A lot of women within the Queen Feet community are also a part of the Plus-Size community as well. While some have previously shied away from walking confidently despite normalized euro-centric beauty standards, others are spearheading the size inclusivity movement. One of the newest trailblazers is an up-and-coming designer that we should definitely be keeping an eye on.
Doyeon Yoni Yu, 27, is a former Parson’s student who is making waves across the Internet and design community with an school design project that is the very essence of inclusivity. Doyeon has an interesting global perspective of the beauty and fashion communities, and she is certainly not afraid to make a BOLD statement about plus size fashion and size inclusivity. Yu about her collection, Fatopia, said, “the celebration of flesh is a shout-out to those who don’t give up on loving themselves.”
I wanted to learn more about this “celebration of flesh”, so I reached out to Doyeon several days ago, and she was gracious enough to be open in sharing her story. She shared how her background has fueled her current design mission, some limitations she’s faced within the fashion world, and her hopes for the future of her collection. So, I hope you enjoy our dialogue!
SSL: Doyeon, you and I are quite similar in that we both want to encourage size-inclusivity in the global world of fashion. Tell me a little about your personal experience(s) with this topic and why you ultimately decided on your project theme, Fatopia, for your Senior thesis. Did you get any negative feedback from your peers or instructors?
DY: The very first start of this project was from my recognition that something is really wrong in this world. I was born and raised in South Korea, which is one of the most fat phobic countries. I’ve been always curvy, and I’ve always believed that my body was the problem. I thought I was not enough for this world. I thought my body, furthermore, my existence was wrong because of what the society always blabs about. At that point, when my self-hatred drove me to starve myself to death, one word hit me really hard:
WHY? Why do I have to hate myself so much? Why am I doing this to myself? Why should I follow society’s standards if they make me so miserable? Why can’t I love myself?
I decided to do the Fatopia project to tell me and you that we’re so cute no matter what size we are. We’re so enough. It’s unbelievable to see how enough we are.
During my thesis project, we had a lot of critiques. Fashion is known for being the most diverse… However, you would be surprised that it’s also known for being the most conservative field as well. Whenever I brought up size inclusivity and fashion equality, most of executives in the fashion field frowned. ‘This is too colorful for plus size’, ‘Plus size customers wouldn’t want to wear clothes that makes them look bigger’, ‘I don’t think people would feel comfortable in your collection’, ‘It’s too revealing for plus size fashion’ and etc. Ironically, those negative comments came from people who are under size 10. So, clearly, they don’t even know what they are talking about with size inclusivity because they haven’t had any problem while they’re shopping. Everyday was challenging. And it still is.
SSL: Growing up in South Korea, how did the culture there of size inclusivity or exclusivity influence your self-esteem?
DY: My country is one of the most fat-phobic countries. Korean culture constantly pushes you to lose weight while telling you that you’re not beautiful enough. Literally, skinny is the new sexy there. South Korea is the country where a stranger sitting next to you in a sauna makes comments on your body, saying that you need to lose weight. That is the country where clerks smirk at you when you can’t shop there because your waist is too chubby. That is the country where classmates tell you not to wear skirts because your legs are too thick. My self-esteem was really low in that negative environment. I always kept trying to be someone else that I could never be.
SSL: I noticed the various footwear styles included in your collection are rather unique architecturally. The upper and heel shapes are new to many consumers and shoe lovers alike. What was your source of inspiration behind your shoe designs? What’s the response been like?
DY: While I was doing my research, I was working with 10 different participants, including myself. We shared our stories and experiences about fashion. Furthermore, we explored how our body moves and forms. All the silhouettes are based on our body’s contour lines. I translated our insecurities and our loves of our bodies into fashion inspiration. Through this way, I believe that we can approach more people saying that every body can be translated into something beautiful. The concept of this inspiration is that when we proudly put ourselves out there, we’re not insecure anymore. We empower ourselves and show the world that we’re unbothered to be seen.
SSL: You partnered with a student at Polytecnico Calzaturiero in Italy to help bring your whimsical shoe designs to life. You also included footwear sizes up to U.S. 11. How important was it for you to include extended footwear sizes in this project? Are you yourself a part of the Queen Feet community of extended size ladies?
DY: The collaboration with Polytecnico Calzaturiero was amazing. My partner, Nico, was the most incredible shoe creator I’ve ever met. He has been so willing to help me to visualize this size inclusive collection. Since my design aesthetic is focused on inclusivity, it means a lot to me to have extended sizes. Because I want to create a world where everybody feels that they’re part of the society.
Also, this shoe design project is dedicated to my sister, who has been struggling with buying shoes because of her Queen Feet. I’m the one who closely witnessed her struggles and hardships. I wear size 7(which is also called the ‘sample size’ in footwear design), so I haven’t had any problem finding shoes. However, my sister, her shopping cart is always empty while I was putting every shoe in my cart. It is unfair. Everybody is not given the same level of choices, styles, and quality.
As a fashion designer, it’s my responsibility to provide the same style opportunities equally to every size.
SSL: Was it difficult to produce/ source footwear for larger sizes? If so, what was the biggest challenge(s) you’ve faced?
DY: Proportion and balance was the major problem for us. Depending on the sizes, the patterns of shoe upper had to change. It was pretty tricky to grade patterns because every pair of shoes has to look like it’s the same style on whatever size. We constantly fixed patterns to find the perfect grading until the last minute!
SSL: Why do you believe the fashion industry has been so reluctant to offer more inclusive sizes in footwear and apparel, although the apparel sector is changing seeming more rapidly?
DY: For a long time, there has been this unbreakable belief in the fashion industry that “skinnier and smaller looks better”. This has been praised by so many people for so long that it is considered as “normal”. But it is not!
Showing diversity and variety is the true beauty, but the fashion industry has yet to realize this. The fashion industry is too lazy to accept diversity and too arrogant to change their minds. Yet the fashion industry advertises itself as if it roots for innovative and creative minds.
We have to question ourselves. Are we really moving forward to innovative fashion?
We have a long way to go.
SSL: Moving forward, do you see yourself launching a more extensive size-inclusive brand? If so, which product categories would be your main focus?
DY: Yes, totally! I recently created my size inclusive/body positive brand, C’EST D. – DOYEON YONI YU(@d_yoniyu). I’d like to include all categories of fashion: apparel, footwear and handbags. Through my fashion brand, I want to create a positive life style where everybody feels great about themselves. Because fashion is the most powerful and approachable way to show who you are and it should be based on self-empowerment and self-love.
SSL: As a young designer, what do you think will be the greatest challenge(s) you might face in launching your brand?
DY: It takes time to convince to the public of my aesthetics because this topic has been ignored for a long time– even though we should have talked about this way earlier. Since I created my brand, I’ve been getting a lot of negative comments. ‘Gross’, ‘Nobody cares’, ‘This is ugly’, etc. But you know what, we are still cute! Most of the comments are from 16 – 20 years old, so we now know that we need to show a variety of body images and role models to our children to enlighten them. This is not gonna be easy, nor can it be achieved overnight. However, I won’t stop, and we won’t stop! Because we’re worth it.
SSL: What is the one piece of advice you would give to young girls or women who might be struggling with self-acceptance of their natural, physical differences?
DY: I feel you, girly. It took me almost 25 years to accept myself. Finally, on the 26th year, I decided to embrace myself more– my cuteness, my potentials, my flaws and my insecurities.
I can do it. You can do it. Everybody can do it! I know that it’s not gonna be easy. It can be achieved.
Be sure to keep up-to-date on Doyeon Yoni Yu’s latest designs by following her on Instagram.
Featured Photos // courtesy of Doyeon Yoni Yu