With existing brands expanding their size offerings, and new plus-specific and size-inclusive clothing lines popping up faster than comments on a Kardashian article, it’s a little surprising that it’s taken mass media so long to jump on the body-positive bandwagon. Yes, there have been plus-focused magazines and websites for years now, not to mention the proliferation of plus-size style blogs that seem to sprout up left and right, but when you compare the publications that focus on those who wear a size 14 or above versus publications that focus on the smaller set, the lack of content is painfully obvious. But one website is changing the game (and its own name, too): Fashion site Styleite plans to transform to Runway Riot, a website dedicated to the underrepresented and oft marginalized women of America who just happen to wear bigger sizes.
Created by media personality Dan Abrams and officially launching in November, Runway Riot promises to be unlike any other website, while still having a familiar feel. It will predominately feature style, fashion and beauty content, but will focus on serving the needs of the women who represent more than 60% of our country. To learn more about this unique venture, we sat down with Styleite founder Dan Abrams and newly named managing editor Iskra Lawrence.
Why did you want to transform Styleite to Runway Riot?
Dan Abrams: "It wasn’t as much about transforming Styleite as it was about starting a new site that didn’t exist in the marketplace. And rather than continuing to try to have two style and fashion sites, we thought that in terms of the longevity, the fact that we didn’t think this existed in the marketplace made Runway Riot a much better site for us to pursue than to try to do this in addition to Styleite."
Do you feel like you can relate to plus-size women?
DA: "I get asked the same question about The Mary Sue, which is our girl geek site. I’m not in that world, at all, but when the former number two on my site Geekosystem came to me and said, ‘Look, this doesn’t exist out there; this is a voice that needs to be heard.’ I went and did my homework, I researched it, I thought about it, I talked with her about it. I talked to other people about it, and I came to the conclusion that The Mary Sue was a great idea for a community that didn’t have a venue to congregate and read awesome stories about interesting things related to the geek-entertainment world through a female prism.
"And it was a similar evolution here. Ashley [Hoffman], who is the senior editor on Styleite, and I talked a lot. And it seemed that a lot of what was working on Styleite were stories related to body image. And the more and more we talked about it, the more we sort of decided, why are we just doing that as part of Styleite? Why don’t we take that and create its own site that becomes the focus. And the most important thing that I think is going to distinguish us is that we’re going to try to not use the word ‘plus-size.’ It’s a phrase I think is somewhat pejorative. The fashion industry has ignored an enormous community of people, and our idea is we’re going to create a beautiful, aspirational, sexy site that happens to cater to women who wear larger sizes."
There are women who do embrace the term "plus-size." How do you plan to address them without using that type of terminology?
DA: "There’s not going to be a complete and total ban on the word. With that said, Iskra and our editors feel strongly that we don’t need to use the word plus-size — that it is inherently unfair. There isn’t ‘under-sized,’ so we shouldn't need ‘plus-sized’ when it comes to this world. You know, this is not a site to celebrate women of a particular size or weight, this is a site to celebrate beauty and style and fashion. It happens that it’s going to be catering to women who wear larger sizes. We think that in that environment, we don’t need to use the phrase ‘plus-size.’ Maybe we’ll be proven wrong and we’ll have to start using it, but as of right now, that’s the goal."
Style is supposed to be for everyone, but these are maybe women who have been marginalized by the fashion industry in the past and may have never seen anything like themselves on a website like this before.
DA: "Ashley went and did a video in all these department stores of what all the ‘plus-size’ sections look like. And they’re relegated to the back of the stores, with all the stuff that’s out of season, and her point was that the choices were so limited — if they had any choices at all. And when you think about that, from a business perspective, 60% of Americans fall into what they’re calling ‘plus-size,’ and you’re telling me that you’re not selling those clothes at major department stores? Are you out of your minds?"
Iskra, how did you end up getting involved with Runway Riot?
