This weekend I attended the inaugural Official British Plus-Size Fashion Weekend (BPSFW).
The event comprised two days of activities: a press event on Friday afternoon, which you can read about here, and an ‘all-comers’ event on Saturday that was open to anyone who wished to attend.
Although I went to the press event on Friday, I didn’t have the extra money to go to the main event on Saturday (a ticket for the day cost around £50 and then there was my train fare on top) so I was thrilled to be asked by the lovely people at F&F Clothing to cover it on their behalf.
After a very fiddly journey to Shoreditch, which isn’t on a tube line, I arrived at the venue – Shoreditch Town Hall – shortly after midday and went to the reception desk. I’m sorry to report that I wasn’t even greeted, just asked for my ticket, and was given a wristband to wear for the day. I had to ask where things were happening and was given a brief and rather gruff explanation as to where the rooms were. I wasn’t given a programme of activities so had to rely on memory as to what was happening when…and ‘where’ was another matter entirely as none of the rooms or sessions were signposted so I spent the day following other people round who were probably guessing too!
After popping into the room where the brands were exhibiting, I bumped into the lovely Emma from Fashion Mommy. We were both there thanks to F&F Clothing so it made sense to spend the day together and share the experience.
Image courtesy of Fashion Mommy
After discovering that there was no cloakroom to leave our heavy winter coats (and that the ladies’ toilets were actually men’s, with only three cubicles (for 100+ women!) but complete with a row of urinals!!), we decided to head upstairs and check out the first of the day’s events: the Styling Masterclass hosted by Hannah Jean from Find My Style.
We missed the introduction but when we entered the room half of the women present were using fabric colour swatches to find out what colours worked best for them, while the other half were filling in a questionnaire about what they associated with particular colours. It seemed rather bizarre as a group activity so we decided not to take part and instead chatted with the wonderful Bethany from Arched Eyebrow and Mouna from Brussels Fatshion.
Hannah, the lady hosting the event, seemed really sweet but unfortunately the acoustics in the room were terrible and I could barely hear her. Yes, I was sitting towards the back, but even if I’d been closer to the front I don’t think it would have been much better. I also didn’t understand the point of this session – the vast majority of attendees were bloggers and therefore were already very stylish and seemed very well aware of the colours and clothing shapes and types that work for them. It seemed a peculiar choice to include as part of the day.
We were quietly relieved to be able to leave the activity a little early without fear of reprisal at 1pm when we joined the Model 101 session with Anna Shillinglaw from Milk Model Management. Anna used to be a model herself and now runs one of the top model agencies in the UK.
The session was a mixed bag for me. It was interesting hearing from Anna and her two colleagues – both of whom were models currently on the MM books – but I didn’t hear anything I hadn’t heard before. I also felt there was a negative spin on the talk. For example, at the beginning Anna told us that you had to be at least 5’8 to be a model. She quickly changed that to 5’9, and then to 5’10. We were told that you couldn’t have tattoos if you wanted to be a model, nor body piercings. Now, I don’t have any tattoos and only have single piercings in my earlobes but I found this piece of information rather ironic as I was sitting next to Bethany who has modelled for Evans and has facial piercings that are clearly visible! The same goes for Georgina from Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, as well as Teer Wayde who is signed to Bella Model Management.
Interestingly, this session was supposedly only for those who’d booked places but at least three of us who hadn’t done so managed to get in (there was no-one checking a list of names on the door) and we were rather surprised to note that by the time the session started there were probably only around 20 people there altogether. There were a LOT of empty seats. And again the room had terrible acoustics and not a microphone in sight. There were various people taking photos during the session and sound of their heels echoed around the mostly empty room, making it even harder to hear what the presenters were saying.
Again, I struggled to see the point of this activity as it did not bring to the fore anything new that hadn’t already been said on a tv documentary or on the internet somewhere. What was interesting, however, was to see in the flesh some of the plus-sized models MM have on their books. All were beautiful women of different shapes and sizes but none were any larger than a size 16. Now, I didn’t mind this because I am a similar size (although shorter, so I guess I work out larger proportionally) but I know some ladies in the audience were very cross about it.
