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We are so excited to share this interview with New York-based fashion designer and Project Runway runner-up, Hester Sunshine (she/they), who has been working with acclaimed Santa Fe-based art and entertainment company Meow Wolf, to develop a unique non-binary clothing collection called MW + HS!
TCF contributor Liz Brinks had the opportunity to speak more with Hester (she/they) about this new clothing collection and discuss what it means to create gender fluid clothing for plus size transgender and non-binary people.
The importance of gender fluid clothing
Liz (they/them): Your collection features a lot of brilliant neon colors as well as other fun design elements – what inspired your planning process when first designing the collection?
Hester Sunshine (she/they): “I am a major fan of bright colors always and forever, but the art for this collection was created in collaboration with one of Meow Wolf’s founders, Emily Montoya, in homage to the factory exhibit in the futuristic alien world created for Meow Wolf’s Las Vegas exhibit.
I was really inspired by the future of fashion as I see it moving away from the gender binary, into a realm that’s more inclusive of identity, “weirdness” and self expression.
Lately, I have been thinking so much about what the future of fashion means to me and also what I feel is missing from the fashion world. There is so much clothing being created every second of every day, so for this collection, I really wanted to bring something new to the mix and cater to a market, style, and community I feel is often left out of traditional fashion consumption.”
MW+ HS captures the essence and importance of gender fluid clothing versus boxy gender neutral clothes designed after stagnant unisex looks. These clothes embrace all genders, which is reflected in the diversity of the models and the flexibility of the pieces.
Liz: What do you hope to communicate to consumers and people observing this clothing line?
HS: “I hope when people see and wear these pieces, they feel a sense of fun, rebellion, and fantasy. Fashion has become so much about clothing and function that I feel a lot of the whimsy and self expression has fallen by the wayside.
With this collection, I hope to bring that whimsical, fantastical essence back while still creating comfortable, functional pieces that can be worn every day. Also, with this collection, I wanted to speak to a style that is not so defined by gender. “
“Each part of this collection can be worn and styled in so many ways and speaks to so many forms of identity. I hope when people wear and see this collection; they are able to connect with the fashion as an entity in and of itself. This is not women’s or men’s clothing. These pieces are fluid and ever-changing. They are whatever the wearer wants them to be and represent whatever the viewer wants to see.”
Clothing for every body
Liz: When it came to the types of bodies you were designing for, in what ways did you prioritize fat and plus size, non-binary and trans models as well as customers?
HS: “First off, I design pieces that could flatter many different shapes, and can be styled to show off different bodies, sizes and styles. Additionally, when it comes to the jumpsuit and bike shorts – bottoms specifically, I added extra length in the torso, and in the rise so that those items could fit more comfortably on taller bodies and bodies with fuller stomachs/more curve and flow. I’m always joking that my designs are especially made for big booty cuties!
Whenever I design anything I always increase the hip/bum/thigh measurements as I rarely see market bottoms accommodate a fuller figure, so I always design with that in mind. Another way I prioritize fuller figures is that I do not start my design process based on small sizes, instead I start at a M or L and then measure up or down as needed. “
“Often I create 2 sets of patterns when I design, one for straight size and then a whole new one for plus, as I find that the human form does not just “size up” as sizes increase, but instead measurements and proportions must be created new for fuller figures.
To me, this is the biggest reason why plus styles don’t always fit correctly. You can’t just take a size 4 and add inches overall to get to a size 4X. You must be strategic and follow how real bodily proportions change and grow with size changes.”
This is not women’s or men’s clothing. These pieces are fluid and ever-changing.– Hester Sunshine
HS: “In terms of prioritizing trans and nonbinary individuals in design, well this whole collection was created to prioritize people who do not fit specific gender binaries. That’s not to say cis people can’t wear this collection, it’s just to say when I created each item I thought about how it could flatter and speak to as many people as possible. “
“My partner is nonbinary and I myself fall in that spectrum so designing for the nonbinary body is something I think about a lot. I have been told this collection has giving nonbinary and trans people “gender euphoria” and that is exactly what I had hoped to achieve, to create a collection that spoke to those who often feel outside of cis binary fashion world and who can look at these items as way to express style without forcing binary or gendered elements into individuality.”
