At the heart of everything she does, Monif Clarke wants nothing more than to dress women in beautiful, well-constructed clothing that they love. After 10 years in the changing plus size fashion industry as designer and CEO of Monif C., Clarke has seen countless customers transform before her eyes when they try on her garments. It’s not difficult to see why: Her clothing is bold and colorful, and her silhouettes almost always boast singular details. Most importantly: They’re designed, constructed, and cut for a plus size body. Despite the fact that Clarke’s brand has been beloved by loyal customers for the better part of a decade, its those same customers who are still at the center of everything she does. In fact, they even have the power to humble her after all these years.
“On Labor Day weekend, I was at a function,” Clarke says in a phone interview with me. “I was walking around, minding my own business, when I saw a girl wearing my dress. I’ve never had that happen, believe it or not. I’ve seen people that have worn [Monif C.] at industry functions. But this was a random event, and I realized: That’s one of our dresses. I walked up to her, and she was like, ‘As soon as I knew I was coming to this party, I knew I had to come and get something at Monif C. You are the only company I wear when it comes to looking great, feeling good about yourself, and standing out in the room.’ You hope that’s how the customer is going to respond, but to hear it in such an authentic way? That’s what really keeps us going.”
Earnest, unpretentious humility — combined with a healthy dose of ambition — is just how Clarke sounds when she’s talking about the customers she’s served over the last decade. She’s overjoyed that plus size women are finding their way to sartorial magnificence, amazed by their loyalty to her line, and beyond grateful that she’s one of the designers who gets to dress them.
Clarke’s gratitude is refreshing and genuine, particularly when larger plus size brands often leave their clientele feeling ignored and underrepresented. When mega-retailer Lane Bryant unveiled its #ImNoAngel and #PlusIsEqual campaigns, for instance, it got mixed and sometimes critical reactions. Many called for fewer body positive catch phrases and more focus on representation (not to mention making clothes that the customer actually wants). While Clarke believes that all plus size brands are working toward the common good, she’s also clear on what Monif C. is all about.
“The underlying message [of Monif C.] is going to always be body positivity,” Clarke says. “For us, it’s ingrained in everything that we do. It’s not something we do for a time and a season: It’s just who we are. When we did our swimwear campaign and we had models of three sizes and shades, people were like, ‘This is a fantastic body diversity campaign.’ As much as I agreed, I also just really wanted to see a swimsuit on a size 22 woman. This is what our customer looks like, we value our customer, and this is why we make clothes for her.”