Rarely have I had the honor or privilege to meet someone that only stands for something amazing and powerful, but does so with such grace and kindness as with Gwen Devoe.
If you have not heard of this intriguing woman, than certainly you have heard of the many things she’s doing and has done for the plus-size community. Last year she produced and launched one of the most talked events in the plus-size industry since the leggings made a comeback. The event better known as Full Figured Fashion Week. Check out the interview HelloBeautiful’s, Alyssa Manners had with Gwen as she discusses the hardship of the fashion industry, and why she finally said “enough was enough.”
Alyssa Manners: What made you decide to get into the fashion industry?
Gwen Devoe: Well, there were a lot of reasons. The first official reason is, I began as a freelance plus-size model myself. I began modeling with my best friend, Sharon Quinn. Sharon and I were very, very different. Our mannerisms are different. We look different, and it just became obvious to me that, though I was a great runway walker, back then, and even now, you only made money doing print work for plus-sizes because no one was really ready to see big girls on the runway. Even on the local circuit, I realized was going to make any money at it. I photograph okay, but I need some Photoshop! (laughs) On the other hand, my girlfriend was just flawless. Even in photo booths, she always looked like she had on make-up and was just amazingly flawless. And this is the one thing I teach aspiring plus-size models. You have to know your role, and where you fit in. You must be honest with yourself. Don’t let someone discourage you, but you have to be honest with yourself first. The second reason was I got “taken” by a “manager” for several thousand dollars, and it really hurt me because the information that she gave me was information I could have found out on my own. So I came up with my own conclusion. I could still be apart of the fashion industry, but doing something I was better equipped to do, but I just don’t want to be a model. So I stopped modeling, started producing and representing plus-size [models]. And I didn’t start with just plus-sizes, I just produced regular fashion shows.
Alyssa Manners- You also produced Full-Figure Fashion Week (FFFW). What was the final push that told you, ‘Ok, I need to do this”?
Gwen Devoe- I actually came up with the concept four years ago. The issue was trying to get sponsorship. Everyone I spoke with was like, ‘Yea, this is a great idea,” but no one was willing to take the chance to do it. I wanted it to rival ‘Seventh on Sixth.’ I wanted it to be just like a regular Fashion Week, not a booty show or just a local show. I wanted it to be huge! But with that, comes money, and no one was willing to back me. So I had to save for it and put out my own money. And that’s exactly what I did. Two years before [the launch of FFFW], I got two major sponsors. But the ceiling fell, and we were on the verge of going into a recession, and they pulled out. So here I am with the concept, everything ready with no money. So I held off for a year, saved up my money, until some people were willing to aid in the cause, and gain sponsoring.
Alyssa Manners- How did you finally get organizations to sponsor you?
Gwen Devoe- People would just go to my website, and fill out sponsorship packages. There are steps and stages to everything I do. People are so quick to judge and criticize. Like, “Oh it should’ve been this or that way.” It was EXACTLY how it should’ve been for the launch. But you watch! 2010, they aren’t ready! I’m comfortable now, and I know that the concept is ripe and it should be done well. The issue is how many people are willing to invest and make it happen in a big way? And unfortunately, I realizing that for this year, I am going to have to go far beyond the limits of the plus industry to get adequate sponsorship. There are so many businesses in the plus industry that are suffering. They don’t always have the resources to invest in something a major as this.
Alyssa Manners- And what can FFFW offer the “big ticket” sponsors?
Gwen Devoe- The fact that you and I, as thick women already know, plus-size women are loyal. A woman like me, five feet, eleven inches, wearing between a size 16 and 18 depending on the cut. When we go shopping, we know our brands, we know what works for us, and we become patrons of those brands. So if I can get businesses that want to offer services to the full-figured community, I think that would be a great opportunity to show them that these consumers are loyal and your brand will do well.
Alyssa Manners- What are your favorite plus-size lines and designers?
