How did you get into designing your line?
Becoming a designer really just fell into my lap. I was in corporate America and later ran a youth program in Harlem, and decided that I didn’t find the work fulfilling anymore. I took a trip to London to visit family and was so inspired by the fashion that I saw. It turned out my cousin had some contacts in the clothing industry, and she said, "You are so stylish, why don’t you design your own line?" Given that I never went to fashion school (I have a math/computer-science degree), it seemed like the impossible dream. Something, though, felt right about it, and, more than anything, I was fueled by my frustration with the limited options for plus-size women. A year after that seed was planted, Monif C. was launched!"
Who would be your ideal client to design for?
"The Monif C. woman is confident and embraces her curves. She has absolutely no interest in hiding her beauty. She reads Refinery29, she knows the trends, she knows what’s out there, and she wants it in her size. She definitely knows fashion is a great way to express herself, and she is looking for a wardrobe that does just that."
Where do you find your design inspiration?
I get a lot of my inspiration from my travels. I love to think of myself as a global citizen. Last season’s swim collection came after I traveled to South Africa because I loved the idea of doing high-waisted bikinis, or "fatkinis," as it’s sometimes called, in an African-inspired print. I am also from Barbados and can’t get away from the bright, lush colors of the Caribbean, so you will often see that in our color selection. And, given that I am a plus-size girl, a good portion of my design inspiration comes from just designing what I love and hoping other women love it, too!"
What celebrities would you love to see wearing Monif C.?
"I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of celebrities wear our clothing already — Jennifer Hudson, Amber Riley, Jill Scott, Gabourey Sidibe, to name a few. I would love to dress Adele, Oprah, and Melissa McCarthy."
What do you think of the current plus-size fashion industry?
I think a lot of strides have been made in the plus-size fashion industry, and I love it. The more the merrier. I think the customer deserves options, and who doesn’t want to mix clothes amongst designers and retailers to make their look uniquely their own? Obviously, we know there is work to be done, but if the customer is willing to look, there are many indie designers, like myself, who design specifically for the plus-size woman and are really looking to cater to this market in an authentic way.
What's the biggest challenge you face as a plus-size designer?
I think the biggest challenge is being all things to all plus-size women. Because there is a lack of options in the industry, I think sometimes our customer wants us to do everything. We’re always asked about coats, shoes, lingerie, a diffusion line at a lower price point, etc. We are a growing business, but we also have to work with the capacity that we currently have. We are also made in the U.S.A., which itself creates some challenges. I feel good about what we are doing, and more is definitely coming!
What makes Monif C. different from any other line?
There are a lot of great lines out there, but eight years ago, when I started this business, I really had a vision for innovation and fresh ideas for plus-size women. Many of the trends in marketing, photography, and design that some of the mainstream plus-size retailers have adopted are a result of us stepping out on faith first and doing it when everyone thought we were pushing the envelope a little too much. I think back to when I was in my teens and early 20s, and a plus-size girl’s club outfit was an Express top buttoned down with a black camisole and a pair of 13/14 Express pants (if you could fit into those), and that was it. In my prom picture, I look like I’m 10 years older than I am because my only options were dresses that made me look like the mother of the bride. It feels great to know that we have made a large contribution to what we now see in the market, and it’s only getting better from here.
What is your favorite piece from your current collection?
I lost my breath when I saw how hot the "Marcella" turned out in production. There are also some fab pieces coming for holiday. I also had to put in an order for my Fiji in red leopard this week because I need to make sure I have that for vacation in December!
What future trends can we expect from Monif C.?
This is hard for me to answer. I don’t forecast based on what you see in the magazines. It’s really about what I am loving for that season and what my customers are e-mailing me about. Right now, I am planning out spring/summer '14, and I am having a love affair with white and mesh. We will see how that turns out!