Monif Clarke is the CEO & Founder of Monif C. Plus Sizes, a contemporary plus size ready-to-wear clothing brand. Founded in 2005, Monif C. is geared towards the fashion savvy, modern day plus size woman who desires clothing that fits her diverse lifestyle whether it’s business, travel or leisure. Prior to launching the business, Monif Clarke earned her B.A. in Math and Computer Science at Rutgers University. Originally slated for a career in the non-profit sector, her frustration with the lack of stylish contemporary plus size clothing and a chance trip to London inspired her to start her own company.
Before her brand got on the scene, she said marketers would use words like “slimming,” and “lose 10 pounds with this dress.”
“And I didn’t want that. I wanted to be sexy and curvaceous. I wanted my clothes to fit,” Clarke said.
When Clarke tried to sell her trendy plus-size designs to retailers, the response was always the same.
“They would say, ‘You know if it was in straight size, we would put it on the rack, but because it’s in plus-size, no one’s gonna buy it,'” Clarke said.
Clarke took her business online. It was a convertible dress that launched her sales, but it’s interaction with clients on social media like Facebook and Instagram that’s helped sustain it. Last year her revenue was upward of $1 million. Her dresses costs about $125 on average.
“This is a customer that’s vocal and she knows what she wants and she’s not hiding behind the black and the brown and the slimming,” Clarke said.
That customer includes about 64 percent of American women who fall into the plus-size category, but account for only 17 percent of purchases. While more of them are appearing in ad campaigns, red carpets and even the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, experts say plus-sized women are still viewed as having negative perceptions about their bodies.
“Culturally they’ve been made to feel like they shouldn’t splurge on themselves because all they need to do is lose that 20 pounds and then ‘Aren’t you going to wish that you’d waited until you bought that?'” New York Times style editor Katherine Rosman said.
But at photo shoots for Plus Model Magazine, the opposite is true. There, the model celebrates her size without holding back. Editor Madeline Jones said the online publication is popular because it addresses what everyone else is ignoring.
“Everyone is kind of shying away from the term ‘plus-size.’ Plus-size models do not want to be called plus-size. Plus-size brands do not want to be called plus-size. In the meantime, you want our plus-size dollars, but you don’t want to be called plus-size. That’s a problem,” Jones said.
Jones said that problem is why high-end fashion designers have been hesitant to create plus-size lines. For designers like Clarke, business is booming — it’s already doubled from last year.
She said the same retailers that laughed at her idea initially, have come back with interest.
“It was kind of like, ‘What do you mean they want to show their bodies instead of hide their bodies?’ And so a lot of them are calling now and say, ‘You know, can we work together?’ and I think that bodes well for where the brand is going to go,” Clarke said.
Despite the fact that major retailers like Target and Old Navy now carry plus-size lines, it’s the world of high fashion where many advocates say the deficit remains.