Gwen Devoe- I don’t have any, isn’t that sad? In terms of shopping, since I use to model, I still have clothes with tags on them. My style is classic with a little funk. Honey, I’ll throw on a piece that’s ten years old, and you’ll think it’s so fresh. No, it’s just been hanging out in my closet. Special occasion clothing, I have designers that I’ve worked with for a long time, and I’ll go to them, and get something custom made. Stores like Lane Bryant, sorry not feeling you ever! Ashley Stewart, Torrid, Fashion to Figure, they’re doing the best that they can. But I want to talk to the people who are designing the pieces, and one thing to the credit of Ashley Stewart is that they’re working hard. The actually debuted they Fall 2009 Collection at FFFW, and their stuff was amazing! Now you see all these women with liquid leggings and Ashley Stewart deserves the credit for bringing that to us.
Alyssa Manners- How do you feel about mainstream, typically skinnier sized stores like, Forever 21, and their “Faith 21” Lines that cater to plus-size women?
Gwen Devoe- I think it’s a plus, and I can tell you straight out of the gate that I’ve heard some things about it in regard to the fashions not being as “fashionable” as the regular store. One thing I’m sorry to see in terms of the consumers is that we have b*&@h-ed, moaned, and complained so much that it’s become almost impossible to please us. I just wish we were more accepting. And there are some who are like, ‘I’m not going to be grateful for things I don’t like.” And ok, I understand that, but I still feel when you have a store like Forever 21 who is acknowledging that they need to open the parameters up, in the end, it just makes good business sense. I don’t understand. I just think that, going back to your article, we’ve complained so much that opportunities are arising where we have more fashion choices, that now we’re becoming picky. And that’s good, but we have to become careful because it could go back to the way things were, and we all know we don’t want that. We need to be gracious and not as complaining. What appeals to one person, may not appeal to another, and that’s okay.
Alyssa Manners- Will there ever be a place for plus-size women on the haute couture runways?
Gwen Devoe- Most definitely! Are you kidding me?! (chuckles) Definitely, but again, what are we talking about here? Are we talking about fashion shows or real life? Can we get just a few stores [to start with] that we can walk into, NOT GO ONLINE, and find, for example, ten stores that carry a simple black dress in our sizes? After we start with that, how about a business suit? A party dress? A nice pair of jeans? We have time for couture. My job is to provide additional fashion choices for the real, street fashionistas. The couture divas are a little bit later. I wish we could go to the stores, go through a sea of racks, and say, ‘Oh, I come back later.’ We don’t do that! We’ve got to get our stuff right now, then pay an additional 20 to 25 dollars in alterations. That’s how we do it.
Alyssa Manners- So aside from FFFW, I know you also manage models and run a bootcamp.
Gwen Devoe- I only manage a select group of models because honestly, models don’t need managers. I am currently managing these eight models because during FFW I wanted to marry aspiring models who were struggling with agency-contracted models to prove there was no disparity between the two, and prove that these aspiring models had the talent to be hired as agency models as well. So I told them that if they worked with me, and listened to what I told them, that within a year they could be in my show, and get paid the same rate as the agency girls. But that’s not really what I do. Again, models don’t need managers, they need a great booking agent that has your best interests at heart.
Alyssa Manners- What’s your bootcamp consist of? How do you become involved in the bootcamp?
Gwen Devoe- Well the “Ready To Runway” workshop is a bootcamp that was founded through my Plus Academy. The Plus Academy is a full service training program for aspiring plus-size models and young women. Because we’re based in New York, we kept having people email and contacting us from other parts of the country who wanted to be apart of “The Plus Academy.” So we developed “Ready To Runway,” which is a four hour “how-to” training program with notable plus-size model trainers in the industry. We also created “Project Curves,” a day-long workshop that is a condensed version of what we provide in the Plus Academy. We talk to you about what it takes to be in the industry, and they are looking for right now. Cause honey, we always have our finger on the pulse of this business. That’s the key to a successful; knowing exactly what’s going on and now, and more importantly what’s to come.
To find out more about Gwen Devoe or to get involved with The Plus Academy, click here!
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