Recently, I had the incredible privilege to speak with Kendra Porter, a curvy body expert and style architect. She is the founder of Honor You, a personal image consulting agency specializing in fitting fuller figures and is also the New York Market Manager for Style for Hire, an elite team of THE best stylists around the country, co-founded by the world renown, celebrity stylist Stacy London of TLC’s What Not to Wear, who also happens to be my own personal style goddess. (No joke; I literally have a shrine to her that I pray to daily).
Here’s what Kendra had to say about the world of curvy fashion:
1. Question: Why did you choose to become a stylist and what do you love most about it?
Answer: Originally, I actually wanted to open a plus-size clothing boutique. After much consideration, though, I realized I was much more interested in offering more personalized services of styling than simply having a retail store. Plus, the overhead for having a physical store was very high!
What I love most is changing people’s perspectives about their self-image; it’s not just about fashion. At Honor You, the motto is, “Honor Your Shape. Honor Your Size. HONOR YOU!” Not everything works for everybody. It’s about educating my clients; helping them understand their body shape and what silhouettes work best for their shape, then where and how to shop. My focus is on fit and not on size. When you find the right fit for your body, size simply doesn’t matter. I photograph honorees through each session to capture “before” and “after” pictures. There is a transformation that you see happen; their body language and facial expressions change and they get much happier. That’s the joy of it.
2. Question: Who was your favorite person to style and why?
Answer: Actually, I don’t have a favorite person; I have a favorite type of client, one who struggles with shopping yet is eager to learn. Women actually get giddy when we find things we like. One of my favorite memories is of when I took a client shopping who had lost 100 pounds, and was not yet comfortable in her new body, shopping for a bathing suit. I encouraged her to try on a suit that she did not think she would look good in. When she was in the dressing room, I was sitting on the other side of the door and I could sense a change in her energy. I said, “You’re dancing, aren’t you?!”, and she said “Yes! How did you know?!” Clients just get giddy. They’re excited about what they’re wearing, then they start to feel good about themselves, which is honestly how women should feel on a regular basis. That’s the joy of it; when you can see other women excited about who they are.
3. Question: What was your biggest style pet peeve?
Answer: When women do not wear the appropriate foundation garments or lack thereof. A proper-fitting bra and the right type of girdle/Spanx can make such a huge difference to any outfit! It is worth the investment. Just say no to the muffin top, the extra jiggle, and the double boob!
4. Question: What are some of your favorite stores, especially for foundation garments, and why?
Answer: For foundation garments, I’m a little spoiled — I love Marks & Spencer in England, because they are good quality, and you can look sexy and feel sexy. I don’t really have a favorite store in the U.S. Because clients span such a large range of sizes, I go to the experts and encourage women do the same. Shop at your local lingerie boutique that specialize in larger band sizes and fit smaller to fuller busts. Get fitted and spend the money for good quality. You get what you pay for, ladies!
5. Question: What do you like best about working for Style for Hire and why?
Answer: I love the network of stylists. Stacy literally hand picks stylists to join and does an incredible job at matching personalities to the culture of the organization. We all have different styles but share the same work ethic, so we get along really well. I love that we’re still able to work on our own personal projects and clients while having the opportunity to work with national corporate clients. I also love being able to focus on styling and not have to wear all the other business hats like I have to with my image consulting agency, Honor You.
6. Question: Why do you think so many designers do not want to create plus size clothes?
Answer: I have mixed feelings. Outside of those who blatantly don’t want to cater to the plus community, customers who aren’t plus-size don’t necessarily think about this market because it’s not what they relate to. Fashion is seen as aspirational. Just take a look at Vogue; high cosmopolitan, trendy, modern, edgy. I think designers create pieces for people to aspire to. The aspiration is to be thinner because that’s what this culture promotes and that’s probably why they don’t consider creating fashion for the plus-size community.
7. Question: Why do you feel that the majority of plus-size models are non-Caucasian?
Answer: I believe it’s cultural acceptance. For the minority community, Afro-American, Caribbean, Hispanic, women are curvy and heavier and we embrace that within our culture; whereas in Caucasian communities it’s not necessarily embraced. Where I live is a predominately white area and, from my experience, those clients don’t like to be classified as plus-size. Designer Ashley Stewart promotes catering to the urban market as a “plus-size retailer” (read between the lines). On the flip side, stores that cater to a more affluent community (i.e. Lord & Taylor) don’t. They call their department “American Women” and Saks calls theirs “Salon Z”.
8. Question: What would you say to critics who claim that encouraging women to accept their bodies will add to the obesity epidemic?
Answer: Body acceptance and health are two entirely different conversations and too many people tend to have them together. Body acceptance, no matter what size you are, is about loving your body, loving the skin that you’re in, and loving yourself as an individual. Health is about your stats – your cholesterol, blood pressure, exercise/activity levels, the foods that you eat, etc. What I hear a lot is the push for fat acceptance and the issue of body shaming. We don’t want people to shame our bodies because we’re a size 30, or have large arms, or whatever the case is. Even at a size 30 you can love your body while still acknowledging that you may need to lose weight or have healthier goals. At my heaviest, I was pushing a size 22 at 5’10” tall. If you’re 5’4″ and a size 22, I know it weighs on your body because I know what it felt like for my body, and that’s when health concerns need to be addressed. Even though you may know you need to lose weight for health reasons, you can still love your body. Everyone should be able to say to themselves, “As a person, I love me.”
9. Question: What are your hopes for yourself and the plus-size fashion industry over the next 5 years?
Answer: I’m excited because there has been a surge of plus-size TV shows and a push for healthier and more diverse images in the media. It would be great to see plus-size celebrities being more vocal about their own body acceptance because they wield a great deal of influence and can help encourage other people to accept their bodies, too. I also hope people talk more about “body love” at an earlier age. As a teenager, we understood what the media portrayed as beauty and we criticized ourselves, what we looked like from our hair to our bodies. I see the effects on clients who are grown women; in turn, that gets projected onto the young girls in our lives. So I hope for increased consciousness in women around body image, self love, and teaching positivity to the next generation. We were created to be amazing. A lot of what you see in the plus-size industry is very modern and very body conscious, but seems so sexual to me. We’re embracing our curves but it feels like we’re overcompensating; we seem to be saying, “I can do this just like the skinny girls can”, and it’s my biggest peeve. What I would love to see is people embracing different styles. Not everything needs to made from jersey or spandex. Be stylish and be you but be appropriate.