As a child, I wasn't really the bathing suit type of person. I didn't have that confidence."
Creative director and fashion stylist Sarah Williams grew up in the spring break capital of Fort Lauderdale. But she felt self-conscious about baring her body on the beach alongside the tourists. And confidence was only part of her problem: The selection of stylish swimsuits in her size was skimpier than a thong bikini.
"I had a generic bathing suit, or I always put a shirt or shorts over it," she recalls.
Her less curvy friends had swimsuits with bold colors, cutouts, and mesh accents that flaunted their figures. But the ones in her size were "very dull," she says. "I felt like I was an older woman going to the beach, and I was a young girl. I wanted to have fun and wear bright colors and patterns."
Today the 28-year-old is the founder, creator, and creative director of Miami Curves Week, or MCW+, a two-day Miami Beach swimsuit fashion event geared toward full-figured women. She and her fiancée — 35-year-old filmmaker, event producer, and New Orleans native Deana Williams — are working on this project, their second, together. It coincides with Miami Swim Week, a fashion event that showcases typical slender models.
"There wasn't any curvy representation at all during Swim Week," Sarah reflects. "I think by industry standards, it was thought that we didn't want to be in a bathing suit. The fact that the current big designers don't think we have the confidence to wear bathing suits, they don't put the time into making them."
MCW+ has set out to change that by putting pressure on the industry to recognize full-figured women and also to connect regular people with designer suits. "With the different brands that I'm highlighting now, I want to give this opportunity to other women that may not have heard of them and are coming into their confidence and are coming into their own style," she says of her MCW+ audience.
Deana notes that though she herself is not curvy, the event she is producing is for the "fashion-forward, thinking plus-size woman," women like her partner Sarah.
"The woman who would come to this event models me as a person," Sarah says. "She likes to shop in stores, she likes to shop online, she's cultured and likes to attend museums, art galleries, comedy shows... As a plus-size woman, there wasn't any event I could go to that celebrated body positivity or inclusion." The two are also targeting buyers at this event in the hopes they will pay attention to this segment of the population when purchasing clothing for their stores.
Sarah realized Miami needed an event like MCW+ while working wardrobe on the set of a production. "I was talking to another person on set and they were saying they wanted to start a men's fashion week, and that was my moment when I felt like this was necessary. Seeing women like Ashley Graham on the covers of magazines [like Sports Illustrated] wearing swimwear gave me that push that there were other women like me in the country that needed to see this represented on a larger scale in the mainstream. There was a market there. There wasn't just me that wanted to see it; there were women all over the world that want to see this on a larger scale."
Though swimwear is really big in the plus-size community, Sarah says, she and other full-figured women often end up having to buy their bathing suits online. She wants to push the standards of what's out there. "I felt the need to give voice to those brands and to the women who enjoy wearing their clothing," she says. That's where the Style Marketplace comes in. Women can try on suits onsite and speak with a stylist who has worked with women from Orange Is the New Black to find their style.
Sarah and Deana are very proud of the main event, the first American Heart Association and Go Red for Women runway show: Swimsuit Edition. The show will include top models such as Candice Kelly, Allison Kimmey, and Audrey Ritchie, some of whom were pooled from New York Fashion Week. It's a diverse group of women united to address body positivity and inclusion. They'll wear red suits created by 11 designers, including Eloquii, Jibri, Ply, and Mod Cloth, to raise awareness for heart disease.
"They are all brands that I admire and watch their collections year after year, as well as up-and-coming designers," Sarah says, adding that the show will present "innovative styles that needed a platform like this."
For one of the models, Mindy Colette, the runway show is personal. "As someone who has lost family members to heart disease, I think it's really important for people to realize that heart disease is a silent killer... Most women don't have a clue [about] their risks of survival from a heart attack. The numbers are staggering. I believe more aggressive awareness is needed, and I am truly grateful to be even a small part of it all."
MCW+ isn't about trying to fit into today's conventional, severely narrow standards of beauty. In fact, Sarah says she doesn't mind being labeled by her appearance. "I think when people don't want to be labeled by something, it puts a negative connotation on it," she explains. "It kind of makes other people think it's negative. I embrace being curvy, plus-size, fat, and for me it's positive. It's who I am. It's the labels that gave me confidence to stand in my own skin. If you call me that label, that's who I am... I love to see [plus-size] women on the cover of magazines, on TV, in leading roles, and starring in films. I love seeing women of all diverse sizes and shapes having turns in the spotlight."
Deana makes films about pushing women forward. She says, "When women are happy and healthy, then the whole community is happy and healthy. If we take care of our women, then they will go back home and teach their girls that you can be proud of yourself and stand up tall and you can still look amazing in your clothes. That comes from inside. We work on the inside out. We are trying to create that kind of community here in Miami."
Miami Curves Week. Friday, July 21, and Saturday, July 22, at the Fillmore, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; and Marseilles Hotel,1741 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; miamicurvesweek.com. Tickets cost $43 to $58. Admission to the Style Marketplace is free.