The fashion industry has a body inclusivity problem, namely that there’s not enough of it. As a multi-trillion dollar industry, fashion makes up a core part of our cultural experiences. From the clothes we wear to the advertisements we’re subjected to, the people in fashion have a ton of influence on how we view ourselves and our bodies.
Meet fashion veterans Shammara Lawrence and Gianluca Russo. They were frustrated by the lack of body inclusivity in all areas of fashion, but rather than quitting the industry, they were determined to make a difference.
They created a community of body advocates and showed the industry why it’s important for plus-sized folks to be represented.
From there, The Power of Plus was born. A year later, the digital community has grown to be a force of power and has led many workshops, online discourse, and panel discussions around body inclusivity.
Gianluca also has a new book releasing in fall 2022. The Power of Plus: Inside Fashion's Size-Inclusivity Revolution covers the history of body inclusivity, the progress we’ve made, and the problems that are still persistent.
We talked with the founders of The Power of Plus to see what inspired them to build an online community, what their long-term goals are, and how they see the future of fashion evolving as the conversation around diversity and inclusivity continues to heighten.
A Conversation with Shammara Lawrence and Gianluca Russo of The Power of Plus
You're both fashion industry veterans. What issues were you noticing across the industry?
Shammara: I got my start in the industry freelance writing for indie and mainstream magazines before I became an editorial assistant at Condé Nast working across the Allure and Teen Vogue digital teams.
While covering fashion and beauty, one recurring trend I noticed across numerous publications and the fashion industry at large is the lack of racial and body diversity when it came to news coverage, editorial shoots, brand campaigns, and advertisements displayed online and in glossies.
While terms like inclusivity and diversity have become major buzzwords in media and the fashion industry at large, that wasn’t always the case.
When it comes to plus-size representation, specifically, it was rare to see someone above a sample size on a fashion runway in New York or Europe, and you barely saw curve models grace the pages of popular fashion and beauty magazines. If you did, it was usually just one token plus-size model amongst a bevy of straight-size talent.
Frustrated by that lack of representation of plus-size folks in media and fashion, I decided to use my voice and platform as a writer to speak about the importance of size inclusivity in fashion by writing countless op-eds and features covering plus-size trailblazers making a difference in plus-size fashion, beauty, and Hollywood.
Gianluca: In my years as a journalist, I’ve seen how inclusivity has become such a buzzword, really losing its meaning. But at its core, true inclusivity is such a beautiful and important thing, and it’s disheartening to see so many designers, brands, and influencers capitalize off a phrase they don’t understand the true meaning of.
For fashion to become truly inclusive means centering and elevating the marginalized voices that this industry has rejected and silenced for decades. That’s the biggest issue I’ve seen, and what I’ve dedicated my work to fixing.
You have both been outspoken about the discrimination against plus-sized folks in fashion; what has your personal experiences in the industry been like?
Shammara: Honestly, when I got my start in the industry, there were only a couple of other successful plus-size writers and editors I could look up to like Lauren Chan who used to head up features at Glamour.
Most times, I felt like a fish out of water working in the editorial world, because nine times out of ten, in meetings and at major fashion events, I was the only curvy person in attendance or was one of the few. In the beginning, that took a toll on my self-esteem but thankfully, I found a tribe of people like Gianluca, who looked like me and cared deeply about size inclusivity.
Fortunately, things have progressed slightly since I entered this industry. There is now a slew of incredible folks in the editorial world and fashion industry at large working to make sure it’s more inclusive and welcoming of every body.
Gianluca: Publicists not taking me seriously, my seat being given up at fashion week, being told that there isn’t a reader for the kind of pieces I want to write — fatphobia is so ingrained into society and this industry, that it really affects our every move.
It often feels the term “plus-size” is used against you as a way to demean and lessen the work you’re doing. But really, this work is so important. While I’ve definitely experienced so much of the hatred this industry has towards bigger bodies, I’ve also found the brightest, most uplifting community of people and influencers and models, and editors who value our experiences in a profound way. They are what make all of this work worth it.
There's a lot of discourse around the language of "fat people" versus "plus size" — what are your thoughts on this?
Shammara: Personally, I think until we destigmatize the word fat, a lot of people will be apprehensive about using it to describe themselves.
While I don’t think fat should be viewed as a negative descriptor — it’s just a neutral adjective like slim in my eyes — I can’t deny that it is still used to demean people in our society so I understand why people feel more comfortable labeling themselves and other bigger folks as plus-size versus fat.
