Emme, who rose to fame in the mid-’90s as the first well-known plus-size model and is now founder of the True Beauty Foundation, teamed with her alma mater Syracuse University and online plus-size retailer OneStopPlus for the eighth annual Fashion Without Limits design competition.
Plus-size fashion designer Zahir Babvani, head of design and style for OneStopPlus, responsible for the company’s growing roster of plus-size brands such as Woman Within, Jessica London and Eloquii, held a virtual masterclass on plus-size design and style for the university’s College of Visual and Performing Arts Fashion Design class of 2024. OneStopPlus is part of FullBeauty Brands, which caters to plus-size women and big and tall men and estimates the overall plus-size market to generate $81 billion in sales.
Babvani challenged the group of future designers to create the next “It” style for curvy women, keeping in mind costs, the heightened demand for versatility and customer’s multiple needs from casual to work to dressy.
The Fashion Without Limits design competition skipped 2020 due to the pandemic.
More than 20 students participated in the competition to have their designs manufactured and brought to market for fall 2023. The winning designer was Nina Chen, who designed a “Tulip Dress,” which was a black dress made of Ponte knit fabric and tailored to flatter all body types.
The “Tulip Dress” is slated to be introduced on the OneStopPlus marketplace this fall as part of an exclusive collaboration between OneStopPlus and Emme’s Fashion Without Limits partnership with Syracuse. The winning garment will feature special hangtags giving the student designer name recognition, while bolstering the FWL program.
“I came into fashion so passionate about many issues in the industry, but inclusive design was not on my radar,” said Chen, who is a rising senior majoring in fashion design. “Through my journey working on the competition and now interning with OneStopPlus, I’m learning that, with the right approach and mindset, inclusive design can and should be a part of every fashion designer’s portfolio.”
Chen, who hails from Palo Alto, California, is a first-generation college student who grew up in a low-income household. Her Bible study teacher taught her to sew in elementary school, and she started taking apart clothes (old hand-me downs) to create fashions that she liked. She also created clothes for her Barbie. During her junior year of high school, Chen got her first job at a sewing shop called Needles Studio Los Altos, and she found her career.
Chen noted that the competition inspired her to think more about the end user of her designs. “Emerging designers tend to focus on ‘cool’ fashions that we would wear. Emme and Zahir really helped me to understand the importance of making fashion accessible to all women, and I look forward to being more inclusive with my designs throughout my career,” Chen said.
Emme, founder of Fashion Without Limits, noted, “Learning from successful designers like Zahir Babvani shows young designers that this is a rewarding career path. Syracuse University is at the forefront of making inclusive design an exciting area of concentration giving tomorrow’s designers the skills, and ability, to enact real change on the fashion landscape. We hope this program will become a template for other schools moving forward.”
For her winning design, Chen received a $500 prize from Syracuse, as well as a summer 2023 internship with Babvani and his team in the company’s New York headquarters. She will help spearhead the winning design’s evolution from early CAD drawings through every stage of production to the finished product and launch. Chen will receive a percentage of sales as part of the prize package.
Babvani said, “Putting your best self forward begins with dressing the part in clothes you know were made for you by a dedicated plus-size designer who understands your fit needs and your modern lifestyle. I selected this design because it embodies modern style for the real woman. It’s both fashionable and wearable.”
ChaCha Hudson, assistant teaching professor at Syracuse, added, “Collaborating with Emme to develop a talent pool of designers who understand how to design for the plus market opens up a world of opportunities for our students. Even if they choose not to specialize in plus sizes, every fashion brand has the potential to expand their size range to include plus-size women, but it has to be done right. This competition exposes our students to plus-size design fundamentals, enabling them to make a difference in the lives of plus-size women wherever they choose to work.”