Many plus-size people – bloggers included – don’t appreciate the fact that the fashion industry classes plus size as a UK size 12 upwards, so it’s unusual for models above a size 16 to be used. I have experienced negativity in the past because I am sometimes seen by other bloggers as not being plus-sized because I can often fit into a size 10 or 12 in stretchy fabrics because I have a comparatively small waist. However in non-stretchy fabrics (which I don’t tend to wear as I don’t get a good fit due to my proportions) I often need a size 16 or 18. In fact, my much-admired red Collectif Ashley coat that I wore on Saturday is a size 18. So I am very definitely plus-sized but I can sometimes fit into ‘straight sized’ clothing. In fact, I am in that tricky wasteland between the two ranges and all too often neither fits me properly as the ranges are not catered towards my needs.
But I digress. From 2pm we had free time to speak with the brands in the main exhibition area. Unfortunately, just like yesterday, the room was far too small for all the brands on show and again I missed lots of people I wanted to talk to.
Image courtesy of Fashion Mommy
However, I did get to catch up with the lovely ladies at Scarlett & Jo again and browsed their rails of beautiful fashions. I hear that there’s lots more exciting pieces to come soon – I can’t wait to see them!
Images courtesy of Fashion Mommy
I also enjoyed talking with the fab team from Live Unlimited, whose new range at Evans goes live next month – am SO excited for this! I’m showing their stunning black maxi dress that I modelled at the Evans Shape Studio event (you might have seen a pic of this on my Facebook page) – I’ve a post to write about this soon.
There was great fun to be had at the Curvissa stand, where attendees were asked to dress the mannequin in their favourite outfit. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to do this as there was always lots of women waiting whenever I checked so it was clearly a very popular activity!
One of my highlights of the day was meeting the fabulous Velvet D’Amour. For those of you who don’t know her, Velvet is an international plus-size model and renowned photographer. You can check out her work here. Velvet is one of the most unique, extravert and outlandish people I have ever met and I utterly adored her! I loved how she had oodles of self-confidence and a kick-ass attitude to boot. What a superstar.
Image courtesy of Fashion Mommy
It was also a great pleasure to meet the beautiful Anna Scholz again. I met Anna last year at Plus London Two and she looked as gorgeous as ever in one of her own designs. Such a gracious and friendly lady. Many pieces from her new collection featured on the catwalk during the fashion show – they were stunning!
We missed out on attending the Clothes Swap because we were told by another blogger that those who had not brought clothes to swap were not allowed in. That was a real pity because it would’ve been interesting to look in to see how the swap was progressing. From what I hear it wasn’t a resounding success so I wonder if letting in some non-swappers who just wanted to browse might’ve helped create a better atmosphere.
At around 3pm, Emma and I decided to get something to eat. Unfortunately at the venue there was no catering (big mistake) so we couldn’t get food there and instead we wandered the streets of Shoreditch looking for somewhere to buy a sandwich. We’d got to the point where we were so hungry and thirsty that we couldn’t decide what we wanted to eat so none of the local eateries looked appealing. In fact, we ended up returning to the Nisa mini-market across the road from Shoreditch Town Hall where we finally bought some food. I opted for a vegetable pastry and a bottle of Innocent apple juice. There was nowhere inside the venue for people to sit and chat so we stood outside in the street and ate our snack lunch. Not very dignified.
At 4pm we headed back inside the venue to attend the Plus-Size Panel Discussion.
The panel were (from left to right): Rianne Ward, Evolve Magazine; Velvet D’Amour, international plus-size model and photographer; Anna Shillinglaw, Milk Model Management; Jessica Kane, Skorch Magazine; Anna Scholz, plus-size fashion designer.
