fatty winter wonderland wear your voice liz vogt swap

This last Saturday in downtown Oakland, the plus-size clothing swap and fashion bazaar Fatty Winter Wonderland went off without a hitch. The brainchild of local fat activist Virgie Tovar and Halmoni owner Natasha Harden, the event was buzzing with a positive energy and humming with excitable chatter among the attendees. It took place on Broadway in The Flight Deck, a homey performance gallery and art space.

There were 4 style and art vendors in attendance, as well as a snack table, a therapist offering chair massages, a table full of prizes for the raffle, and a tray of cupcakes frosted with the motto “Fuck Diets.”

virgie tovar natasha harden

Cute overload.

I pulled Virgie and Natasha aside for quick interviews before they got too bogged down in raffle tickets and enthused fans. I’d never met Virgie in person before, and upon arriving was told to look for the woman in the doughnut dress. It was, indeed, a showstopper. Upon first glance, I took it to be a funky-fresh, belted cotton dress, but when I asked about it, she revealed it to be two identical sweatshirts that she DIY’d into a skirt and shirt set.

She explained, “For plus-sized women, in particular, it can be very difficult to find a perfect piece that fits you. And you know that you’ll love it, and it’ll make you feel great when you put it on, but it just wasn’t made for your body. And so I really encourage women to not treat the garment like it’s sacred. We’re allowed to cut it and snip it and rip out the seams!”

dress rack fatty winter wonderland

So, why a clothing swap? I asked her.

“Clothing swaps have been a touchstone of the fat community for years now,” Virgie said. “I’ve done about 10 in the last 3 years. There are a lot of reasons that clothing swaps are so powerful. It’s a space of healing for being shut out of the fashion industry. A lot of women who grew up fat felt left out of girlhood, and swaps are a way to heal. They’re also a community-based, anti-capitalist way of engaging with expression! Clothing is, in many ways, bigger than just consumer culture. It’s a way to be political, to demand visibility. And finally, it’s a chance to be in a space where everyone has a body like yours! Some women just don’t feel comfortable going into a store where they fear they’ll be looked at funny, or treated in a certain way.”

clothes swap fatty winter wonderland

As Natasha sailed by with a roll of raffle tickets, I flagged her down for a few questions, too.

fatty winter wonderland swap wyv

How did this event get started?

Natasha: Now that I’m in my third year of business at Halmoni Vintage, I know that I don’t want to be in the shop all the time. So within the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking about all the goals that I want to achieve. So I said to myself: ok, how do I get out of this entrepreneur silo? I get into this space where I can’t do everything I want to, explore all of my ideas, because it’s just me in there. So I reached out to Virgie, because we’d done a fat-positive book reading together last year. I said, “Hey! I need to get out of my silo, you want to up your businesswoman game: let’s pair up.”

So I took my Naked Lady Soiree, and combined it with Virgie’s expertise in fat-positive ideas like creating space and creating community, and it came together from there.

fatty accessories

Are you going to do more of these events together in the future?

I think of Virgie as my entrepreneurial soul sister. When you’re an entrepreneur, you need help. You can’t do it all yourself, or you get burned out. Planning this event was different from anything I’ve done before: I reached out to sponsors, I got businesses to donate clothes, I had to plan a raffle…So I feel like this has opened up a new chapter for me. I’m excited about what I can do the next time, now that we’re established. I’m over the hump of “what-ifs,” of being afraid. Now it’s like, ‘Let’s do this shit!’ ”

What do you want today’s attendees to take away from Fatty Winter Wonderland?

I want everyone who came here to not only feel welcome, but to feel like everything here was built around them, that they are literally a part of this. Almost everything to do with fashion is never geared towards plus-sized women, so that’s what today is about! I want fat women to feel like they can rock it out as much as anyone else.

less patriarchy more cupcakes fatty winter wonderland

A very wise tote bag that some lucky lady won in the raffle.

How did you and Virgie start collaborating?

Twitter! It was right after my shop flooded in its second year, and I was thinking about what to do to kickstart our reopening with an event. And now that I’ve had my shop for three years, I’ve figured out who I really want my customers to be: plus-sized women. So my business partner connected us on Twitter.

Everyone keeps talking about social media today. Thoughts?

Pretty much all of the sponsors I reached out to were found through social media! I just kept searching hashtags for fat fashion, body positive, anything like that in the Bay Area. It’s how I found businesses like Hips and Curves, Making It Big, even Deb, who’s doing massages today.

fatty winter wonderland wear your voice

After allowing Natasha and Virgie to return to their fans, I had a chance to take a closer look at the vendors and their wares. The first booth I stopped at featured these gorgeous accessories, handmade by Luz Sylvia, owner of the indie shop Lupita Florals. She told me she’d gotten connected with this event through social media (this was definitely the theme of the night.)

luz sylvia florals

Luz Sylvia

lunita florals

lunita florals fatty winter

Another booth was covered in lovely vintage-y jewelry, by GloriB Buttons. (Yep, another social media connect.)

glori b buttons

And from further afield, Feminine Funk of Fairfield, who focus on funky t-shirts with positive, confident mottos for plus-sized women.

feminine funk wear your voice

Another fabulous raffle prize. Great name for a coloring book, or GREATEST name?

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I also had a chance to speak with Rachel Otis, who was photographing the event. In keeping with the day’s trend, she had heard about the event through the social media grapevine.

rachel otis

Photographer Rachel Otis

“I’d talked to Virgie a few times in the past,”  Rachel told me. “This is a community I want to become more immersed in, so I offered my services as a photographer.” I asked if she was here purely in that capacity, or if she was able to enjoy the actual swap as a participant as well.

 

“I’m trying to balance my photography today with my total high at being surrounded by this many clothes that might be in my size! And being surrounded by women who look like me? There’s something therapeutic in that,” she said. “It feels like [the fat-positive movement] is something that’s very needed right now. And I think it’s being fueled by social media: things like Instagram and Twitter are helping give women a voice and a way to reclaim their bodies…I used to roll my eyes at the concept of hashtags, but it’s really serving as a connector for all these women from different places, about a topic that the mainstream media was kind of ignoring.”

 

clothing swap trying on fatty winter wonderland
So spread the word that there’s a new power couple in the fat community! Fatty Winter Wonderland was but a start for Virgie and Natasha; they’re pairing up again soon for Celebrate Your Body 2015. I can’t think of a better way to ring in a new year.

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