Name: Maui Bigelow
Claim To Fame: Bigelow is the founder and producer of the Annual Lifestyled Honors event.
Models aren’t exactly known for their selflessness. But Maui Bigelow isn’t your average model. The influencer, producer, essayist and proud cancer survivor is fine to hit the occasional red carpet, or catwalk, as long as she can bring a few of her sisters with her.
“I never want to be in a space or in a situation where I am not serving women and girls,” Bigelow told HelloBeautiful.
She is the first model in the history of HelloBeautiful’s Model Monday to request that other models images be included in her feature to give them a chance to start collecting press images.
When major brands like JC Penney and Ashley Stewart began courting Bigelow for campaigns and partnerships she shifted the spotlight to those around her. In 2014 she founded the annual Life Styled Honors Event to bring the kind of access and excellence that is usually reserved for coastal crowds to the South.
“What really pushed me to want to do this show is because there were so many different women from diverse backgrounds who were doing so many dope things, but nobody was celebrating it. I won’t say there weren’t any events, but there weren’t any big ones.”
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Bigelow respected the grassroots efforts of others but she felt that southern consumers deserved to have an experience just as glamorous as the ones had by women in New York and Los Angeles. She found it unfair that some people had less access to the career of their choice simply because they happened to be born below the Mason-Dixon line.
She wanted to bring an “example,” of what a “nice plus size fashion show could be,” home.
“There were a lot of shows that were kind of like, gimmicky. They will just throw away plus-size women in as opposed to embracing the fashion, embracing the beauty, of all those women. So I wanted to create something in the South that would be nice and well respected and something that spoke to who I was.”
Bigelow showed who she was by putting in the work. “I’m a nerd girl, so I read everything and I pay attention to everything, and I learned from research,” she said.
She supplemented her research throughout the years with the knowledge that she acquired on sets. Every time her photo was snapped or her image was recorded, she was silently stewing.
“They want to do a shoot with me or they want me to create content around the brand. I make it my business to pay attention.”
Each non-disclosure agreement, call sheet, and approved copy template seared into her brain.
“My first sponsored content was with JCPenney. They were doing the Ashley Nell Tipton collection after she won Project Runway. They pushed for influencers, to celebrate the brand, talk about the brand and things of that nature. And that was my first job.”
Bigelow passed along the knowledge she acquired through her popularity to the aspiring models who would show up to her casting calls.
“I didn’t know how to execute, but I have always known that my purpose was connected to women and girls. And so no matter what I do, no matter what space I’m in, I’m always tied to women and girls.”
Instead of twirling in the spotlight solo she curated and counseled those who sought it.
“I wanted to give an opportunity to girls who were at the calls, but also make sure they understood the importance of them showing up for themselves. Making sure they had a good comp card, making sure that their social media was clean, and were understanding that because somebody has a camera and a business card it doesn’t mean that they’re a photographer that is good and respected and has good intentions, because there are a lot of people coming into the plus-size industry.”
It didn’t matter where the girls were from, who they knew, or how many followers they had she received them with a spirit of sisterhood.
She also used the platform to honor the names she saw not being uplifted in mainstream fashion.
“I still to this day feel like Liris Crosse does not get the attention and the work that she deserves,” said Bigelow. Crosse was one of the event’s earliest honorees.
This year she is honoring a crew of Black women who were at the forefront of the body positivity movement including Brandi Victorian, Brandi Mallory, Akira Armstrong, Rochelle Johnson, Gabri Gregg, and Kristine Thompson.
Another groundbreaking honoree is Devorah Story. A model who once walked in the event and is now one of the most recognizable faces on the plus-size market.
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Every year she fights to make the event more useful to attendees with the help of sponsors like Lane Bryant, Eloquii, Carol’s Daughter, and Livi Rae Lingerie. She supports locals designers who might not be able to get the capital required to show with the CDFA and provide attendees with access to information that will better equip them to search for their own turn in the spotlight.
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She continues to sound the alarm for the women featured in her shows every time she is asked to tell her own story or flaunt her own style.
“My understanding is that if I show up for myself and I do some work, then someone else might show up one day and be inspired and be empowered to do their work.”