Isabel de Villiers with models
Over the past few months we’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the runways of New York, London and Paris fashion weeks to see creations from some of the top international designers.

But a fashion show is not just the clothes, it’s just as much about the hair, make-up, accessories and most important, the models showing them off.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing tall waif-like models which most women are unable to identify with. However this year it was refreshing to see more designers using fuller figured women on the catwalk. It seems designers are finally creating more garments to accommodate “normal” women.

At New York fashion week Michael Kors used plus-sized model Ashley Graham, who confidently showed off her curves in one of his pieces.

Even Dolce & Gabbana featured models who didn’t fit the usual runway model profile at their show. Not only in size but age as well.

In South Africa our designers are designing with the voluptuous woman in mind. Gone are the days when the plus-sized woman’s wardrobe was limited to oversized tent tops and shapeless dresses. Now women have more options regardless of the size of their waistlines.

Ruff Tung’s Ludwig Bausch and Bridget Pickering. Pic: Brendan Magaar

I spoke to Ruff Tung designers Bridget Pickering and Ludwig Bausch about how they manage to create pieces for women of all shapes and sizes.

“Part of our design process is to always ask – what can we offer our Ruff Tung woman in her busy life that will add to her confidence by giving her an easy sense of style and comfort,” explains Pickering.

“When we play around with our styles, we create a persona for each style and give them names like Amber, Molly, Talia.”

“We chat about how much frock longevity our customer will get out of wearing ‘her’, we talk about what ‘she’ does for a living, is she a busy mom or a working woman. Can she wear her item to work, and to pick up the kids from school yet with a simple change of accessories and shoes will she be able to go a social function or date?”

OPTIONS: The Talia dress of Ruff Tung’s creations can be worn various ways.

One such style (or persona) is Talia. Talia can be manipulated into so many different styles – long, short, off the shoulder or as a top.

“We always say that if you can’t wear a Ruff Tung dress at least two ways then we aren’t doing our job properly or you haven’t been shown how to wear ‘her’,” Pickering adds.

Designer Isabel de Villiers says it was natural for her to launch a label that catered for women of all shapes and sizes in South Africa. “We are proud to be a body positivity brand,” says De Villiers.

Isabel de Villiers. Pic: Brendan Magaar

“I want women to feel confident, brave, beautiful and ready to conquer the world when they are in one of our garments.”

“Flattering styles updated with colour blocking, laser cut trims with added extras like pockets and clever multi-wear features will become an essential part of your wardrobe.”

When asked about her own personal style De Villiers said she was her brand.

“I live in the collections. It’s all me. I am a dress and sneakers girl – always on the run so comfort is key to my day-to-day life.”

Model, Thuthula Mngenela who has been plus-size all her life, believes that women have more options to choose from now, compared with ten years ago.

Thuthula Mngenela 

“There are young designers who have realised that not all women are a size 32. These designers make garments which cater for all shapes and sizes – which is changing the narrative entirely.”

“Not only are they changing the dynamic in fashion but, I think, in society as well. Plus-size women like me are confident and not afraid to flaunt their curves, thick thighs and belly rolls. It’s not only about fashion and looking pretty but it’s reprogramming of the mind – which, for years, has been brainwashed into believing that thin is the only size,” says Mngenela.

She does, however, feel that plus-size fashion needs to become more commercialised.

“Accessibility is a major factor. You find that many plus-size women don’t have access to one-of-a-kind designer items. We need to see more real size 48 women walking down the ramps at fashion shows. We must all realise that it’s not just about looking good, but about having a positive body image and fighting against body shaming”.

Meg de Jong

MindTheCurves blogger and plus-size model, Meg de Jong, is very exciting to see that the plus size fashion industry in South Africa is growing but that it still has a long way to go.

“Plus size women deserve access to affordable, trendy clothing as much as women of any other body type.

“Plus size fashion is still treated as a niche and is priced accordingly. We have a desperate need for plus size clothing for women with all budgets,” says De Jong.

Even though De Jong feels that the industry is only at the beginning of this journey, she is excited that the plus-size fashion market is finally being acknowledged.