Gianluca: This is certainly a difficult conversation because there are so many emotions attached to it. Some people prefer fat, others plus-size, others curvy, and some like no descriptor at all.
It’s important to remember that these words are not only tied to identity, but are tied to years of discrimination.
So ultimately, I believe that everyone should be able to choose the term that best fits them and makes them feel confident, and we should allow space for people to choose freely.
What inspired you to create The Power of Plus?
Shammara: Gianluca and I were frustrated by how stagnant plus-size fashion and the fashion industry at large seemed to be when it came to size inclusivity. We also felt like there weren’t really any safe spaces online where we could convene with fellow fat folks and talk candidly about important conversations concerning our community without being policed or ridiculed for thoughts and opinions. So, we decided to create that space ourselves by launching The Power of Plus in July 2020.
Gianluca: What I found in my time as a journalist was that there were countless stories left in the shadows that needed to be told; stories that inspired me on such a deep, emotional level, and gave me the voice to fight for change.
Seeing the lack of space for those stories to be shared, Shammara and I knew that we needed to create it ourselves.
And the goal wasn’t just to launch an Instagram page; it was to launch a movement, one that could change and save lives in the ways this community has done for Shammara and I. It’s been so rewarding to see that come to life.
What did you imagine the Power of Plus to be at its inception?
Shammara: A soft landing place where plus-size folks from all backgrounds feel welcomed and celebrated for who they are. When we first created The Power of Plus, we knew from day one, it would be a safe space where we could have all sorts of discussions — no matter how taboo — that weren’t being had in mainstream media when it came to plus bodies.
What impact has the Power of Plus had since its inception?
Shammara: It’s hard to truly describe the impact The Power of Plus has had on people’s lives and the plus community because our events and social media content have had a tremendous emotional impact on the people in our community.
There have been countless Instagram posts about diet culture and body shaming that have elicited some incredibly raw and honest responses from our supporters, which has moved both Gianluca and me.
The same can be said for our virtual panels. Whether we’re talking about colorism within plus-size fashion and the influencer world or the role of thin allies to the plus community, attendees always really engaged in the comment section and numerous people will thank Gianluca and me for putting on the event so they could hear thought leaders they respect have a candid conversation about pertinent subjects.
Gianluca: The most beautiful part of building The Power of Plus has been helping others heal and feel seen while also benefiting from it in the same way personally. I don’t think our community quite understands just how big of an impact they have on us, helping us to be more fearless and confident, and outspoken. It’s a two-way street, and I think our community feels that energy, which is ultimately what keeps them engaged.
What good news are you seeing around body inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry since the Power of Plus?
Shammara: The first thing that comes to mind is Old Navy’s BODEQUALITY initiative that launched in August 2021. Finally, people from sizes XS to 28 can shop in person at all Old Navy stores.
While I wish they also carried sizes 30 in store as well (it’s still online only), having a mass retailer like Old Navy with over 1,000 stores worldwide carry such an expansive size range in all of their styles is truly groundbreaking. Even better, they also started carrying mannequins in an array of body types.
The initiative is cause for celebration because it’s a feat we haven’t seen done before and I hope other fashion companies are taking notice and decide to follow suit. It’s about time plus-size folks were given the same clothing options and shipping experience as our smaller counterparts.
Beyond Old Navy, though, the plus community is still incredibly active online, if not more when it comes to speaking out about body diversity in fashion and beyond. People are tired of settling for scraps from fashion brands; we want the same kind of fashion slim people have had for centuries, and we won’t stop speaking up about it until our needs are truly met.
Gianluca: My favorite thing to witness in the past year has been the rise of Precious Lee. She has dominated runways and the high fashion world, and it is just refreshing and powerful to see. We need infinitely more women, men, and folk like her.
What does the Power of Plus mean to you, personally?
Shammara: The Power of Plus has been so important to me this past year and a half. The conversations we’ve had have been eye-opening, healing, and necessary in a time when so many people, including myself, have been feeling alone because of the pandemic and straight-up frustrated by the fashion industry.
I’m beyond grateful that Gianluca and I have been able to cultivate such a kind, welcoming community filled with changemakers and outspoken size inclusivity advocates of all shapes, races, gender, and abilities. Every single person within our community is powerful and when we come together as a collective, The Power of Plus is a force to be reckoned with.
Gianluca: Plus-size fashion is about infinitely more than clothing. It is transformative, and anyone who lives in a bigger body can instantly tell you why: Because when the industry and society reject you for decades, telling you to hide and cover yourself, finally getting the chance to express your true personality through clothing is life-changing. That is The Power of Plus.