Access to fashion has arguably been one of the greatest struggles for the plus size community. Clothing isn’t just fabric we use to cover our bodies. It’s how we articulate who we are in the world. Few people know this better than Jessica Hinkle, the owner of LA-based Proud Mary Fashion. I interviewed Jessica about her journey into becoming an #XLBossLady:
1. Jessica, what’s your title?
I run a plus size brand based in LA named ‘Proud Mary Fashion.’ I am the Founder and Designer.
2. How has being fat affected your career trajectory?
Being fat is the single biggest factor in why I took the route I did.
I’ve been fashion-obsessed since I was a child. My parents would buy me notebooks and I would fill them all up with sketches. I’d sit in front of the tv watching runway show clips and sketching clothing. I also knew from an early age that the fashion industry wasn’t accessible for someone like me (fat and poor.) It always felt worlds away, kind of like trying to become a movie star. My parents moved us to Florida my senior year of high school. When I found out my new school offered apparel design classes, I immediately signed up. On the first day, the teacher talked me out of taking the class (to make way for freshman she said) but I really was made to feel like it wasn’t a place for me. I felt really judged and pushed out. I was heartbroken because I finally felt excited to find a resource to learn the things I wanted to that wouldn’t cost anything. After that, I had approached my parents about attending art school but they said absolutely not.
My parents both grew up poor and neither graduated high school. I think they felt like art school was lofty and impractical. They didn’t think that a fat girl could make money in fashion and the student loans would be outrageous. I wasn’t confident enough to push back or in a position where I felt like I could make it work without their support. So I figured I could at least study Creative Writing at the community college and one day get a job working at a fashion magazine.
Eventually, I came into the body positive community and saw people like Gabi Fresh and Nicolette Mason in the industry and it really opened my eyes. First, I opened a vintage shop because as a fat, poor girl I cultivated a great eye for thrifting very early on. I knew that was my strength and my way into some form of the fashion world where I could also empower people of size. Eventually I realized it was time to really go for it. I took a leap and moved to Los Angeles to put myself in the middle of where so many lines are produced. I knew that if I could just be here, I could figure out how to create an original line, which was always my end goal. And now we create original pieces and I have the shop of my dreams!
3. Who’s your boss crush & why?
There are so many people I could name. I have always looked at Grace Coddington as an inspiration. She is known and respected around the world for her eye and the editorials she has directed for Vogue. But lately, Pat McGrath really comes to mind when I think of women that are at the top of their game. She had no formal training and has worked to become one of the best makeup artists in the world, with her own extremely successful makeup line.
I really relate to people who had non-conventional routes because I took such a roundabout way into the fashion industry and owning a brand.
- What was a pivotal moment in your professional or personal development?
When I reflect back on my trajectory, there are so many moments that have importance. It’s hard to pick one because everything feels like a gradual pull that led me to where I am now. But one that sticks out is quitting my last job. I was working full time for someone else while also running my business. It was the most stressful job I had ever worked (and I have had a lot of stressful jobs!) My boss was out-of-touch and abusive to the entire staff. One day I reached my breaking point. I just couldn’t get out of the house and walk into that office one more time. I had saved up because I felt that moment coming for a while. So I quit, and I told my husband I had enough money saved to skate by for 3 months and didn’t want to work another job while I got my small shop up and running (I was just starting to rent some space within another shop at the time.) He was supportive and now 2 years later, we just moved into our very own brick and mortar and I’m running the brand full time.
- What makes a good boss?
I think self-awareness is really important as is the ability to take constructive criticism. I have also recently learned how important it is to be humble enough to ask for help. That has been a huge obstacle for me and I couldn’t have progressed without help from my friends.
- What advice do you have for aspiring #PlusSizeBosses?
Don’t let your size deter you from doing what you want to do.
Just because you may not see plus size people in the industry or position you want, doesn’t mean it’s not for you. It just means you may be the first.
I know that’s an oversimplification but in the end it’s true. There is always a way to make things happen.
- What’s 1 tip you have for ending fatphobia at work?
I think that ending fatphobia in the workplace will be a result of fighting against fatphobia in general. It’s a symptom of a larger issue. I have always been pretty vocal about calling it out, but I know that I have privileges that are a big factor in me feeling comfortable doing so. So if you have privilege, call it out and educate your co-workers. I think that visibility and representation are a huge step. That may sound like a catch 22 as fatphobia is the reason we may not feel confident advocating for ourselves. But all we can do is push back, own our talents, and demand what we deserve. When you know your worth, it’s harder for people to discount you. And where possible, make your own opportunities. Provide opportunities for other marginalized people. I live in one of the most image conscious cities in America. I have definitely felt like no one was taking me seriously because of my size. I’ve started to produce my own photo shoots spotlighting people of size, and they are getting published. It’s important that people see us existing outside of their bigoted ideas.