This week’s StyleCrush is the incredible plus-size model and singer, Kanda Mbenza-Ngoma. Northwest born and raised, the talented jazz singer turned plus-size model has been the face of several ad campaigns, including the most recent Beth Ditto collection, and has appeared in Vogue.
On top of her modeling and fashion careers, Mbenza-Ngoma also co-hosts a podcast called The Conversation With Kanda and Jason. Read more about this brilliant talent.
Name: Kanda Mbenza-Ngoma
Location: Portland, Oregon
Hometown: Meridian, Idaho
Podcast: The Conversation with Kanda and Jason.
Social media: Follow her on Instagram and Twitter as @kmbenzangoma.
Wear Your Voice: How do you describe your personal style?
Kanda Mbenza-Ngoma: I think that I am currently going through an aesthetic change, so this will be the first time I am trying to describe all that is my personal style. I would consider my style to be a little African, meets bohemian, meets fun-loving witchy. I love prints, specifically African prints, so very much. I have recently been paying a more attention to bodysuits, rompers and jumpsuits. I love high-waisted shorts, pants and skirts as well as oversized poncho/shawl things. I am definitely a big fan of wearing my hear naturally or in any type of protective style.
| LEIA | Strong and Fearless This was shot by @nomaad1985 as a part of her Star Wars inspired, all women shoot cast. This is the conceptual of Leia. Jewelry by @uppermetalclass and dress by @chubbycartwheels! #uppermetalclass #chubbycartwheels #starwarsinspired #princessleia #plusmodel #plussizemodel #plussizeleia #blackgold #womenpower #effyourbodystandards #blackleia #blackprincessleia
WYV: What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion?
KMN: When I was younger, I wanted to be a model. Because I was a chubby kid, it seemed like that dream was impossible. I decided that I was going to be a fashion designer and stuck with that until mid-high school. Other goals became my delight, but I always kept fashion in mind. Fashion is a really strong form of expression for me, and so I instantly jumped on opportunities to work in the industry when they appeared.
WYV: What are your passions other than modeling? How do you pursue them?
KMN: Other than modeling, I primarily pursue music. I just recently got my bachelor’s [degree] in vocal jazz and am contemplating getting my master’s in music. I typically gig around town and have been trying to write more music recently. I am getting back into dance. I was minoring in dance for a while during college and, because of life, I had to choose between music and dance. I miss dance more than ever, and have been trying to explore more of the dance world. I also have a podcast that I co-host with a dear friend of mine, Jason Squamata. It’s called THE CONVERSATION and we basically just aim to cultivate really genuine conversations with each other and with guests. Its a really fun project that continues to grow me on so many levels.
WYV: Which people in your life have influenced your style the most?
KMN: MY MOTHER!!! She, to this day, still makes me clothes! Its amazing how much she inspires me, fashion-wise. I also get inspired by my sister. Her and I go through aesthetic changes around the same time often. Because of that, we are able to create an awesome style bubble where we completely work out our new styles. My roommates are also really great influences on my style. I honestly get inspired by so many people and things daily that it’s hard to pin down just a few inspirations.
WYV: Who are your top three celebrity StyleCrushes?
KMN: Rihanna, because she is daring and completely able to do her. Solange, because she is very versatile and has sported many an amazing look. Solange’s hair and ability to create a complete experience through a look is so inspirational to me. Lupita Nyong’o, because she is just ravishing in absolutely everything she wears. I think that all three of these women are so full of a talent, grace, confidence and knowledge of self-worth that is so evident in their clothing choices. I am just so inspired by that quality in their clothing and in their work.
Related: Lupita Nyong’o Takes Vogue to Kenya
WYV: Which clothing spots are your faves? What draws you to each of them?
KMN: For online shopping, I shop ASOS Curve all the time. It’s honestly my guilty pleasure. ASOS is where I know I can find quality items that fit really well. For real local designers that I pine over, I love Chubby Cartwheels, Copper Union and Beauty Embodiment. I also love the clothing that my mother makes for me more than anything. They are just specific little things that make a regular outfit something unique instantly.
WYV: Which big name designers would you like to see move into the plus-size market?
KMN: Honestly, ALL OF THEM. It’s total bullshit that all companies aren’t all jumping into the plus size market. The average American woman is a size 16, for God’s sake! I think it’s totally insane that the industry would much rather lose out on a ton of money from the dominant consumer group because they are full of fatphobic ideals. I think that it is completely deplorable that so [few] companies and designers have caught on to the massive and inclusive market that they could tap into. Everyone deserves to be able to find the clothes they want, regardless of their size, and all of the companies out there need to get with the program. I just find it gross that so [few] companies seem to agree. Women are sick of hating their bodies and want to celebrate already!
WYV: Who would you most love to collaborate with or model for in the future?
KMN: Philomena Kwao, Destiny Owausu and Grace Bol have all been such inspirations to me and I would love to work with them and learn from them! I honestly am not sure what companies I would like to work for because I feel like the sky is the limit. ASOS is definitely on the list. Modeling-wise, I feel super fortunate to have had the chance to work my butt off in order to get where I am. I will see most future gigs as a humbling and great opportunity.
In regards to music, I have an endless list of people that I would like to collaborate with that will have to be saved for another interview!
WYV: What do you hope to see more of in media and fashion? What do you think it will take to get us there?
KMN: I want to see more POC (people of color) plus-sized people in the media. There is a lack of representation when it comes to women of color. I think that [it] would be amazing for the next generation to have more representation and equal distribution of sizing. I think it has been too long that we have taught our future generations to shame their bodies and to shame their skin tones. I think that there is so much more beauty out there than what the media shows and I think its such an important thing to be expanding our scope to all types of people.
Here is a sneak peak at the new @chubbycartwheels lingerie line!!! This particular photo is being featured in @skorchmagazine! Thank you to photographer, @betholson and MUAH, @prettiegorgeous1!!! Everyone, prep yourselves for some really dope lingerie!!!! Dropping next week on www.chubbycartwheels.com! #pdxfashion #pnwfashion #plusfashion #plusmodel #pluslingerie #plussize #plusmodel #modeling #blackmodel #blackmodelsmatter #plussizemodel #plussizelingerie #effyourbodystandards #dietindustrydropout #skorch #skorchmag #chubbycartwheels
WYV: What do you want to say to our readers and other BIPOC women and femmes out there who may be going through hard times?
KMN: I am no stranger to hard times. During hard times, it’s really easy to feel isolated and allow my mind to run rampant. I am so hard on myself when things start to get tough. I have to remind myself that: 1) Just because I can do the most doesn’t mean that I should do the most. I am honestly the queen of trying to do things on my own and thinking of myself last. That used to be how I saw women work in “strength.” Although that can be a mode of strength, it’s not the only one. There is so much strength in vulnerability, self-care/preservation, selective socializing and standing up for oneself. I am not an expert at this, but just taking time to replenish oneself in any way will always bring them back to the ground and to their body in some way. 2) Healing of any type is not linear (quote from frizzkidart). Healing isn’t supposed to be showy or follow any specific path. I don’t have to pressure myself to “be better” instantly. 3) I got this! I know that this isn’t the most deep point, but it’s true. 4) I MATTER AND YOU MATTER!
WYV: How do you wear your voice?
KMN: In the most compressed way, I wear my voice by continuously aiming to stay genuine, real and honest with myself. As long as I am able to touch base with myself and my thoughts, my attitude, clothing choices and sense of living all exude my voice. Being myself — unapologetically myself — gives me the ability to wear my voice completely and authentically.
This interview has been edited for clarity.