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Supermodel Emme and the University’s Fashion Design Program Team Up With Online Plus-Size Retailer for Design Competition
Supermodel Emme, the Division 1 college athlete who put “athletic curvy” on the map and rose to fame in the mid-1990s as the world’s first plus-size Supermodel, is once again shedding light on size inclusivity in the fashion industry. Teaming up with her alma mater Syracuse University and online plus-size retailer OneStopPlus (OSP), the nationally recognized advocate for body positivity, health and wellness is promoting fashion inclusivity in the classroom with the 8th annual Fashion Without Limits (FWL) design competition.
Emme, a graduate of the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, enlisted the help of fellow advocate and veteran plus-size fashion designer Zahir Babvani, head of design and style for OneStopPlus, to inspire a new generation of up-and-coming fashion designers to put their talents to work for the silent majority—the estimated 70 percent of American women who wear sizes 12 and up. As head designer at OSP, responsible for the company’s growing roster of popular plus-size brands, including Woman Within, Jessica London, June+Vie, Roaman’s, Catherines and Eloquii, Babvani held a rousing virtual masterclass on plus-size design and style for the University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts fashion design class of 2024. Couching the exciting world of plus-size fashion design in a real-world industry context, Babvani provided a crash course on bringing a garment to market in the growing women’s plus-sized sector in the United States. Offering essential business insights and tips for designing clothes plus-size women want to wear, Babvani challenged the group of future designers to create the next “it” style for curvy women, keeping in mind today’s inflation-weary shoppers, the heightened demand for versatility, and the customer’s need for a superhero multi-tasker piece to serve all her style needs, from casual to work to dressy.
More than 20 students competed for the chance to have their original designs manufactured and brought to market for fall 2023. The winning designer, Nina Chen, found inspiration for her “Tulip Dress” in nature’s bountiful curves. Chen’s modern-classic black dress, which is made of Ponte knit fabric, is tailored to flatter all body shapes. The “Tulip Dress” is slated to debut on the OneStopPlus marketplace this fall as part of an exclusive collaboration between OneStopPlus and Emme’s Fashion Without Limits groundbreaking partnership with Syracuse University. The winning garment will feature special hangtags giving the student designer name recognition and a taste of celebrity, while also bolstering the FWL program.
“I came into fashion so passionate about many issues in the industry, but inclusive design was not on my radar,” says Chen. “Through my journey working on the competition and now interning with OneStopPlus, I’m learning that, with the right approach and mindset, inclusive design can and should be a part of every fashion designer’s portfolio.” Chen adds that the competition has inspired her to think more about the end user of her designs. “Emerging designers tend to focus on ‘cool’ fashions that we would wear. Emme and Zahir really helped me to understand the importance of making fashion accessible to all women, and I look forward to being more inclusive with my designs throughout my career.”
Supermodel Emme says that she created this competition to galvanize the design school community around the exciting career opportunities in one of the fastest-growing, yet most under-served, segments of the fashion industry. The 1985 Syracuse University grad, athletic Hall of Famer, and Fashion Without Limits founder says, “Learning from successful designers like Zahir Babvani shows young designers that this is a rewarding career path. Syracuse University is at the forefront of making inclusive design an exciting area of concentration, giving tomorrow’s designers the skills, and ability, to enact real change on the fashion landscape. We hope this program will become a template for other schools moving forward.”
For her winning design, Chen received a $500 prize from Syracuse University, as well as a Summer 2023 internship with Babvani and his team in the company’s New York headquarters. In addition to experiencing all the business facets of a leading pioneer in size-inclusive fashion, Chen will help spearhead the winning design’s evolution, from early CAD drawings through every stage of production to the finished product and launch. Chen will also receive a percentage of sales as part of the prize package.
“Putting your best self forward begins with dressing the part in clothes you know were made for you by a dedicated plus-size designer who understands your fit needs and your modern lifestyle,” says Babvani, who added that FWL empowers today’s design students to make a real difference in the lives of women who deserve access to beautiful, fashionable clothes to be their best selves, be it in the workplace, at home or anywhere in the world. “I selected this design because it embodies modern style for the real woman. It’s both fashionable AND wearable!”
According to Emme, curvy women are professionals, celebrities, mothers, daughters and sisters. “All women want to feel special, confident and secure in their clothes. At Fashion Without Limits, we believe that love, happiness and success have no size limits. Our goal is to offer fashion design students an inclusive curriculum that enables them to provide women of all shapes and sizes with the apparel they want and deserve.”
“Collaborating with Emme to develop a talent pool of designers who understand how to design for the plus market opens up a world of opportunities for our students,” says ChaCha Hudson, assistant teaching professor in the fashion design program. “Even if they choose not to specialize in plus sizes, every fashion brand has the potential to expand their size range to include plus-size women, but it has to be done right. This competition exposes our students to plus-size design fundamentals, enabling them to make a difference in the lives of plus-size women wherever they choose to work.”