint, most designers don’t have the passion and feel it’s not worth it. But what they don’t see is the benefits of being in an unsaturated $67 billion dollar-a-year market. Honestly, most do not want to be labeled as the designer who makes clothes for fat people.
EBONY: How difficult was it for you to get your own show as a plus-size fashion designer? Can you talk about some of the battles that came along?
KJ: This experience has been amazing. I actually didn’t have a hard time at all. I think it was just destined for plus-size women to finally have someone on a national platform championing for them to have a voice in fashion. I am the first plus-size designer to have my own fashion house and high fashion line, so that makes me different than most designers. And thankfully WE tv believed in me as soon as they saw me.
EBONY: There is a stigma that women who are plus-size don’t like “smaller” women. Your mother and business partner René makes it very clear of her not-so-good feelings about Kelli. How do you keep the peace amongst the two, and how do you feel about her reservations about Kelli?
KJ: My mother is just that, a mother! She is always going to look out for my best interest and what is best for the business. I think she felt that Kelli did not understand what it’s like to run a plus-size business because she is not plus-size. But Kelli knows PR. She will have to prove herself just like each of our other staff members have had to prove themselves. Keeping the peace is not easy, as you can see. But I try to remind everyone that we are on the same team and that we have millions of women worldwide counting on us.
EBONY: There is a moment when it’s mentioned that you put the word out for “plus-size models,” but you may get a “fat girl from down the block” from time to time. What is the difference between a “fat girl” and a “plus-size” girl? Does this depend on her body type?
KJ: Yes, it’s all about body type. Everybody can’t be a model. Some shapes are not flattering enough to be considered a model even if they look great in the clothes. We try not to Photoshop. We want beautiful natural frames that appeal to customers, as well as buyers that are not used to seeing plus-size models.