To an outsider, Curvy Chic Closet's June 17 fall fashion casting call might've looked more like orientation for an age-inclusive summer camp than a cutthroat runway. From the very beginning, this was Becky Jarvis's intent — create a friendly environment that made fashion and confidence accessible to plus-size individuals.
"Years ago, I was at a kids' consignment event with my son," said Jarvis, Curvy Chic Closet Foundation creator. "I just kept thinking 'Why isn't there anything like this for plus-size people?' Then I did my research and realized just how much that was needed."
In 2011 Jarvis founded Curvy Chic Closet as a consignment sale, but admits she always hoped it would grow into more. Jarvis began putting on plus-size fashion shows in the years following, rapidly growing from just one designer and five models in 2013, to 13 designers and over 40 models in 2019.
The consignment event itself — which happens semi-annually — now houses more than 20,000 items of clothing and is run by roughly 80 volunteers during the year, 15 of whom also help with fashion shows and workshops. It is the largest exclusively plus-size consignment event in North America, Jarvis said.
Not your average model
Like many of Curvy Chic's models, Carolyn Luff, 63, went to her first casting on a whim.
"I had recently underwent weight-loss surgery and lost about 200 pounds at the time," Luff said. "The casting call was so close to my house, I couldn't think of an excuse to not check it out."
Nervous at the casting, Luff said she reminded herself it was all for fun — "just a goof" she said.
But the ladies with Curvy Chic saw potential in Luff's self-proclaimed "dorky" walk and joyful attitude, putting her in the 2018 fall show.
"In my first show, I got to wear this gorgeous, sparkly flapper dress," Luff said. "After going through boot camp and practicing, I just let myself have fun when the time came. Whenever I felt nervous, I'd just give a little wiggle, watch my dress shine and keep going."
Have fun and keep going. That's the advice Jarvis and the many other Curvy Chic models lend to newbies.
According to Jarvis, the fashion world often turns a blind eye to those who don't conform to its narrow definition of beauty and style. But to them, being real defines beauty.
"When I was first asked to join one of the shows, I was really unsure … afraid I guess," said Curvy Chic model Teresa Hellstrom. "But everyone was so loving and embracing, I feel like I'm part of one big family now."
Though apprehensive at first, Hellstrom says she's found a special community with Curvy Chic, returning to audition for her fourth show. For her latest audition, Hellstrom was surrounded by her new modeling friends and her own 12-year-old daughter Hailey — finally eligible and ready to have her own time in the spotlight.
"It feels like I've been waiting forever to do the shows with my mom," Hailey said with an eager, excited smile.
While Hailey is new to the runway, she's not new to Curvy Chic's world. Hailey was one of many plus-size teens who participated in Curvy Chic's first ever 'You Are Enough' event this May.
Participants were able to get their makeup and hair done, dress up in local designers' clothing, have professional photos taken, and talk through difficult topics like body shaming and bullying.
"Everyone got to express themselves. It gave me more confidence and reassurance that I wasn't alone in how I look or how I feel," Hailey said. "To hear from other people who are in the same boat as me — happy with who they are — was really inspiring."
The success of this teen-only event has prompted Curvy Chic to hold its first adult 'You Are Enough' workshop with Cobalt Studios PDX on Oct. 26.
New future for fashion
Many members of the Curvy Chic family have even started to explore other modeling opportunities. Luff recently traveled to New York City on June 29 after being invited to attend the Silver Fox Model Camp. There she was able to learn more about her newly found passion and network with other models over the age of 30.
Luff was sponsored for the event, and the women at Curvy Chic set up a GoFundMe page to cover her travel and hotel costs.
"I'm just blown away by everyone's generosity," Luff said. "That's something I'm not really used to — they all believe in me so much, and for that I'm beyond grateful."
As the starting point for many plus-size models in the area, Curvy Chic's fashion shows are not just a place to display dazzling clothes. They're a place for self-growth and redefining what it means to be beautiful or handsome.
"We encourage everyone in the audiences to cheer our models on during their walks," Juarez-Sisson said. "Most of the time they're nervous, but when they get that confidence boost they start busting out their moves, and it's just amazing to watch."
That confidence is key, and as Curvy Chic continues to grow as an organization, the team hopes to instill that same boldness and self-love into everyone who crosses their path.
Curvy Chic's next fashion show is set for Sept. 28 in Portland. The organization will hold its next semiannual sale Sept. 26-29, with specific locations to be announced. More information on the gender and age inclusive group, its shows or sales can be found on its social media or website at curvychiccloset.com
Find out more
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously conflated the size of the fashion show with the consignment sale. The consignment sale is the largest of its kind in North America, according to organizers. The story has also been updated to clarify that the consignment sale is a semi-annual event.
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