Being plus-size hasn’t stopped these women from dressing up and strolling down the runway in all their granduer
On a beautiful Sunday evening, just when the rains stopped pounding Dar es Salaam and its environs, revelers with a keen interest in fashion were eager to witness a fashion show that challenged the parallel refrains from media outlets and brands, who embrace a particular image of models. The theme which was to engulf the venue was: “ You don’t have to be size zero to be a model”.
Fashion in Tanzania has come a long way. From the early days of beauty pageants which availed us to what have become household names in the runway fashion world such as Hoyce Temu and Happiness Magese, we have for years clung on to the threads of the fashion and beauty industry. But in all the years of its colourful existence, the fashion world had entrenched its image to depict slender and tall as the only beautiful women.
Today’s fashion world is broader and more complex. Trends change from time to time, and now, even the images of models are more liberal. From having straight-size women exclusively grace the runway, doors have been opened to usher in women who are plus-size, curvy and are not dictated by the norms of the fashion world. With such changes, one thing remains true; beauty is not ‘one size fits all’.
This change of settings in the fashion industry availed us to a fashion show in Dar es Salaam that is unlike any other. We’ve been elated before by fashion spectacles such as Swahili fashion week, Enchanted, Maridadi, which all had exhilarating designs, but what we were about to witness was a fashion show that deviated from the regular by embracing diversity.
It all began when I was going through my instagram feed, and saw a post by Esther April, a woman who used to be plus-size, but lost an astonishing 50kgs in 9 months. The poster read ‘Plus-size fashion show’. I immediately took interest and followed up an embedded link on the post which directed me to the organiser of the event. I got all the important details such as venue, date and entrance fee. Much was to be anticipated at the event.
Dance art fusion in upscale Masaki is where the event was scheduled to take place. The venue was sublimely adorned with stalls selling sophisticated apparels and other fashion ensembles. By the looks of the place, I knew I would be rubbing shoulders with celebrated names in Tanzania’s fashion industry. And as I continued gazing through what was on offer at the venue, on site were models such as reigning Miss Tanzania Diana Edward, former Miss Universe Tanzania Nelly Kamwellu, and other known names in the fashion industry such as fashion blogger Missie Popular, designer Ally Remtullah, Lavido and make-up artists Rehema Samo and Grace Malikita. The plus-size models were to be dressed by an array of designers who took part in the event.
It has become evident that some fashion brands are hiring women who do not typically fit the slender depiction of a model, and a look at the runway at this event showed why times are indeed changing.
The runway show
Dressed in fitting apparels, models started strolling down the runway in free-spirits; they embraced an aura of joy and comfort as they showcased the designs. You could clearly see that they were having fun doing so. One of the most common facets of top runway models is the straight face they always wear as they walk down the runway, with the plus-size models at the event, all you could see were smiles on their faces as they engaged with the audience and shared each moment with us.
Seated on the second raw, I had a good vantage point of the runway platform, no moment escaped my sight.
The show had many memorable moments, one among them was the striking entrance a brand called African Doll Tz opted for as the designer, Sasha Nella, ushered in her models in style while she sang Beyoncé’s “Formation” from her latest album, Lemonade. The audience sang a long as the models effortlessly swayed their way through the runway.
I got a chance to talk to the designer and she said her showcase was inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. “Being plus-size myself, we face different life struggles; from relationships to family. I wanted this showcase to inspire women and show them that regardless of your body size, you are still beautiful,” Nella said. Her general view of the event is that it resonated with many women. “I got good reviews from people about the event. I think if it would’ve gotten more publicity, it would have been even better,” she remarked.
Another designer, Hellen Touches, showcased a theme titled ‘Elegant African woman’. It’s a theme which aims at empowering African women and showing them that they are beautiful. “I think African women who have what is known as the ‘African figure’ must have been delighted to see plus-size women celebrated at the event,” the designer noted. Hellen was particularly delighted by the attendance at the event, which featured a number of famous designers and stylists.
The runway fashion show was nothing short of amazing, and after an impressive run of different designs which included brands such as Ellycurvilicious, Emaqulate designs, Kus kus jewels, Kiulah, Second Chance, Popkizzo, Pipi yummies, among others, it was time for the show to come to a successful close.
How it began
Kareen Whitsun, founder of Plus size fashion show in Tanzania said the idea began in 2014 when all people could do is judge big beautiful girls, saying that they don’t look great in clothes and nor are they beautiful. “I struggled to achieve true confidence because I didn’t love who I was, I couldn’t get a handle of regulating my own weight,” Whitsun says, adding, “There have been lots of critics when a curvy girl puts on a swimsuit. The runways in Tanzania have not considered a big, beautiful girl to do a runway show, so I thought I should create an event that will make a curvy, big, beautiful lady participate in and feel confident.”
The aim of plus size fashion show is to empower women, specifically Tanzanian women through fashion. Despite the large number of curvaceous African women living on this continent, there has been a slow growth in businesses that offer apparels that celebrate the African shape. “The goal of this event is to create a sense of celebration of the curvy women physique amongst the public through fashion. With this sense of appreciation we hope to show these women that big curvy females do matter and don’t necessarily have to be a specific body size or shape to feel bold, brilliant and beautiful,” Whitsun says. She further adds, “I believe beauty is beyond size and there is no such a thing as a perfect body. This event gives a voice to women who feel uncomfortable expressing their confidence; be you, be real, be authentic. The diversity is changing it’s time for plus size to run the runway.”
Whitsun says the future looks bright for curvy women in the fashion industry. She plans to organise a bigger and better event in the future. In the same lane, she’s in awe of the massive turnout at the event. She hopes that the event can grow as times goes.
Cultural shifts and role of social media
The cultural shifts that we’ve been witnessing have played a major role in making brands pay attention to plus size women. Social media in particular has played a significant role in helping plus size women have a voice. For years, there are women, who have felt left out by mainstream fashion. But today, through social media platforms such as Instargam and Facebook, women are able to share their images with full confidence.
Outside Africa, there have been massive online campaigns aiming at promoting interests of plus size models. People are now fighting back against body-shamers. Plus size British model Iskra Lawrence, after years of not fitting the mold as either a straight-size or plus-size model, decided that social media was her chance to get hold of her career and create her own path. “I realized that if I start building a following, more women might stand up and say, ‘We want to see more models like this,” she says.
The plus size fashion show in Tanzania showed a great acceptance of women in all different sizes. The impressive turnout of people showed that the industry is not limited to only straight-size models. It is a challenge to apparel brands to now start catering to the needs of plus size models as well.