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.”
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!”
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.”
As Natasha sailed by with a roll of raffle tickets, I flagged her down for a few questions, too.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Another booth was covered in lovely vintage-y jewelry, by GloriB Buttons. (Yep, another social media connect.)
And from further afield, Feminine Funk of Fairfield, who focus on funky t-shirts with positive, confident mottos for plus-sized women.
Another fabulous raffle prize. Great name for a coloring book, or GREATEST name?
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.