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Expo helps plus-size women come out of the retail 'basement'

Nikki Frenney-Wiggins knew where to go when she shopped for clothes -- to the back corner of the store or in the basement.

That’s where retailers usually relegated clothes to fit her plus-size body .

“We don’t want to be in the basement,” said Frenney-Wiggins, who owns an Atlanta public relations and and government consulting firm. “Mix us in with everyone else. The average size woman is a 16, so it’s not like we’re invisible.”

It’s not just location, either.

For years, retail buyers didn’t seem to put much thought into what the clothes looked like -- especially for younger, professional women, says Frenney-Wiggins, who also writes a fashion blog, Nikkifreestyle.com

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Dark colors. 

Tentlike  tops. 

It didn’t matter whether you were 16 or 60.

Related:

Kennesaw shop owners say their plus-size models were body shamed

Meet Atlanta fashion designer Ann Moore

“They thought we were still out here wearing muumuus,” she said. For a long time, people were taught to hide their curves, “but today women are much more confident in their bodies.”

Fashion blogger and business owner Nikki Freeney Wiggins. CREDIT: AtlantaFashion Photographer

And they’re making their voices heard.

“We’re not monolithic,” said Marie Leggette, who writes a blog called The Curvy Fashionista. “Don’t give us dark, shapeless clothes. We want to wear bodycon  dresses. We want to wear bold colors. We want to wear prints. Give us the same options. Not the humdrum.”

On Friday and Saturday, Leggette will host the third annual The Curvy Fashionista Style Expo, which will draw hundreds of plus-sized women to the Cobb Galleria Centre. More than 40 vendors, including designers and retailers, will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This year, the expo is also targeting big and tall men.

Among the designers in the market is Lawrenceville’s Jasmine Elder, owner of Jibri, a plus-size label.

Elder started the label in 2010 after she tired of trying to find stylish clothes in her size.

A size 20, Elder decided to start designing her own and now has a thriving business.

“I’m more of a glamour girl,” she said. “I rarely wear pants and jeans. Just dresses and heels.” Finding contemporary styles in her size “was an issue for sure,” she said. “What was in my size was a little old. A little matronly.”

It’s a robust market that’s getting a lot of support from teens and young adults, who are demanding more from retailers .

In 2016, U.S. sales of women’s plus-size clothes was more than a $20 billion market,  according to the market research firm NPD Group.

Lawrenceville  designer Jasmine Elder got tired to searching department stores for stylish plus-size clothes so she started designing her own and started a business. CONTRIBUTED

A big part of the problem is perception, says Leggette.

“They think we’re not going to invest in ourselves because we want to lose weight, but  a lot of plus-size women are fine and happy in their lives. They’re not in transition, and if they are, they don’t want to pause life just because we’re not where we want to be."

She said many women turn to online retailers or private designers to meet their needs.  And while that’s a step in the right direction, she would like to see more brick-and-mortar shops. “We actually want to try clothes on. It can be frustrating.”

Events include workshops, a pageant and performances including Pretty BIG Movement, a New York-based full-figure dance company. Pretty BIG Movement will also hold a dance class at noon Sunday at Rhythmz & Motion Dance Studio,  3791 S Cobb Drive SE in Smyrna. 

The expo’s charity partner is the Giving Boutique, which provides a new and gently used clothing drive for homeless youths.  Attendees are encouraged to bring old clothing to donate to the city's homeless.

As Leggette says, “We are definitely establishing a voice for ourselves.”

EVENT PREVIEW

The Curvy Fashionista Style Expo

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Cobb Galleria Centre, 2 Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. Tickets are available online or at the door.

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