We went for front row seats this time as we’d learnt our lesson from the previous activities that we’d be unlikely to hear anything if sitting further back than the third row, but were pleasantly surprised to find that a microphone and speaker had been rigged up. Sadly, however, these made little difference to the sound levels because of the echoey room and high ceiling, and even though we were right at the front we still could not hear clearly for most of the time.
The parts I did manage to hear were very interesting. The discussion itself seemed to lack direction (the audience were invited to ask random questions, despite there being a clear list of topics in the event ‘brochure’ I received on Friday) but this was not the fault of the participants. They made some valid points and answered as many questions as they possibly could in the short time available. It was really good of them to put themselves forward for this activity and I know many of the women present were grateful to hear from their fashion and style icons.
After this point, we were asked to leave the room so it could be prepared for the fashion show. Again, we had nowhere else to go but to wait outside on the street. We were so thankful that it wasn’t raining!
At around 5:45pm we decided to go inside to wait and found ourselves crammed into the corridor with the majority of other attendees. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and I know some people felt quite ill because of the difficult conditions.
At last, we were allowed back into the main hall at around 6pm but the fashion show didn’t start until almost 7pm. The show was preceded by a councillor from Hackney council who gave a cringeworthy speech that made me feel very uncomfortable, and, from what I could tell from the reactions of those around me, most people felt the same way. It was unnecessary and completely out of place.
When the show finally started, although we were only sitting in the third row it was far enough back to ensure that we did not have a great view and I soon lost interest in craning my neck to see the clothes on display. The hall had a balcony so it would have been better if there had been perhaps two rows of seats on the main floor and some people up on the balcony. Alternatively, the seating could have been on tiers to enable an improved line of sight for those of us further from the front.
There were several technical hitches during the fashion show, including Anna Scholz’s brand name being displayed on the screen whilst another designer’s clothes were being modelled. Neither party could have been happy about that.
However, it was brilliant to be able to see the clothing being modelled by plus-sized ladies and it was a treat to watch such an array of garments being paraded before us. The models were beautiful and did their job perfectly. I just wish I’d had a better view!
The fashion show and the event as a whole came to an end at around 8pm. I must admit that it came as rather a relief after a very long and tiring day. The fact we hadn’t been able to relax anywhere due to the lack of a social area had really taken its toll and of course not having a proper lunch or drinks throughout the day was not good either.
Image courtesy of Fashion Mommy
I had been looking forward to this event so much but I can’t help but feel let down by what it ended up being. We were promised an inspirational day full of useful activities. Instead, we were given a badly organised day that seemed to have little direction or focus and didn’t seem to care about the attendees.
I have no doubt that the organisers put a great deal of hard work into the event but I wonder if they were so busy trying to organise the wow factor of inviting such esteemed guests that they ended up overlooking the quality of the day for those who had paid to come along.
I feel it was unfortunate that inappropriate wording was used on the day and is continued to be used on the BPSFW Twitter page. Terms such as ‘real women’ are not helpful and encourage a rivalry between plus-size and straight-size women. We should all stick together – there is no need to hate on one body type in order to promote another.
A further incorrect term used is ‘curvy’ – all women are curvy and therefore it is misleading to try to use this word to only describe plus-sized women. I was disappointed to discover that this term is being commonly used in the British modelling world – what’s wrong with ‘plus-size’?
I was also shocked to hear ‘skinny bashing’ comments from the comedian who was compèring the fashion show. I guess it should have been expected from someone wearing an ‘I don’t want to be a size zero’ t-shirt but I still couldn’t quite believe my ears at some of the things she said. When encouraging Rianne and Remi – the two main organisers of BPSFW – to walk down the catwalk at the end of the show to receive applause, she suggested that they should pretend there was food there waiting for them. Hilarious…I think not.
