"I think most girls grow up with this messaging that they aren’t allowed to participate in fashion or have fun with clothing unless they fit a certain criteria," fashion and lifestyle blogger Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh tells me via email. "Most plus size women are told either directly or indirectly (through clothing options) that fashion isn’t for them, let alone swimwear! So to have stylish clothing and now fashion forward, trendy swimsuits is a really big deal."
On Jan. 12, Gregg's fourth collection of swimwear for plus-centric brand swimsuitsforall hit the Webosphere: 12 suits and two cover-ups available in sizes 12 to 24 for D/DD cups and 18 to 24 for E/F and G/H. Like Gregg herself, the GabiFreshxSwimSexy collection is fearless. It breaks every single so-called plus size fashion rule, adding details like mesh, cut-outs, and loud prints that fuck up the system even further. It's not a surprise, really, considering the blogger's history. Not only have her #OOTDs been offering all the unapologetic style inspo, all the time, for over five years, but she also broke the Internet with that first galaxy bikini and corresponding line with S4A in 2013. The galaxy suits sold out faster than most of us could even blink, and marked a shift in the plus swimwear industry — and hell, maybe even the plus industry at large — that's arguably been gaining momentum ever since.
GabiFresh The Empress D/DD Underwire Bikini, $98, swimsuitsforall.com
Of course, Gregg fueled the "fatkini revolution" long before taking things into the realm of design. In 2012, the now-iconic black and white fatkini she sported on her blog was one of the first times many of us inhabiting the Land Of The Fatties were really told we could wear a two-piece. That same year, the "xoJane And GabiFresh Fatkini Gallery" only helped drive the point deeper. After decades of being told otherwise, here was this queen telling us we were entitled to feel good in our swimwear. We didn't have to change, or mold, or suck, or tuck our bodies. We could just be. "The year I wore that bikini, there were very few other retailers even offering swimwear to a young, hip demographic. It was super hard to find bikinis in my size," Gregg tells me. "Now, they’re everywhere! Almost every plus size retailer sells bikinis now, and I think a lot of it had to do with the success of my first collection."
It's pretty damn refreshing to read those words. So often (still), women are taught to shrink themselves. Not just literally in terms of their bodies (although that happens all the time, too), but in the way they discuss their accomplishments. Things like, "Oh, no, it really wasn't that amazing," or, "Well, anyone else could've done that," are commonly heard responses to praise over success. The reality, however, is that Gregg has helped change the industry in more ways than one. She was the OG plus size style blogger. She was one of the first unapologetic fat babes many of us subsequent body pos-focused writers and bloggers ever stumbled upon. She was one of the first to tell us we deserve fashion, too. In fact, the release of that galaxy print suit almost three years ago is her favorite fatkini moment to date because "it had such a huge impact and was something none of us expected! I think it really changed my life and as well as the entire plus size industry and community."
GabiFresh For Swim Sexy The Marchioness D/D Underwire Swimsuit, $98, swimsuitsforall.com
Of course, there's still a long way to go before there's size equality and genuine diversity in the fashion world. And Gregg recognizes this, too. "We aren’t anywhere near straight sizes when it comes to the amount of stores and designers who cater to us, and we still aren’t visible enough," she says. "We need to improve design across the board, and also include more diversity in terms of models."
In 2015, we found out that Fashion Month, for instance, was still largely white — 80 percent, to be exact. While there's no formal statistic, we can all probably agree that the models were also predominantly slender, cis, and able-bodied. This is why we collectively freak out whenever women like Ashley Graham or Denise Bidot make it to New York Fashion Week. They are plus size women, and they are exceptions.
I personally don't believe that one person can remedy the all-too-prevalent lack of inclusivity in society at large. But one person can definitely try their best. One person can definitely influence many, many others. There's no doubt Gregg has done that. And through her designs, she hopes to lessen the gap between "straight" and "plus" just a little bit more.
"As a fashion lover and as a consumer, I’m constantly reminded of all of the things I love but that aren’t available in my size," she tells me. "I came into [design] knowing what I like and what I wanted. I think that being a plus size customer gives me a unique perspective and is one reason why my designs seem to do so well with other plus size women." I have no doubt that being a plus size woman and experiencing life in a fat body has given Gregg the ability to resonate with consumers. And the Internet sure as hell seemed to back up my musing.
"I’m pretty daring and fearless when it comes to what I make, and I feel like a lot of other designers are jaded and too nervous that the plus size woman won’t wear something and so they won’t make it," Gregg notes. "I just go for it, because I know there are a lot of women out there like me who just want the same stylish options as everyone else." For years, Gregg has been telling us that we deserve all the options. Now, she's making those options. And we can all be damned thankful for that.
Images: Courtesy GabiFreshxSwimSexy/swimsuitsforall