House of Curves premieres Thursday, June 13 at 10/9pm CT on WE tv.
Though she inherited her parents’ love of quality clothing, Atlanta-based clothing designer Kenyatta Jones didn’t grow up dreaming of making her mark in the world of fashion. Earning her undergraduate degree in political science and her Master of Business Administration, Jones launched herself into corporate America — and realized that as a plus-sized young woman, her clothing options did not reflect the confident, fashion-forward person she knew she was.
“A lot of the clothes that you see in the plus-sized market are geared toward older women,” explains Jones, who says she’s “been fat since I was 5. So if you’re young and hip and fly, most of the things that are out there are not for you. It was a struggle!”
With so many of her friends and colleagues in a similar predicament, Jones decided that she could either wait for the fashion industry to step up to the plate, or she could steer her business know-how down a new career path and take matters into her own hands.
In 2007, Jones launched her own plus-sized fashion brand Bella Rene’ (Beautiful Rene’) — named for her mother and business partner — recruiting her college pals Kendra and Sherlynda, Sherlynda’s cousin Milan and another ambitious Atlanta-based friend Kelli as her staff.
“It’s a blessing and a curse to be in business with my friends and my mom,” Jones laughs. “But at the end of the day, I’m the boss. They challenge that a lot! I call my life ‘fabulous chaos’ because someone’s always mad at somebody. Something’s gone wrong and someone’s blaming somebody else. Or someone’s mad at me. It’s just a lot of drama, 24/7.”
But the women of Bella Rene’ remain united in their goal: to take by storm an industry that largely ignores women beyond a size 12 with their edgy, elegant and fashion-forward designs. And they’re bringing that mission to television in WE tv’s new six-episode series House of Curves, which premieres Thursday, June 13 at 10/9pm CT.
“We have no filters,” Jones says of what viewers can expect as the cameras follow her and her costars as they navigate their personal and professional lives with varying, and frequently comical, results. “We do not filter ourselves. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that bad. But it definitely makes for great television.”
Asked why she thinks clothing designers ignore plus-sized women when statistics show that nearly 70 percent of adult American females are overweight to some degree, Jones is unapologetically straightforward with her answer.
“Last year before we started taping, it was 65, 67 percent and it’s already risen — and it’s supposed to climb even higher over the next five years,” she says. “As a businessperson, I don’t understand why these straight-sized brands aren’t jumping on this. I say that they’re bullies! I know they get upset about that, but I really don’t care. I feel like they’re bullying curvy women. They don’t want to see us naked! They want to see us cover ourselves up! So give us some options!
“For the life of me, I think that they just look at us as if we are not worthy of the fashion,” Jones continues. “I call my customers The Forgotten Women. That’s who I say I design for — the forgotten women of fashion. I’m kind of at a place where I wish I could sit down and interview them like you’re interviewing me and say, ‘What’s wrong with us? Why do you people just totally forget about us?’ That’s where I come in. Like I said, if no one else is going to do it, I had to do it.”
Jones says that plus-size women understand that creating clothing that truly flatters their fuller figures requires more than just tacking on a couple of more inches of fabric to items designed for skinny-minnie sizes.
“There are some designers out there — I’m not going to say their names — that do make clothes in a larger size, but I can’t wear them,” Jones says. “People look at me and they can’t believe that I’m actually 5’4” — because I wear 6-inch heels every day. I’m not a size 22 woman that’s also 6 feet tall — and that’s what a lot of these labels are giving you. It doesn’t fit in the waist. It doesn’t fit in the bust.”
Jones says that personal predicament is at the very heart of the Bella Rene’ design team’s philosophy.
“We spent two years before we ever made one stitch of clothing just getting the fit down,” she says. “We tried clothes on 30 different body types to figure out how we get these clothes to really flatter a larger scale of women. Tailoring is key. We have a master tailor, and every garment we have is put on one body and then put on another body, and it’s tailored so we know exactly how it’s going to fit a majority of the women that buy it. You see it in the show. You see the fittings. You see us going to the manufacturer and saying, ‘This particular piece of fabric needs to be 60-inch wide as opposed to 44-inch wide.’ I tell people all the time, you have to really want to be a plus-sized designer because we don’t have it easy. You have to pay better attention to detail. You have to study your fabrics. You have to find fabric houses that are willing to make something a little bit different for you — maybe something in a stretch that doesn’t usually come in a stretch that will fit the plus-sized body a little bit better. A lot goes into it. A lot.”
And while Jones thinks fashioned-obsessed folks of all shapes and sizes will enjoy the insider’s look at the industry that House of Curves affords — and the suspense of finding out whether or not that industry will embrace her clothes and her mission — she says she most hopes that plus-sized women who see clothing only as a means of hiding their bodies will find inspiration in the series, and the women and wares of Bella Rene’.
“I hope they will take more risks!” she says. “I know a lot of plus-sized women that I meet in day-to-day life, and a lot of our customers, who are very scared to take chances. I want them to be comfortable and confident. If you want to lose weight, that’s great — I’m not preaching obesity. What I’m saying is that you have to dress the body that you have before you get the body that you may want. You need to feel good about what you put on and how you present yourself to the world. So represent yourself in a magnificent manner so people will look at you and say, hey, she may be heavier, but she looks amazing! And she looks like she feels amazing! I want these women to see that Bella Rene’ is here for her. I’m here for her. I’m designing specifically for her. And I want her to feel fabulous and feel confident about herself. So I hope that’s what they take away from the series!”
House of Curves airs Thursday nights at 10/9pm CT on WE tv.
Photo/video: WE tv