7 Things Plus Size Blogger Marie Denee Of The Curvy Fashionista Learned In 7 Years
While some mainstream media sites may like to imply that plus size fashion got its "start" this year, there are a number of plus size fashion bloggers who have paved the way for the most recognizable faces in the fatshion industry today. Marie Denee of The Curvy Fashionista is one of those bloggers.
Denee launched her blog in Dec. 2008, which means that this month she is celebrating seven years of blogging. I spoke with her over the phone, and she jokes that back when she started, blogging wasn't even a term people could readily define. Back then, her blog was really more of a web journal. She tells me that she started by accident, seeking a way to discuss all of the brands that she was coming across that fit her contemporary sensibilities and plus size frame.
The blogger was finishing up her MBA in marketing when she started, and had planned to open a boutique post-graduation. After she lost her job as an assistant manager for a department store, she took on running the blog full time. Along the way, The Curvy Fashionista has grown to be one of the plus size fashion community's number one resources, amassing almost 500,000 followers on Facebook alone, for plus size news, lifestyle, beauty, and, of course, style. In a market in which new faces now seem to crop up every day, I wanted to share some of Denee's wisdom and keys to success for making an impact as a plus size fashion blogger.
1. Know Your History
Even though Denee is one of the longest-running plus size fashion bloggers out there, she's quick to point out that she wasn't the first. She tells me that Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh launched her site a few months prior, and that writers and fat acceptance advocates like Marianne Kirby and Marilyn Wann were hugely influential to her in the decade before.
"It was very important for me diving into the community that I understood the various facets that contributed to the changes we see now," says Denee. "They are the ones that started challenging norms in various different ways. Yes, I’ve been doing this for seven years, but in no way was I the first and in no way was I able to get here on my own. It’s because of those voices and those women that I am able to leverage my platform in a variety of different ways."
Denee adds that when she started, it was really the size advocates and activists who were making the most noise, while there were less folks writing just about plus size fashion. These days, the two seem irrevocably intertwined. "The plus size industry was birthed from a community," says Denee. "It was grassroots."
2. It's Not Just About Free Clothes
When I asked Denee about what the biggest misconception she comes across about being a plus size fashion blogger is, she tells me it's this idea that people are only in it for the free clothes. Plus size fashion blogging is so much more than that. It's really about a community of people who have been able to create real change in an industry that for years wasn't listening to what its consumers really wanted. Some brands have begun using a wider size range of models, stopped using Photoshop, and made more items available in stores arguably thanks, at least in part, to plus size fashion bloggers.
"Social media has given a voice to the plus size women and has allowed this voice to be amplified to demand attention and to demand for the fashion industry to take note and listen," says Denee. "For a while, we were only given the voice that was spoken for us. Social media allowed women to say, 'No, this is not me; I don’t like that. This is not my style. I am not a women in transition. I am woman worth celebrating. I am just as varied as my straight size sisters. Why must you paint us with broad strokes?' Having these resources allows for it to be segmented as is any other industry."
And while the plus size fashion industry is still growing, Denee notes that we now have more options than ever.
3. Surround Yourself With Good People
When Denee was first laid off from her job in March 2009, she said it was her girlfriends who helped encourage her to focus on her blog. They told her to print some business cards and they got her a seat at the National Coalition Of 100 Black Women luncheon in San Francisco. Being in this environment really inspired Denee, and changed the trajectory of her site. "The women you have around you is important," she says. "Especially when you have a dream and a goal and you share that with your tribe because they will help push you to make that dream a reality."
4. Be Patient
Patience is crucial when you're a fashion blogger because there's a lot of personal investment and sacrifice that goes into starting a site. Denee says that the first two years, she cashed in her 401K and even knocked on doors for the census to earn some extra money. She calls that time "character building hustle," adding that she wasn't able to really monetize her blog for two or three years.
With all of the big things she's been able to accomplish, I had to ask what moment has really stood out for her, and she says that it has to shooting the Marina Rinaldi #WomenAreBack campaign in Milan in 2013. Even with this achievement and so many more under her belt, Denee is still pushing for more change, and she encourages new bloggers to do the same.
"You’ll need patience because it’s crowded more than ever," says Denee. "Have a business plan and a strategy. Because the space is so crowded, you have to break through that noise. Create your own voice, we all have something valuable to contribute. Creating and curating your voice and staying grounded and remembering why you started. I’ve been doing this seven years and I am nowhere where I want to be."
5. Find Your Voice And Stay True To You
I jokingly refer to Denee's blog as the plus size fashion encyclopedia, because if it's happened in the past seven years, she has probably written about it. Coming from a background of business and marketing writing, she knew when she started that she had to develop a tone and stick to it. She tells me that her blog has always been about sharing information as you would to your girlfriends.
While plus size outfit bloggers seem to be hyper-visible at the moment, Denee's focus has always been different; more about being that one-stop destination for all things plus size rather than a hub for #OOTD photos. And that's a great thing. "I was more concerned with showcasing the options and showing that you can wear this," she tells me, as opposed to focusing solely on the outfit photos. "Part of this comes from my background when I was in the sales side of retail and realizing how much women attach value to themselves when it comes to clothing; and really understanding that helped me realize I needed to help empower women."
6. Take Risks
One of Denee's long-time goals was to do a plus size fashion expo, and it's something she accomplished this past August with the hugely successful TCFStyle Expo in Atlanta. As someone who was in attendance at the event, I can tell you how positive the energy really was and how important it is for plus size women to build community offline at events such as this. While this was a big risk for Denee considering both the financial and time commitments, it paid off, and the expo is coming back next year as an even bigger and better occasion. Denee has also expanded her blog by enlisting a growing number of contributors. She says to expect more growth in the visual content of the site as well.
7. Know You Can Affect Real Change
Denee tells me that while the plus size industry has come far in the past seven years, there's more work to be done. And part of that starts with more diversity and leadership. "When you have people in positions of leadership who represent a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, that’s where you will see true change be effective," she says. "You like the word 'body diversity,' but do you even understand what it means? It’s important that we are getting our voice out there. You need more diversity in those spaces."
In a lot of ways, plus size women are still fighting to be acknowledged by mainstream fashion, but bloggers have had a great deal of influence when it comes to that conversation. Denee adds that a brand partnering with the right blogger can make or break a collection.
More than ever, plus size women have found a voice with which they can demand change, and Denee is undoubtedly one woman who I am definitely going to keep listening to along the way.
Images: Courtesy The Curvy Fashionista