Rianne – one of the founders of the event – and Gaëlle-Vanessa – who organised attendees for the press event and ran the clothes swap shop – were absolutely lovely and remained professional at all times. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many of the other women involved in the event who were at best grumpy and at worst rude and whose customer service skills were severely lacking. I not only experienced this first-hand but also saw it happening to other attendees. We were not even politely greeted on arrival, which unfortunately seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day. I understand that the event must have been extremely stressful and tiring for them but as attendees we were their customers and some people were treated like they were dirt on someone’s shoe. This sort of behaviour is just not good enough at any time, but particularly when attendees have paid circa £50 for their ticket, as well as having travel/accommodation costs on top.
That said, I do feel very strongly that the BPSFW team should be congratulated for managing to engage some very big names from the plus size fashion industry. That can’t have been easy and it was great to meet celebs such as Jessica Kane, Anna Scholz and Velvet D’Amour, all of whom seemed to be very happy with their involvement in the day.
It was also fantastic to have so many brands participating in the day. Premier sponsors Simply Be had their name on the banner, a stand in the exhibition room and their clothes on the catwalk. Other brands involved with the event included:
(If I have missed anyone out please feel free to let me know by commenting below and I will happily add them.)
I very much enjoyed the opportunity that the event gave me to meet old blogger friends and make new ones. It’s always great to network with other bloggers and we don’t often get the chance to do it so I always try to make the most of such instances. However I do I think that name badges for all attendees – bloggers, brands, event organisers, the press and the public – would have been really useful in helping more connections to take place.
I have no doubt that the BPSFW created a lot of press and got plenty of people talking…but I am not sure it was always for the right reasons. I don’t believe the event lived up to its mission statement and if I had paid for my ticket I think I would be seriously considering the level of value for money I had received. I was looking forward to this event so much but by the end of the day I just felt very sad and let down.
I also can’t help but wonder where the vast majority of money was spent, when previous events such as Plus North and Plus London have produced some magnificent results on very meagre budgets. Hats off to the ladies involved in these events as they surely know how to pull strings and make things happen at an incredibly reasonable cost, and clearly without thought to line their own pockets. In fact, a ticket for BPSFW cost almost TEN TIMES the price of a ticket to Plus North last year. That’s pretty shocking.
On Friday, as part of our ‘goodie bag’ (if you can call a bag of brochures, leaflets and business cards and a tube of hand cream a ‘goodie’ bag!) we were provided with a ‘programme’ for the event. I didn’t bring mine with me on Saturday as I fully expected to be given one on arrival but this was not the case. For those of you who didn’t receive one of these booklets, you didn’t miss out. This had clearly been viewed as yet another advertising opportunity and it comprised mostly brand adverts, with an ‘uplifting’ statement or interview thrown in here and there for luck. The brochure was very poorly edited and laid out, with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors aplenty. Several of the adverts were blurry due to not being high enough resolution and there were inconsistencies with the general presentation. It did not have a professional look or feel about it at all and certainly didn’t reflect the high-end event we had all been expecting.
At the time of this post being published, only a few bloggers had posted about the event and I can’t help but feel that some of them may be afraid of saying negative things about it for fear of reprisal or being ostracised. Personally, although I wish I didn’t have to write a review that’s not entirely positive, I am not afraid to share my point of view as I know my feedback is coming from a good place and I only seek to report accurately on the day’s events. As the week goes on, I really hope more and more attendees speak out about their experiences of the weekend.
The team behind BPSFW have already said that they will run the event next year and learn from this year’s mistakes. I therefore hope that this post is taken in the spirit that it was written – to identify some of the problems on the day in the hope that these instances can be avoided in the future. I have no personal problem with anyone from the BPSFW team and am simply keen to see high quality, professionally-run events being offered to the plus-size community.
BPSFW: thank you for your hard work in making last weekend happen. I do hope that the BPSFW runs again in the future and comes out from this inaugural event with lessons learned and new ideas as to how to make it more successful in the future.
Thank you again to F&F Clothing for sending me to the BPSFW and I look forward to working with you again soon.