Meet The Cult Of California Designer Reinventing Plus-Size Fashion

There are many fallacies out there about the plus-size woman. She doesn’t work out. She doesn’t like form-fitting clothes. She wants to spend her life in a black wrap dress and hates color. Thankfully, designer Jen Wilder, leader of the plus-size clothing line Cult of California, knows that’s all bull.
Wilder, an active gym rat, launched her line with funky and functional workout wear and quickly transitioned to bold-hued body-con dresses, sprinkled with sheer insets, to boot. Now in her sophomore season, Wilder has adorned her figure-flattering designs with out-of-this-world galaxy prints and pastel colors that will help thaw the winter freeze. With Wilder's second coming looking to be her best yet, this is one cult you’ll be happy you joined.
How did you begin designing your line?
"I started designing professionally about eight years ago when I was hired out of school to be an embellishment designer at Laundry by Shelli Segal. But I started making my own clothes at 14 because I was a plus-sized teen with few options! Cult of California is a culmination of all my experience designing for straight-size brands and my own passion and desire to have amazing clothes that fit my body!"
What made you start with activewear?
"I started with activewear and lounge wear because of my own wardrobe needs. Whenever I would work out, I felt frumpy and I hated it. I have actually cried before because of how bad my workout clothes were and how ugly I felt in them."
"I worked in the shop at Equinox when I was in school and I noticed that the sizes ended at large. I could barely squeeze into a large at size 18/20, so I immediately saw a hole in the market. I tried to make Cult a haven for us fashionistas that actually do like to sweat and get a good workout in every once in a while!"
Who would be your ideal client?
"I would LOVE to dress Beth Ditto; I think my head would explode! She is edgy and VERY ACTIVE on stage! I think my styling offers her a chance to have edge and style and be comfortable and sexy at the same time."
What type of woman embodies Cult of California?
"A typical Cult girl is someone who has fun with fashion, is confident with her body and curves, and has an active lifestyle that requires fashion and functionality in her clothing. Cult girls are a little edgier than your typical plus customer; young, vibrant, creative types who are into art, fashion, and spirituality."
Where do you find your design inspiration?
"I find a lot of my visual inspiration for shoots and concepts through Tumblr, bloggers, and art. I am an avid music fan and I live with an art historian so there is a lot of art crossing over into my fashion. Betsey Johnson is a genius when it comes to mixing prints and the whole '80s vibe I grew up with. Alexander McQueen is my favorite of all time with his concepts and shows that are living works of art."
What celebrities would you love to see wearing Cult of California?
"Like I said before, Beth Ditto is ideal. I would love to dress Amber Riley, as I think I could make her a little edgier and sexier. I honestly would like to see a new group of fat celebrities who are a little less safe on the red carpet. Fat fashion has been far too safe for far too long, and there is still a thing with fat celebs that dress very safe and 'acceptable,' and I would love to see them stepping outside of that box and really able to express themselves in the myriad ways that straight-size celebs have."
Photo: Courtesy of Cult of California
What do you think of the current plus-size fashion industry?
"It needs to be shaken a little. The past two or three years has seen a shift that is apparent with large brands extending sizes, and this can only be good for the plus-size consumer as it offers choices that weren't necessarily there a few years ago. I applaud them finally getting on board, but I also want to feel like my dollars matter just as much as a skinny girl's dollar. I'd like to see the same effort and investment put into advertising toward me, marketing the brand toward me, and what I want."
"I really feel like the plus fashion world is an infant, and we are witnessing the blossoming of an entire world that hasn't existed previously. I think what brands need to realize is that plus-size women are not different from other women; we want the same things, we want all the different aspects of fashion to be available to our bigger bodies. There haven't been true contemporary brands for plus sizes because the theory in fashion is that bigger girls don't want to spend money on clothes. I think that notion is out the window at this point with the plus industry growing year after year. As a consumer you have the power to close a brand by pulling your money out of it. The more choices we have, the more power we have, and I am really excited to see all the changes that are coming."
"There is also a shift that is taking place in the plus girl's mind. The desire for fashion-forward styling regardless of the 'rules' of dressing a bigger body. It's no longer about hiding your curves or dressing them in a way that makes you look slimmer or whatever the notion is that you 'should want to look like.'"
"People are bigger; those people are not any 'less-than' because of it and I think this is having a huge impact on what brands are offering. Fat doesn't equal lazy, stupid, or poor in our lexicon as are the ancient stereotypes. We are women with passions, lovers, tastes, and desires and I feel like expressing that is becoming more accessible to more people. As we change our thinking about what fat is, we see the world changing what it offers to fat women."
What makes Cult of California different from any other line?
"Cult is designed by a plus woman, for plus women. This, combined with the fact that I have designed for Forever 21, BCBG, Bebe, Marciano and a lot of other contemporary brands through my wholesale manufacturing business, creates a product that is of the highest quality and marketability."
"I come from a family of artists. All this art and creativity has made me a unique individual who has always sought out self-expression in all aspects of my life. Cult has become a vehicle for me to express the different aspects of my personality and to offer other women the chance to be the 'lead' in their own lives. I make what I like to wear and what makes me feel comfortable, sexy, and relaxed — that's the Cali part! I wanted Cult to be a place where you can come to and find effortless pieces to layer into your wardrobe, as well as statement-making workout clothes that give you that little boost when you're at your least glamorous. Most of all, Cult is different because it's made in the U.S.A., has free shipping both ways on all purchases, and the quality is higher than a big-box chain. I personally [conceptualize] and execute the photo shoots and advertising materials to appeal to plus women and show them a different way of viewing themselves. Cult girls are center stage, the lead in the play and the main love interest in all my images, and I think that is a very different way of viewing them."
What future trends can we expect from Cult of California?
"Spring '13 will see galaxy, pastels, hologram, and leather in three different deliveries. I'm obsessed with hologram anything and so I brought that into this collection. Pastels make me feel really girly, and I love digital printing and photo realistic galaxies are my favorite right now. Summer will see swimwear, as I am planning on a few suits, cover ups, and a whole black-and-white extravaganza! Stay tuned!"
Photo: Courtesy of Cult of California

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