Show of hands: Who here has walked into a store and felt the sting of anxiety because your size was nowhere to be found. Hun, you’re not alone. For too many women, it’s an all too common experience. For plus-size fashion designer Ashley Nell Tipton, it was time to do something about it. You may know her from Project Runway fame as Season 14’s barrier-breaking winner. We know her as the mega talent behind the best bodysuits in curvy fashion ever.
Tipton credits her success, in part, to “being in the right movement at the right time.” But more than that, she was the right woman to be the change and bring the change that helped propel the movement toward greater size inclusivity in fashion today. We recently caught up with her on her new Love YOU collection, the worst bra she’s ever worn and how she deals with negativity.
Being one of the Project Runway designers put you on the map in a big way, but your passion for fashion started way before then. How did you make that dream a reality?
Hard work, persistence and a bit of being in the right movement at the right time!
What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge I constantly encounter is the fight against perceptions. Fat people are lazy, Fat people are weak, Fat people don’t exercise….it’s almost as if we don’t deserve to live our lives the way we want. The negative comments on my social media are constant reminders that we have a long way to go to change hearts and minds. When 67% of the American public are “plus size”....this shouldn’t be as big of a challenge as it is.
The triumphs come every day in little ways. A kind word. A new idea. A laugh with my staff. (I have the greatest team anyone could want!).
What’s a morning in the life of Ashley Nell Tipton like on a typical day?
I like to start the day with something physical. Working out, walking, or maybe a stretch. Then coffee, meet with the team and plan what our outcomes for the day/week will be. Then, time for action!
Who are your heroes?
I admire a lot of people, but my real heroes are those people who have made a big difference in my life. My Grandmother who inspired me to create, my teachers who taught me the skills I lacked, my friends who support me through the tough times and good times, and my family who showed me what “love” really is!
Tell us about your clothing line. What inspired you to pursue plus-size fashion?
I am constantly being inspired by life and my environment. A TV show. A friend's post. Political movements...Just today seeing Ashley Graham on covers of major fashion publications is inspiring to me because it shows we are making progress in our quest for acceptance and self-love.
Who do you have in mind when you create your collections?
I always have my fans in mind when I create! I realize I need to create those items that are fun, fit great and will be comfortable and affordable.
And, of course, which pieces are your favorites that we *need* now?
Any of my tee dresses, circle skirts or bodysuits!
A lot of our readers can relate to the frustration of wanting trendy plus-size fashion, but just not finding the same options and quality available to sub-14 women. What led you to do something about it and create your own?
Just that—I had few limited choices and decided that I needed to change that paradigm. I remember going shopping as a child and my only real options were men’s clothing at JCPenney (how fulfilling it was to design for them!). I realized that if I was going to wear something that I could love I was going to create it myself.
How do you think the fashion industry is doing now in terms of body representation and inclusion?
There is improvement — incremental but improvement. We have a long way to go, and I am honored to be a voice in that movement. I think there are more brands willing to take a chance and design for the “plus” market. Like JCPenny. With a reach across the entire US, they’re a testament to the change in the industry.
What’s next in the Ashley Nell Tipton fashion universe? Any exciting collabs or launches in the future we should have on our radar?
I am working on my own couture collection that you can find at www.balodana.com. I’m really focused on getting a message of self-love out there. Self-love and care are the most important platforms for me because I realize the shaming and hatred that still exists. I really want people to get that there is nothing wrong with them the way they are and to not care about what other people think of them.
I can say with 100-percent certainty that my first bra shopping experience ranks as one of the most traumatizing moments in my girlhood — I felt awkward in my body and worse with every bra I tried on for the next 10+ years.Do you remember your first bra? Love it? Hate it?
Hated it…hated it…my mom put me in a bra that was so painful and I felt exposed. No longer a little girl but pushed into adulthood. I was at Walmart and my mom thought I needed to get a “grown up” bra. She put me into a cone bra with no underwire. I didn’t fill the bra up, but I remember thinking, there was no turning back because my body was growing...but is this really the best they can do???
Do you think there is a connection between what we wear and how we see ourselves? Can a good bra make that a better relationship?
Of course! I think everything we wear — makeup, clothing, hair style — has an impact on our self image.
Speaking of bras, do you have a favorite Glamorise bra?
The Elite Underwire sports bra!! It fits great and feels even better!
What’s something you hear from your fans over and over again that keeps you motivated?
Thanks for making a difference!
What’s one thing you wish you would’ve known when you were younger that you want every girl to know?
Other people’s opinions are just that…and they don’t have to make a negative impact in my life. To not care what other people think has been the key to my success!
We talk about “community” a lot. But that word has taken on a whole new meaning in our digitally connected world. Do you think this has helped the body-positive movement?
Yes I do, but it can also be a source of pain. The movement comes with different philosophies and like with clothes, “one size does NOT fit all”! I was amazed at how much hate I received when I made the personal decision to have bypass surgery. The realization that my own community could not allow me to make my own choices when all we talk about is personal choice was a wake-up call for me for how far we still have to go.
How do you work through the negativity with media or people just not there yet with body acceptance?
I have learned that other people's opinions are just that...opinions. We all have the freedom to have them. I now have the freedom to not let them affect me. I’ve also learned that the more I accept who I am, the more freedom I have to change (if “I” want!).
We’re so glad we have your voice here to keep this movement growing in a positive direction! Just a few more just-for-fun questions before we wrap up.
What was the last thing you dreamed of?
A combination of Disney fantasy and Glow!!
Any go-to self-love hacks you want to share with our readers?
Anything by Robert Fritz.
And because we all need to know, which artist is at the top Ashley Nell Tipton’s workout playlist right now?