Liz: In a time when fat and plus size bodies, especially queer ones, are hyper-fetishized, how do you hope to instill confidence in the people who wear these items?
HS: “I hope these items can instill confidence by fitting well physically and also mentally as people can project what they feel inside on the outside. In terms of fighting the fetishization of fat and plus size bodies, that to me has a lot to do with how plus people are so often portrayed; which too often is in a sexualized manner, almost to say a fat body is only acceptable in state of undress or in lingerie or not at all.
To fight that, I design for and showcase beautiful plus bodies clothed in things that enhance their beauty and style. I also try to fight this by including different types of plus bodies through my lookbook, runway shows, and presentation so people can connect with models of varying shapes wearing and rocking my clothing.”
Liz: The collection itself reminds me of a bright disco theme at the roller rink on a Saturday night, bright and brilliant -the word galaxy especially comes to mind -while single pieces on their own are bold enough to work as a statement piece in the daylight, what was the most exciting part of the design process for you and your team?
HS: “The most exciting (and also most anxiety-inducing) part of design is definitely when I get to try the finished samples on different people for the first time. This is when the process is tested! It’s also when I get to see how different body types fit into my designs and figure out how to style them!
I also love the part where we finalize the collection, see everything together on paper before we start making the individual items.”
Liz: What do you hope to see more of in the fashion industry regarding fat and plus size, transgender, and non-binary clothing in the next ten years? Do you have more collections or installments of this collection in mind for the future?
HS: “To be honest, the fashion industry as we know it is such a toxic mess. It’s sizeist, ageist, unnecessarily exclusionary, status-focused, unsustainable, and more focused on virtue signaling over any real change for good.
That said I hope in the next decade we continue to see a broadening and diversifying not just of the “fashion world,” but of fashion as a community resource. I hope we see more space for smaller creators and shift from the misogynistic tendencies that have driven the fashion system for most of modern history.
Truthfully I am fully ready to leave the fashion world as we know and build my own version. One that focuses on sustainability, inclusivity and making people feel good and beautiful and important.
So much of fashion as we know it is about convincing people they need to buy something in order to be good enough, but I’d like to see fashion shift into a realm that does not serve to make someone “better” but instead exists to bring to bring joy, self confidence, comfort, art, inner beauty.”
HS: “I hope that seeing plus, trans and enby bodies in fashion becomes the norm, as well as curved/non skinny bodies, and I hope we see diverse models not as tokens but as beautiful and necessary to the evolution of the fashion world.
Additionally, I run 2 other lines and have a bunch of exciting new items coming soon! For my high-end line @hesterbyhester, we are about to launch our harness mask! These are zero waste, produced in NYC, and will fit up to a Men’s 4X (up to a women’s 6x) they should drop next month! I will also be starting work on a new runway show for this line soon and hope to show it for next fashion week in NYC.
My other line is Sunshine By Hester @sunshinebyhester on Instagram is a more accessible, lower-priced line that focuses on accessories and seasonal goodies. For that line, we will be releasing a summer sweat set (shorts, sweatshirt + halter top) for pride month in June. That collection will fit up to 4X and will retail for under $100 USD.
I also plan to do a jewelry collection for this line and potentially open a store/community space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this summer.
I have a ton of stuff in the works, all of which can be tracked through my website www.hestersunshinestudio.com which is home to both my house brands, MW + HS, and any other stuff I cook up at the studio! You can also follow either of my brand Instas or my personal Instagram @besta_hesta for updates on drops, restocks, and new projects!”
MW+HS clothing line will re-stock June 1st, 2021 and will go up to size 6X
Article edited for clarity and length by Liz Brinks