Tess Holliday Breaks Her Silence On T-Shirt Controversy

Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/ Getty Images.
This year, Tess Holliday has made a pretty incredible impact on the plus-size modeling world and its perception among the wider fashion community. In January, the 5-foot-5 Mississippi native, who sports tattoos and a septum piercing, signed a deal with major modeling agency MiLK Management; she landed the cover of People in May, replete with the coverline, “The World’s First Size 22 Supermodel” (it was the magazine’s annual Body Issue, no less), and she’s become an inspiring advocate of body positivity — a proponent of plus-size women donning bikinis, shorts, and, well, absolutely anything else — who practices (and wears) what she preaches.

Holliday began producing a series of T-shirts with the phrase, “Eff Your Beauty Standards,” in late 2014, with some of the proceeds going toward organizations that help survivors of domestic violence. But just last week, an irate thread about the model cropped up on Reddit, entitled “Tess Holliday/Munster is a shitty person, and here’s why.” The scathing post accused Holliday of being a “scam artist” for not delivering merchandise to “hundreds of fans” (and of blocking those who reached out to Holliday via social media about their missing shirts), and that “not a single cent went to charity.” The item’s accusations delved deeper — and far crueler — than just shipping snafus with her shirt line.

The project was launched with “pure intentions,” Holliday told Refinery29 in an exclusive statement, and the goal was “to spread the message of defining your own body on your own terms as far and wide as I could, and to hopefully raise some money for domestic violence, a cause that is near and dear to my heart… My mother and I are both victims of DV,” she says. “The idea that I would willfully defraud the people who have supported me along the way, and a charity that touches on my own family’s struggles, is so upsetting." The whole ordeal has taken its emotional toll on the model: "I have had more than a few tearful and restless nights over it. The reality is that I've done the best I can, and have tried to make everyone happy."
Photo: Courtesy of Tess-Munster.Highwire.com.
Holliday admits, though, that she didn’t quite know how to handle the logistics of the project: “I’m not a businesswoman. When orders started piling in, initially I was excited, but it quickly became clear that I just couldn't keep up with the demand," she says. "I did what any normal person would do — I asked my friends and family to help. Had I just gone straight to a shipping and distribution specialist, then perhaps this would have been an easier task, but I didn't even know that was something I could do. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.” She attributes the M.I.A. merch to “one big batch that was lost by the post office,” as well as “usual business discrepancies,” like packages that were tracked in the postal process as delivered but hadn’t actually been received by customers. There were also issues matching orders with payment status, meaning some customers received multiple orders (and some didn’t receive their orders at all). “The system we were using just didn’t work,” she says.

In addition to issues with the shipping logistics, the model wanted to ensure that the larger-sized merchandise would be exactly the same as straight-sized iterations. “I had sought to find a manufacturer that produces the same garment from a size small to a 4X with no difference in quality," she explains. "I didn't want people to feel left out. 'Eff Your Beauty Standards' is for everyone, but because of this, my choices were limited and in the end, my costs were way too high.”

Holliday then hired a shipping and distribution center, which “ate up what little of left of the profits” and required her to pay “thousands and thousands of dollars” out of pocket, without making the donation as promised. “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is aware of what happened, and thankfully were very understanding,” she says. Holliday says she has, indeed, given a “substantial contribution” to the organization, and will also be volunteering her “time and platform” to Los Angeles’ Downtown Women’s Center. As for the shirts, by now she says, “100% of known issues have been resolved," adding that any customers who are still missing orders can fill out this form.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tess-Munster.Highwire.com.
The model also says she was tormented online about customer service problems concerning her collection (not too surprising, unfortunately, given the harshness of the Reddit thread): A Facebook group dedicated to “Eff Your Beauty Standards" service issues was created, and amassed over 600 members — though Holliday says there were fewer than 200 problematic orders altogether. “There were quite a few people in the group who never purchased anything, and who had issues with me prior, that were using the group as a space to bully me and stir the pot even more.” The situation highlights some deeper problems, the model points out. “Why as women do we constantly pit ourselves against one another?” she asks. “What could we achieve if we stopped being so quick to judge and started giving other women the benefit of the doubt, and support them through their struggles?”
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