I’m sure by now thousands of people nation and worldwide, both Project Runway fans and beyond, know the name Ashley Nell Tipton, and like me, light up when they hear it! At Wear Your Voice, we have witnessed the undeniable outpouring of support Tipton has received from an intersection of Body Positive and Fat Activist communities, not to mention larger bodied/plus-size/fat girls and womyn who so frequently experience marginalization in the fashion world (as it often mirrors the fatphobia of society).
So many of us have been dedicated fashionista followers of this show from Season 1, and have been craving a designer who not only understands our bodies and our styles but embraces and celebrates it through her creative designs! As Season 14 winded its way down to a close with last night’s premiere of the favorite and famed New York Fashion Week Finale, joyously revealing Ashley as this season’s winner, we couldn’t be happier to share with you our exclusive interview with a womyn who doesn’t just wear her voice, but designs it beautifully as well! Read more below to hear Tipton’s thoughts on how fat womyn are disrupting the fashion industry.
I'm going to New York fashion week! Before I left San Diego to go to New York to compete on this season of Project runway, I told myself the only way I'm going back home is if I am going to New York fashion week. I did it! My tool box is all packed up and I'm ready to go home and create my dream collection for #nyfw. I can't wait to show the world how talented Ashley Nell Tipton is. #projectrunway #designerashley #lifetimetv #sandiego
Editor’s Note: Interview conducted by Rachel Otis for Wear Your Voice Magazine
WYV: First let me just say what every proud fat girl in America is most likely wanting to say to you right now: THANK YOU times infinity for representing us so beautifully and authentically, especially in a space as well-known as Project Runway where one has the power to have their designs showcased for millions of viewers on mainstream media, and congratulations on all of your success.
What did it feel like to hold a prominent title of being one of Project Runway’s only “plus size” designers?
Ashley: It’s a pretty crazy feeling…It just feels nice that I’m another person to add on to that list of being representative of the plus size industry and being on Project Runway; it’s amazing. I’ve always known I wanted to design for plus size women, but now to be this person who is representing for all plus-size women; I feel very honored to hold that title.
WYV: I have to be totally honest and say that when I first heard you were on the show, I automatically assumed that you would be given a “plus size” model and remain in that specialty wheelhouse that I know you from. Once I realized this would not be the case, I did feel a pang of disappointment on behalf of the show as I held hopes of fashion for larger bodies being consistently highlighted. How did it feel to design for “straight” sized models versus plus size womyn?
A: I might have mentioned on a couple of episodes that I struggle trying to “downsize” for a “straight body”, but I have to remember that I learned how to do “straight sizes” in school, and that’s what we practiced, and learning everything about “plus size” has been from a few teachers and myself. I don’t feel like it’s harder in any way to design for “straight sizes,” I almost feel like it’s a little easier and you have more freedom to do some things, but when it comes to plus sizes, I enjoy doing it so much that it’s not a problem. I prefer to do it, and I have fun with it.
WYV: How do you feel about the term plus size in general?
A: I don’t, because my main focus is to provide clothing for women in different sizes. This is the term “plus size” that I’ve always used, and I’m not really here to define a word that we use in this industry. The main focus is that we need to have clothing for ourselves, and then later we can figure out what the best term to use for this industry. But, for right now, I just use “plus size” because that’s the clearer vision that people are going to understand – I’m not going to get technical where “this is full figured,” “this is curvy,” “this is voluptuous;” whatever people want to call it, they can call it, but my main focus is just making clothing for this industry.
WYV: Currently, I’m spearheading a social media campaign, #FuckFatPhobia, which addresses the societally pervasive disease of fatphobia (resulting in the constant act of fat shaming, negative stereotyping, and daily microaggressions). Can you share with readers one instance of fat phobia that you’ve experienced in your life and what you did to overcome it?
A: I think just making the decision to put myself “out there” by deciding to be part of this huge hit tv show (Project Runway) is an example of deciding I wasn’t going to let my insecurities inhibit my future! I decided to go after what I wanted – no matter who has told me I couldn’t have it, in my past.
WYV: I noticed that this season on Project Runway, designers didn’t have a chance to choose fabric from the famous MOOD until the 4th episode – what did it feel like to land in such an iconic location in real life after watching it on TV for so long, and subsequently how do you avoid overwhelm in these fabric situations?!
A: I definitely have more fun when there is restriction. Meaning, when we’re given the assignment to work with a fabric that was given to us on the first challenge (when we had to choose our fabric on the stand), and then on the third challenge to be given materials to work with – I enjoy those challenges more because it really makes you test your creativity and push the boundaries to think outside the box, and those are the challenges I enjoy the best. Going into Mood is a lot of fun, but it’s very overwhelming because there are so many fabrics that your creative mind just goes on overload, and you don’t know how to make a decision on what fabric to choose. So that’s why I enjoy what materials they give me to work with, so I can figure it out. I like to solve puzzles, and that’s my thing.
WYV: I must admit, your Polaroid dress was probably my favorite design of the whole season, do you have a favorite look you created from this season?
A: The Polaroid dress was my favorite, too!
WYV: What happens to your designs after the show? Are you able to keep any of them?
A: Even better than my keeping them, all of the designs are auctioned off after each episode, at projectrunway.com with proceeds going to charity!
WYV: How can we get our bodies in your clothes!?
A: Right now we are working on a couple of special projects that aren’t released just yet, but if everybody wants to go onto ashleynelltipton.com and just check it out, we’ll be more than happy to update everyone who leaves their email address.
WYV: Do you have an ultimate vision for the fashion future of plus sized womyn?
A: I would love for plus size women also to be trendsetters. I don’t want us just to follow what the trends are. I want other women of any size or other men of any size to be inspired by what we do and what our message is and what we’re trying to get across. We should just be treated as equals and not define ourselves because of our sizes. We should have everything else that everyone else does.
WYV: Yes! When you envision your own line, I hear you saying that you want to design clothes for all bodies, which makes me think of something that I’ve always wondered the possibility of: can a line finally exist that goes from a “standard size,” up to a “plus size” and beyond where we can all be wearing the same clothes and not have so much division!?
A: Definitely. I feel like there is a future of having a collection for all sizes, all shapes; it just takes that one person to do it, and I want to be that person to be create clothing in all size ranges. Even if it comes down to having a unisex collection where men and women could be wearing it. One day I would love to be able to create men’s clothing as well – I just don’t want to have any boundaries in my designs.
WYV: Before completing our conversation, I must ask you what the phrase #WearYourVoice means to you as a womyn and a designer when you hear it?
A: I feel like that’s expressing yourself with body language and the clothing you wear!
WYV: Right on! That’s what we are all about!
While myself and team Wear Your Voice were in awe of the talent of all of Project Runway’s Season 14 Finalists, we can’t deny how thrilled we are to finally announce Ashley Nell Tipton as the winner. She had our hearts and our fashion senses captivated since episode one, and we can’t wait to see what great fashion heights she will soar to from here!