Breaking into the fashion industry wasn’t a given for Gianluca Russo and Shammara Lawrence. So the fashion writers carved their own space: the Power of Plus. The digital platform — a combination of social media, virtual panels, and networking events — was born a year and a half ago with a goal to not only boost the representation of the plus-size community, but also to provide resources to show them all of their possibilities.
In conversation together, the co-founders discuss what the Power of Plus would’ve meant to them when they were entering the industry, why their bond is so unique, and how they want to implement real change in fashion.
Gianluca Russo: When we entered the magazine industry, we both had to create our own paths. If we had this space where we could go to not only feel seen and represented, but also to realize that there is a place for us in this industry and there is a way for our voice to make a change, that our voice matters, that it’s is worthy of being heard, I think it would have been a lot easier for us. So, now that’s our goal — not only to boost the representation of the plus-size community, but also to provide resources for them.
Shammara Lawrence: It’s a ruthless industry. As much as I love fashion, it’s not for the faint of heart. Having people like you, Gianluca, and the Power of Plus is incredible because I can see the collective power that the community has. The support that everyone’s been showing one another because we share similar experiences around fatphobia, whether it’s being the only fat person in your workplace or being left out of certain outings. Fatphobia really impacts every single facet of society and our lives. I am just so happy to see how quickly the Power of Plus has grown — I wish it was around when I was younger. I would have had less nights crying myself to sleep, if I’m being completely honest, because I just felt like there wasn’t a place for me in the industry.
G.R.: What’s so special about it is that we are a surefire example of the power of representation. Not a lot of people know, but I couldn’t get into fashion for the first few years. I was stuck writing stories like, “Does lemon water make your skin better?” It wasn’t until I saw Shammara’s [plus-size fashion] column at Teen Vogue that I realized, Wait, there’s a role for my voice here that adds to the larger conversation that’s happening within the industry. If it wasn’t for Shammara, I would not be here. That’s what’s so special about us building this platform — we get it.
S.L.: Every time you bring up the fact that, like, I’m an inspiration to you I’m just like, Little ol’ me? I have never been able to speak about the kind of experiences I’ve had as a plus person in fashion until I met you. You just innately understand how difficult or how isolating it can be when you’re in a bigger body working in the fashion industry. Oftentimes we’re ignored by people and feel as if you’re not worthy of your spot of being a writer at a prestigious publication, but having someone that I can vent to has changed my life for the better. I couldn’t have asked for a better business partner.
G.R.: What’s so crucial to our success is the fact that we have two very different lived experiences so we can connect over all of this. That’s what has been the best part of our personal relationship, is getting to meet someone who understands it and you don’t have to explain the frustrations or the struggles. We also have very different perspectives — I am a white plus-size man from upstate New York and you’re a Black plus-size woman from Brooklyn. We understand the importance of perspective, and that’s what a lot of the fashion industry lacks. They will center one perspective, one voice, one person. That’s the real problem in this plus-size community. They will center someone who is amazing, like Paloma Elsesser, who I love, or Precious [Lee] or Ashley Graham, any of the top models now. But they’ll forget that there’s a whole spectrum of bodies and people behind them who also need to be represented. It’s great if you go to a size 22, but what about everyone who’s 24 to 48? The plus community is viewed as a monolith too often, and that’s what we’re really trying to break down here, is that it is a full spectrum of people, just as it is in straight sizes.
S.L.: I remember my first fashion show ever was a Betsey Johnson show. Love her — I wish she were still as big as she was in the early aughts. But all of the models were thin. They looked nothing like me. And as much as I love Betsey Johnson — she’s super-idiosyncratic and someone who comes up with a lot of creative designs — but I really do wish that she was a little bit more inclusive in terms of size inclusivity.
G.R.: My very first fashion show was during New York Fashion Week, mens, when I was interning in college. I was so excited until I realized I was literally the only fat person in the room, and it went from being the most exciting experience to the most othering experience. I remember my biggest takeaway being, I’ll never get the chance to wear that.
S.L.: A few weeks ago, you posted a question on Twitter asking, “What was your first experience with diet culture?” The responses that flooded in were so heartbreaking, but what really touched my heart was like the people responding to each other with support and saying things like, “You know, that was awful. You shouldn’t have gone through that; you deserve better.” I’m so upset that we can’t have any in-person events because I would really, really love to meet people in person from the community.
G.R.: What I love about being a digital platform at the moment, though, is that we can connect with people outside of New York and L.A. who have never been exposed to this before. We can connect with everyone; there are no barriers. When we have these conversations on our social media about diet culture, or the first time you’ve felt amazing in an outfit and how it inspired you, or the first time you felt represented, the comments speak for themselves. We get to help people heal and grow and to feel great while also feeling that as well, because they’re the ones who are helping us do it from behind the screen.
G.R.: When you’re able to recognize someone’s humanity on that level, it makes the biggest change that they need to hear in those moments. Community is everything to me, it is the center of who I am, of the work we do. Without community, we are nothing.
S.L.: It really drives me and shows me the impact that I am having, not just on the fashion industry, but the world in general for when I’m done and gone. I really hope the industry and society as a whole is much better than I found it.