Tess Holliday On Walking NYFW And Whether Fashion Really Is Becoming More Size Inclusive
‘I have to wear fast fashion, I can’t be as ethical because plus-size fashion is not there yet’
Last week, Tess Holliday walked for Chromat’s New York Fashion Week show wearing a white dress – recycled from the designer’s AW19 sample size shirts – with ‘SAMPLE SIZE’ emblazoned across.
The move made headlines and was hailed as one of the biggest moments of NYFW SS20 for the fact that someone different to the fashion week size zero prototype was front and centre.
But, actually, it’s rare that Holliday can wear clothes from an on-schedule designer, she explains to ELLE UK.
‘I have to wear fast fashion and high street to major red carpet moments, and that’s great, but I want the option to wear high end items of my choosing and it’s not available,’ she says adding that, as an activist, it also raises ethical issues, as she would like to wear more sustainable labels.
‘I can’t be as ethical. I don’t have a problem re-wearing outfits but I want to be conscious of not contributing to fast fashion because of how wasteful it is, but it’s either that or I run around naked. Plus size fashion is not there yet.’
Holliday is in the UK capital – which the American thinks of as a second home, after she signed her first modelling contract here – to take part in a London Fashion Week talk at the British Fashion Council, with ELLE’s Editor-in-Chief Farrah Storr, on Body Positivity and the Changing Landscape in Modelling.
So, when it comes to the UK fashion industry, how are we doing for body diversity compared to other countries?
‘Though the UK has a lot of work to do – we don’t really see plus-size models at London Fashion Week, New York is much more diverse in that way – at the same time where do I get more work? London and Europe.’
In recent years, Holliday has become an impactful force in the fashion world, something that began when the model founded the hashtag movement #effyourbeautystandards on Instagram, encouraging followers to ignore fashion ‘rules’ and wear and look however they wanted to, regardless of their size, gender and more.
Her profile has only grown in recent years, especially since the release of her 2017 book and 2018 Cosmopolitan UK cover, which made global headlines. She tells us, though she’s getting a lot of work, discussions about representing or walking for various brands and designers usually come to an abrupt halt after the initial interest.
‘I get passed for opportunities quite a lot because of my height, size and tattoos,’ she says. ‘I have the value of name recognition, but then they worry about their brand. Now, when my agent tells me I’m on hold for a job, I don’t get my hopes up. I meet people and they promise me stuff, it’s part of the industry.’
Holliday thinks she appears ‘too risky’ for some brands, despite their excitement about both her energy and reach, especially as she’s outspoken about so many social issues (LGBTQ+ and racial equality, for instance) as well as body diversity.
‘People are still afraid and I hope eventually that will shift,’ she contemplates. ‘I don’t know why it’s controversial to talk about the fact that plus-size women should be able to take up space – literally – wear clothes, be fashionable and feel good in their bodies.’
The body positivity movement has gone from strength to strength – with Holliday front and centre – but she admits there’s not always the camaraderie among these models that there should be. Though, this could be due to the fact there’s only a small window of opportunity for plus-size women to break in a world dominated by thin models, driving competition and a scarcity mindset.
‘I’d love to be able to lie and say all the top plus size models get along but they don’t because not all of us have the same goal in mind: striving for actual diversity and equality for others, so that can be hard.
‘It can be quite competitive, but some of my best friends are top plus-size models and none of my circle feels badly when another person succeeds because they realise, as do I, that when one of us has a breakthrough, it’s a breakthrough for all of us.’
While ‘body positivity’ is necessary, it’s at risk of being nothing more than a buzzword, something Holliday is very aware of, so tries to ensure she works with people who don’t use it in a tokenistic way, but to contribute to lasting change in the industry.
‘Huge strides are being made,’ she says. ‘For example, Rihanna and Savage – I was going to be in that show, but my schedule didn’t work out and I will probably never forgive myself. Fingers crossed next season Rih calls me – she is a perfect example of actually giving a sh*t about diversity.
‘She makes size inclusive garments, has true diversity in the models and campaigns she casts and her messaging. She’s stepping up in every way and that’s what you need, that’s how real change starts, with true diversity and representation on all levels. I know it’s a lot to ask but if Rihanna can do it, we can all do it.’
Ain’t that the truth.