When I moved to New York City nearly two years ago to write about fashion, the SmartGlamour runway show was one of the first events I attended. I'd been living overseas in Seoul for the previous five years, and I had no clue if the stateside fashion world had a place for a plus size woman like me. I worried that despite recent attempts to increase diversity in fashion, simply saying you want cute clothes in your size does not mean anyone will actually listen.
The night of that first runway show, I realized that SmartGlamour — and its CEO and founder, Mallorie Dunn — listens. The brand offers clothing that's affordable, customizable, and ethically made for people of all shapes, sizes, heights, ages, identities, and styles. Though inclusivity is somewhat of a buzzword in fashion, Dunn's brand doesn't just just talk about it or use it to make headlines: She creates it.
"SmartGlamour is a clothing brand, and I love fashion. But it's not really about that at all," Dunn tells me in an interview. "You get amazing clothes at the end, but what's more important is the experience, the change of thought in your head, the negative stigma being taken away from shopping."
And it's not just the clothing that's inclusive, either: SmartGlamour's seventh presentation showcased its Fall 2016 collection on Sept. 16, and the models represented a far more diverse spectrum of human beings than any other runway at New York Fashion Week.
I'll admit that SmartGlamour's attention paid to casting a variety of sizes is what initially piqued my interest. There's been plenty of talk about diversity at NYFW over the last couple of years, but only one mainstream designer, Christian Siriano, actually put plus size models on his runway during the Fall 2016 shows. Of course, plus-specific brands like Addition Elle and Boutique+ cast plus models in their shows, but it still seems like a commonly-held notion that plus clothing and models shouldn't mingle with the rest of the industry. But why can't all designers make a broad variety of sizes, and hire differently sized models to wear them?
That's exactly what Dunn tries to do at SmartGlamour, and more. She places models of all sizes on her runways, as well as people of all colors, identities, and abilities. SmartGlamour's clothing and shows represent what body positivity and fashion should actually strive for: Creating a space where everyone — and I mean everyone — is welcomed.
"Nothing about my size, shape, and even skin tone is conventional," Ashley Wall, a 24-year-old personal style blogger, and a model who just walked the SmartGlamour runway, tells me. "I'm 5'6, size 24-26, apple-shaped, with a beautiful brown skin tone that takes two shades of foundation to get the perfect match. I don't think there's any woman on the runway quite like me."
"Being at a SmartGlamour show or event is life changing," adds Mikaela Johnson, a fitness trainer and another plus size model in Dunn's runway show."I truly don't have the words to explain the energy created when people are not only allowed to be themselves, but encouraged!"
Theater student Bear Spiegel is also not someone you'd expect to see walking a conventional runway, but at SmartGlamour's show, they were given the space to rock it.
"As a gender fluid person and model, I do not fit the strict man/woman binary. Even among fellow transgender models I do not fit in because, for the most part, they ascribe to the binary in their own identities," Spiegel says in an email. "Along with my gender, I do not have the typical model physique. Yes, I am skinny but I am quite short and have large breasts. I've always loved to be in front of the camera, but I never thought I could be an actual model because of all these things."
Farin Loeb, a 32-year-old opera director, also modeled in SmartGlamour's show (and has done so in SmartGlamour shows in the past). Her presence represents one of the most marginalized, overlooked groups in fashion: Loeb is differently abled, and walks with a cane.
"At the first show, I needed someone to walk the runway with me alone, to get used to the lights, count steps, feel it all out," Loeb says. "I felt terribly unprofessional asking, and everyone having to wait. Mallorie not only walked me herself, it didn’t even merit comment."
The Hedy Colorblocked Dress — Pleather, $75, smartglamour.com
It's conversations like these that remind me of something crucial to the advancement of representation in fashion — and to my own way of thinking. For a long time, I subscribed to the idea that plus size bodies like mine should be represented more than they had in the past, that fashion embracing size acceptance was the way to push the conversation forward.
In other words, I couldn't think beyond my own self-interests in the name of body positivity and fashion inclusivity. Unfortunately, when you push the boundaries just far enough to include yourself, you really haven't done much at all. Dunn's work is a reminder that the representation is about so much more than including all sizes — people with other marginalized and intersectional identities need to be considered, too.
Dunn understands the difference she's making, and ultimately hopes that others follow suit. "I've had a woman with a cane email me to gush about how important it was for her to see Farin looking glamorous with her cane proudly in our photos," she says. "I've had a mom email me to tell me her 16 year old daughter is recovering from an eating disorder, and she showed her my site and it started a conversation. Then she helped her mom take her measurements and they bought clothing together."
The Carbone Cropped Sweater, $50, The Malala Faux Wrap Palazzo Pant, $70, smartglamour.com
Dunn has dozens of stories just like this, and the people that shop, model, and experience the SmartGlamour brand do, too. She's a one-woman show — no, really, she does everything, from creating the clothes to booking the events to casting her own models. If a single ambitious woman can create fashion democracy with her own two hands, imagine the possibilities open to all brands and designers with big budgets huge teams, and platforms — all they have to do is open the door.
The entire SmartGlamour 2016 Fall collection is available to shop now.
Images: Courtesy SmartGlamour, Emerson Chen