Independent plus-size label, and Bustle favorite, Rum + Coke is getting lots of press this week regarding their founder Courtney Smith's decision to only use plus-size models on her site and in campaigns. And, more specifically, to focus on using plus-size models of color. The collection is full of bright and bold hues, luxe fabrics, daring cuts and on-trend silhouettes. There are currently plenty of other lines that are modeled by plus-size women only, of course (think Domino Dollhouse), but they're all exclusively curve lines. And that's where Rum + Coke is different: They carry sizes 2 to 22. The fact that the line is so size-inclusive doesn't make a difference to Smith when casting models. She pointed out to E! Online that no one questions why there are only small women in other brands' shoots. "I put women of color and 'larger' women in my photo shoots for many reasons. One, because I believe in the multiplicity of beauty, and two, there are so many women who seldom see women who look like them in advertisements," she says.Rum + Coke was inspired by Smith's desire for women to feel like their most beautiful selves, and to help counteract the messaging from other clothing lines and fashion media in general that they're not enough. "There are so many negative messages: You're not thin enough; you're not young enough; you're not light enough... I was inspired to create Rum + Coke to send a different message: You, woman, are enough," she said in an interview with Refinery 29. The mission is clearly something that's resonating with the brand's audience: Many of the shimmery and velvety styles from her winter collection are already sold out — in all sizes.
I first saw the line a few months ago, and didn't quickly realize who was modeling the clothes. Rather, I was just stunned by how gorgeous they were. Smith's eye for fit and her penchance for creating a dramatic silhouette is extremely apparent in the collection. When partnered with rich velvet, flowing silk, and sparkling sequins, the fashion is positively head-turning. This is not to downplay the importance of Smith's casting decisions — this move is very obviously vital to so many women who can now see themselves reflected in at least one brand's marketing materials. Because it's not just that Smith used plus-size or "larger"(as she puts it) women. She also used women with a variety of body types, hair and style.It's frustrating, however, that this type of representation only seems to happen when a company is helmed by the type of people demanding greater representation. Courtney Smith is an amazing woman and we need more of her, more lines like Rum + Coke, and more diversity in fashion. Absolutely. But we also need the existing fashion players to take a page out of Smith's (look)book and embrace what not only is the right and responsible thing to do, but what women are saying they actually want. It just shouldn't always be up to women who are affected by the lack of representation to create the solutions, even though I'm glad they are.Images: Courtesy Brand