I have always been a fan of plus size designer, Monif C., but when she debuted her most recent line, I was seriously blown away (I die for the swoop dress). This is definitely my favorite collection of hers to date; as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to interview her and find out her inspiration. Thanks to Monif for taking the time out to answer some questions for YFF! (By the way, that gorgeous model is Fluvia Lacerda, whose interview is coming soon!)
At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to become a plus size fashion designer?
If you asked me 10 years ago if I would be a designer, I probably would've looked at you like you had ten heads. My family is from the Caribbean, Barbados to be exact, so I grew up with my grandmother and aunts being seamstresses, but it wasn’t my passion at the time. What many people do not know is I actually have a math and science degree and I worked in corporate America and then later ran a youth nonprofit organization. The thing is, I’d always been frustrated with plus size clothing. I’ve been a big girl all my life, so I would always say, "if I was a designer, I’d do this or I’d do that." Never did I think I’d actually be one! I guess that’s that speaking it into existence, huh? About 6 years ago I became frustrated with my career path and thought to myself “there’s got to be something better for me”. My mother encouraged me to follow my passion for fashion and business, and that’s when Monif C. was born.
What is the biggest challenge plus size designers face today?
Finding retailers and department stores that want to take a risk with fashion forward plus size clothing. I tell people all the time, if I designed this line for straight size women, I’d be a millionaire by now. And anyone in the fashion industry will tell you, that’s the truth. But plus size clothing is my passion, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our aesthetic is so different from what "society" says a plus size woman should wear, so our on-going challenge is getting stores to believe that the women will actually buy the clothing. Would you believe that even now in 2009 we hear from boutiques and department stores "plus size women are trying to lose weight, they don’t like colors, they don’t like fitted clothing, they don’t want to show this, or they don’t want to show that", and the biggest one you hear is, "they don’t spend money". So imagine myself as I design--I want to push the envelope because I believe the market is there, but it’s hard, retailers want you to dumb it down. When I say dumb it down, it’s like, "beautiful dress, but can you add sleeves to it?" Do you think Donna Karan has to worry about adding sleeves to everything because her customers feel uncomfortable with their arms? No, but sometimes we have to do it to make it more palatable for retailers.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like classic shapes with a twist. I ADORE color and print, so you’ll always find that in my collection. I also do primarily dresses as you know because I believe one piece dressing is easy and you always look fabulous. I myself wear a dress everyday. The only time you’ll ever see me in a top is when I wear my “Marilyn” Convertible Dress as a top.
What inspired your fall line?
Wow, there are so many things that inspired this collection. I wanted to do pretty, but edgy, even slightly vamp. We took a darker approach this season, you will notice there aren’t as many colors as we are known for, everything is well tailored and chic. We usually come up with a theme, and it usually involves outfitting the Monif C. woman for every occasion. So you’ll find your day outfit, like the “Charlie” Jumpsuit with Tie Belt, and then you’ll find your night outfit, like the “Carmen” Leopard Ruched Dress, and then your knock em’ dead outfit is the “Tina” Sequins Party Dress. We paid special attention to detail this season with zippers, ruching, and beading. And of course we extended our assortment this season with jumpsuits and outerwear.
What would you say to the people who complain that your prices are too high?
The first thing I would say is that when I started the line, I set out to create a contemporary, designer plus size line. You have to remember that at the time the only options were LB, Torrid, Strawberry, Ashley Stewart, all on the lower end, and then the higher end designers that sell in Saks and Neiman Marcus where dresses are $600 each. I wanted to do a line for that woman who wanted better quality but couldn’t afford Saks, and believe it or not there are a lot of women that want that quality. Some of the higher end designers like myself may get some slack but I think that’s because there are so few designers out there, that women want more options. If you look at the straight size market, there’s Forever 21, Bebe, Intermix, Bergdorf, all different price levels and their clothing is embraced throughout.
I will also expose you a bit to the challenges of an independent designer because it costs a lot of money to compete with larger retailers and produce clothing lines. People think "oh, fabric is $10/yard, how much can a dress really cost?", but they don’t understand that patterns, samples, marking, grading, photo shoots, websites, staff, promotion, and producing clothes in the USA opposed to in Asia like most large companies do costs a lot of money. It would be astonishing for some of your readers to hear. Let’s just say a beginning clothing line can blow through $200,000 (on the low end) easily within one year. So that’s one factor in cost. Then add on the fact that in the plus size market there are maybe 20 stores that may carry your clothes compared to straight size lines that sell in 600 stores, so your costs are inevitably going to be high because you can’t produce as many units as another company. It’s things like that, but I understand the consumer’s perspective, and I always say, do your best to support independent designers. Even if you can’t purchase at full price, buy it at the sale price because those sales allow us to keep doing what we are doing.
What future plans do you have for Monif C?
Expansion! I see so many areas of need in the plus size industry, so I just plan on expanding and adding new product lines. Our swimsuit collection is coming out soon, so stay tuned for that!
What advice do you have for the YFF readers?
Well, whenever I come on this blog, it makes me feel good to read the comments of the women and everyone sounds so much more positive, confident, and fashion forward than what the media portrays us to be. I say keep doing that and expose your fellow curvy sisters to the fashion out there. A lot of women don’t know about the independent lines and online retailers that are out there, so enlighten them so they can start looking as fabulous as you! Thanks Gabi for this interview, YFF rocks!