Venus Williams and Lizzo speak onstage during the #TeeUpChange Campaign Launch Hosted By Dia&Co and CFDA at theCURVYcon on September 7, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Daniel Zuchnik (Getty Images for Dia & Co)

As more and more designers are including are including fuller-figured models on their runways (Cushnie, Christian Siriano, Prabal Gurung and the always inclusive Chromat, to name a few), it’s easy to applaud the fashion world for finally taking notice of the fact that big girls (surprise!) like to be well-dressed, too.

But Cece Olisa and Chastity Garner Valentine, co-founders of The Curvy Con, have been at the forefront of the push for inclusive fashion. Their annual event, which celebrated its fourth year September 6-8 (its second during New York Fashion Week), brings together the very best plus-sized celebrities, bloggers, models, influencers and brands for a three-day weekend—and one very inspiring message.

This year’s keynote speaker? Academy Award-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe, who hilariously dropped several gems on The Curvy Con crowd about authenticity—and showed off some singing skills not generally seen on Empire.

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Also on hand? Venus Williams, who joined event sponsor Dia & Co (with whom she just launched a new collaboration) and the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) to talk size inclusive fashion alongside designer Tracy Reese and entertainer and body positive icon, Lizzo. Other Curvy Con participants included Alex LaRosa (model and blogger), Ashley Nell Tipton (designer/Project Runway winner), GooGoo Atkins (celebrity stylist), Grisel Paula (model/creator of Rebdolls), Hayet Rida (influencer), Brie and Nikki Bella (WWE, Total Divas), Nia Jax (WWE), Rochelle Johnson and more.

Olisa and Valentine, both influencers in their own right, recently spoke with Vogue about their motivation for creating The Curvy Con, which they initially funded through fundraising and selling clothes out of their own closets. Speaking on the still-pervasive dearth of accessible and attractive clothing for the full figure market, Olisa said:

“We get interesting events, interesting shopping experiences, trips, and things like that, but our readers and our followers are still struggling to find a pair of jeans in their hometown.”

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The Curvy Con’s 2017 move to NYFW was a strategic one, according to Valentine. “We want to be a part of that conversation, and that’s where fashion takes place. We moved [dates] to stake our claim.”

And while the event initially launched without sponsors, growing via word of mouth, retailers quickly caught wind of the tremendous opportunity Olisa and Valentine were offering. In addition to the numerous workshops, panels and breakout sessions offered during the long weekend, also included were pop-up shops from Dia & Co., Macy’s, ModCloth, JCPenney, Lane Bryant, Rachel Roy and more, creating an on-site “hub for plus size fashion” (as described in a press release); Ann Taylor LOFT even staged a runway show in addition to their pop-up boutique.

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“The brands that are coming for our pop-up shops are selling out of their inventory and wishing they had brought more stuff,” Olisa told Vogue.“It’s doing a lot to shake up the misconception that plus-size women don’t want nicer things or fashion that pushes the envelope.”

Notably, The Curvy Con’s commitment to inclusive fashion is just that; women of all sizes are invited to participate—and do, at all levels. The message is self love—as exemplified by the #TeeUpChange message tee fashion show staged by Dia & Co. over the weekend (more on that to come). It’s a mission everyone should be able to get behind.

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“It shouldn’t just be plus-size women who care about plus-size fashion, inclusivity, and body positivity,” said Olisa. “It should be all women, and we’re excited to put our stake in that philosophy.”