Iskra Lawrence: "It was an interesting process. Dan reached out to bloggers and models in the industry, and he was looking for someone who was very passionate, who had a direct message and voice, and someone who was available and willing to put in the work. When we sat down and Dan started talking about [Runway Riot], and hearing his passion for it, and hearing that he actually knew that there was a lack of inclusion in the industry; to hear him talking about it so passionately, I was like wow, this is a really great opportunity and he’s serious about this. He really wants this to work. My mind was going crazy, and I said ‘I’m going to put the hours in, I will work my ass off. I’m single, I’ve got time on my hands!’"
What type of experience do you have that you’re bringing to the table?
IL: "I’m an intelligent girl — I’m more than a model. I’ve modeled because I enjoyed it, but I also was like, ‘How am I going to fulfill myself? How am I going to challenge myself?’ For me, it’s more about the experiences I’ve had. This is my 12th year in the industry, and I’ve seen both sides, and I’ve worked with girls with eating disorders, on a personal level and through my work with NEDA [National Eating Disorder Association]. But it's going to be hard, I know. I already get comments on Instagram, and I know that a lot of women are going to give me backlash. There will be a lot of bigger girls who will say ‘You’re not big enough.’ I’ve been told since day one, ‘You’re too big, you can’t be a model.’ Then I was told ‘You’re too small to be a plus-size model...’ I can’t tell you how many countless times I've been told no. It’s been a real journey, and all that’s come out of it for me is, I’m Iskra, and I’m healthy, and I love my body, and that’s the best message I can give to anyone else. Love you."
How are you involved with NEDA?
IL: "A couple of years ago, I created an unretouched calendar to raise money for cervical cancer in the U.K. We raised 5,000 pounds from it... I thought that it would be great if there was a symbol that was globally recognized that women would look at and know that it is a safe image, that this is healthy, this is unretouched. I pitched NEDA this idea and they loved it, and we created NEDA Inspires. I awarded the first one to Aerie because its unretouched campaign is incredible. There’s hardly anyone who's been able to fully produce unretouched images because it’s difficult. In an underwear shoot there’s no chicken filets, they’re not nipping and tucking things; you can shoot me in a 360-degree angle. I do a lot of lingerie shoots and usually I have toilet rolls in the back, and they’re pinning things down. Aerie, they’re like, okay, we’ve got these models, and they’ve got to fit the lingerie, and they’ve got to love their bodies."
What do you think about the phrase "plus-size"?
IL: "I’ve had lots of press these last few days where people are saying ‘Iskra Lawrence, plus-size model,’ and people have been running the story because they’re shocked by the use of the word ‘plus-size.’ It’s difficult. I want to work, and if a way for me to work, because I love modeling, is being called plus-size, fine, don’t mind. Let’s do it! I’m happy with my body, I don’t mind what you label me, but do you really have to label everybody? Do you have to label people by their size?"
I’m with you there; I don’t care what the label is, I don’t care what the number on my clothing is, either. I just want to have fabulous things to wear!
IL: "I can’t sleep at night, because I literally have this book where I write down my ideas and I’m like, I want to do an editorial on girls who have big calves because all my frickin' life I’ve tried to wear boots, and they don’t fit on my calves. It’s little things like that. There are so many things we can do. If we can just build each other up, focus on the wonderful things about us, and who we are, and if we can just be more than that body, I feel like that’s the direction I want to go.
"With hashtags like #IAmSizeSexy...well, I don’t give a fuck if you think I’m sexy or not. I am more than — I am more than a model. I’m more than a number. I’m more than a label. Let’s not try to be someone’s ideal of anything."
Why the name Runway Riot?
IL: "We needed a name change, because it’s a different website than Styleite. We’re going to be crashing the fashion [scene]. That’s how we feel. This is going to be a riot. We want all these girls to jump in and be empowered together, to stand up and say, ‘That’s it. We’re done with feeling inferior.’ The fashion industry has made us feel inferior. I’ve felt embarrassed going to events sometimes to introduce myself as a model, because I know people are looking at me thinking, You’re not a model. So then I feel like I have to say ‘I’m a plus-size model.’ Just let loose. You do you. Be you."