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Ashley Nell Tipton on Designing Plus-Size Clothing: ‘I've Broken All the Rules’

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Photo: JCPenney

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The video for JCPenney’s new body positive campaign #HereIAm begins with a powerful statement:  "Would my life be better if I were thinner?" author Jes Baker asks. "No. But it would be better if I wasn’t treated so poorly because I’m not."

The three-minute film, with 2 million views and counting since it was released last month, highlights the challenges and limitations that so-called "plus-size" women face, particularly when it comes to clothing.

Which is why JCPenney is using the video to promote Boutique+, the retailer’s first in-house label for women sizes 14 to 30 that launched this spring. The new line is intended to upgrade the style factor on JCPenney’s plus-size offerings, as other retailers have done with in-house labels, like Target’s Ava + Viv.

Boutique+ will also include two capsule collections called Ashley Nell Tipton for Boutique+, designed by the Project Runway season 14 winner who made history with her plus-size collection. Tipton is already an official ambassador of Boutique+. Starting this fall, she’ll also have a line with her name on it in 500 stores across the country.

The collections, for fall and holiday, will reflect a truth spoken by Tipton in the #HereIAm video: Plus-size women aren’t "shy" or "trying to hide."

"It's going to be trendy things, but it's going to be things that you would not see a plus-size woman wearing," the designer told Racked. "We have stripes, we have sequins... In this collection, I've broken all those rules."

For years, plus-size retailers have gotten one thing wrong about shoppers, Tipton says. "We don't want the cookie-cutter silhouettes. We want to wear things that are fashion forward, that's going to make us stand out but in a good way," she explained.

That’s the fresh perspective offered by the other influencers in the #HereIAm campaign, including fashion blogger Gabi Fresh, "Same Love" singer Mary Lambert and yogi Valerie Sagun. Standing out with confidence shouldn’t be the privilege of the skinny, and neither should great clothing.

That confidence isn’t limited to plus-size women, either. "It can be a straight-size woman who doesn't have the confidence to wear something," Tipton says. "But by seeing us and seeing our confidence, we want to be able to influence them to wear anything that they want."

Tipton’s able to send that message loud and clear thanks to Project Runway. She still keeps up with her mentor from the show, Nina Garcia, and credits it with the opportunities she has now.

"It definitely has changed my life for the best, because this is something that I've always wanted to do, and I feel so grateful to be given this opportunity and for people to believe in my talent, to be able to show what plus-size women want."

When asked if her JCPenney line — her first-ever in a national retailer — would be a permanent addition to JCPenney’s Boutique+, she played it coy. "I guess you guys will have to see," she says.

Since we were talking about color, confidence, and not playing by the rules, we had one more question for Tipton: what are the secrets behind her signature purple hair? "My tip for having pastel hair is putting your hair dye in your conditioner, so every time you wash your hair you're re-touching it up," she said. "Just make sure you're ready to be dyeing your hair every week. It's something you have to maintain."