ICYMI Ashley Nell Tipton Is Officially The First Plus Size Designer To Win Project Runway


You may remember back in 2013 when Project Runway judge Tim Gunn talked about the need for better plus size fashion, understanding that it is a huge market. Just how big is that market? Although major retailers are largely ignoring the plus size market, they do so at their peril because according to research, the plus size industry raked in a whopping $9 billion in the US alone!

The average size of an American woman in 14, and yet somehow size 14-34 is considered plus size, which is probably why there is such confusion, given the disconnect between real life and the rag trade.

But getting back to Project Runway, in 2014 judge and designer Isaac Mizrahi said in an interview that he would love to see a plus size fashion season. Clearly the powers that be thought they would take on board these suggestions and in the current season which just ended, we were introduced to California-based designer Ashley Nell Tipton, who became the show’s first plus size designer. Only took 14 seasons and 11 years!

Someone must’ve mentioned that to ignore the billion-dollar plus size fashion market and the fact that the average American woman technically falls into the plus size category would be akin to hating money and setting up the budding designer contestants up for failure.

The inclusion of plus size fashion on the show was made just that little bit more sweet when Ashley was announced the winner of season 14 on November 5. Yep, the show officially crowned its first plus size winner, and for us it was a move signalling the incremental change that is happening in the fashion industry.


During the season Ashley was able to design clothes for a range of sizes, not just plus size, showing her versatility and talent. But her incredible designs are yet another bold reminder that fashion for plus size women is a force to be reckoned with. Ashley is just the latest among a number of designers, models and brands who are infiltrating mainstream fashion, showing the world that there ain’t nothin’ “nice” about this market!

In an interview with Wear Your Voice mag, Ashley shares her thoughts on her historic win and what it means for plus size designers.

“It just feels nice that I’m another person to add on to that list of being representative of the plus size industry and being on ‘Project Runway’, it’s amazing. I’ve always known I wanted to design for plus size women, but now to be this person who is representing for all plus-size women; I feel very honored to hold that title,” she said.

There are many in the fashion world who have a problem with the term “plus size” and others who don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. Ashley believes the latter, because rather than getting caught up on any problematic ideals associated with the words, she sees it purely as a functional term within the industry.

“My main focus is to provide clothing for women in different sizes. This is the term ‘plus size’ that I’ve always used, and I’m not really here to define a word that we use in this industry. The main focus is that we need to have clothing for ourselves, and then later we can figure out what the best term to use for this industry. But, for right now, I just use ‘plus size’ because that’s the clearer vision that people are going to understand – I’m not going to get technical where ‘this is full figured,’ ‘this is curvy,’ ‘this is voluptuous;’ whatever people want to call it, they can call it,” she said.


When asked about one of the challenges where the designers on the show weren’t able to choose fabric from the place they normally do, Ashley’s views on that experience say a lot about her approach in the industry in general.

“I definitely have more fun when there is restriction…because it really makes you test your creativity and push the boundaries to think outside the box, and those are the challenges I enjoy the best,” she said. It seems she has challenged more than just her own abilities, but also the way plus size fashion is look at compared with the rest of the industry. It should be seen as a normal and integral part of the the fashion world without being pushed aside as if it is not as important as straight-size fashion.

This is something Ashley also feels strongly about and hopes her designs can continue to break barriers in fashion.

“I would love for plus size women also to be trendsetters. I don’t want us just to follow what the trends are. I want other women of any size or other men of any size to be inspired by what we do and what our message is and what we’re trying to get across. We should just be treated as equals and not define ourselves because of our sizes. We should have everything else that everyone else does,” she said.


“I feel like there is a future of having a collection for all sizes, all shapes; it just takes that one person to do it, and I want to be that person to be create clothing in all size ranges,” she added.

And clearly Ashley isn’t the only one with that progressive vision, because if the runways of New York Fashion Week are anything to go by over the past few years, we have a lot to look forward to in terms of diversity of body shape and size.

In the fall of 2013, fashion label Cabiria made history by becoming the first plus size show to be featured at a NYFW event. In the fall of 2014, model Denise Bidot became the first plus size Latina woman to strut her stuff down the catwalk, and she was part of a straight-sized show.

Speaking of Denise, in 2015 she was featured in the Chromat runway show at NYFW, where straight size models walking alongside plus size women in a display of diversity and harmony, a much needed visual at this event.

Supermodel Ashley Graham showcased her lingerie line in the same season, making it the first ever plus size lingerie show. Celebrated designer Marc Jacobs made a huge statement by featuring singer and model Beth Ditto in his show, who also closed out NYFW is spectacular style, almost signalling what’s to come in the world of fashion.


And our new fashion hero Ashley Nell Tipton got to display her fashion forward designs in the Project Runway fashion show, but her identity as the designer was kept a secret at the time because the TV show was still being filmed and they didn’t want to give away who has won before the finale aired.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News before being crowned the Season 14 winner, Ashley said she is determined to use her time on ‘Project Runway’ as a way to put plus size fashion back on the map in a big way.

“This industry puts a bad view on plus-size women and the way we dress, and it’s because we don’t have options. The industry is really ignoring that they’re missing us in the market — it’s a multimillion-dollar market,” she said. Err, honey child, that’s Billion-dollar, actually!

While she wants to see more men and women doing what she is pushing for, she is happy to be representing plus size fashion all the way.

“I do wish that there was other designers who would embrace that, but I’m fine if I’m the one that’s leading right now. I’m trying to put plus-size on the map. We can be fashion-forward,” she said, adding that she hopes to be a source of inspiration for other plus-size designers out there.

As for us as viewers and fans, we hope to see this influx continue. The more prominent and mainstream plus size fashion becomes, the less need we will have for body divisions and judgement. We can’t wait to see Ashley’s designs become available on the market.








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  1. Pingback: JCPenney's 'Here I Am' Campaign Is Taking A Stand Against Negativity Toward Plus Size Women - GirlTalkHQ

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