Project Runway Star Shakes Up Plus-Size Industry Ashley Nell Tipton is the winning designer in the latest season of Project Runway. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with her about what her win means for the plus-size fashion industry.

Project Runway Star Shakes Up Plus-Size Industry

Project Runway Star Shakes Up Plus-Size Industry

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Ashley Nell Tipton is the winning designer in the latest season of Project Runway. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with her about what her win means for the plus-size fashion industry.


In most yearbooks, seniors will pick a favorite quote or a song lyric to accompany their photo. But Ashley Nell Tipton wrote something else. Quote, "I am America's next fashion designer for plus-sizes," she wrote. Just six years later, that ambitious young woman has changed a little bit. Her hair is now a lovely shade of lavender. And she has won the designer reality show "Project Runway" with a collection of stunning plus-size clothing. I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago after the win. And I asked her how she end up competing on the show.

ASHLEY NELL TIPTON: So after losing my grandmother in the beginning of this year, two days after I lost her - she was the one who taught me how to sew and everything - and I received an email to apply for "Project Runway." And I definitely felt like this was the sign that I needed to do it, you know? I lost the person who mattered the most to me. And I had nothing else to lose but to just try.

MARTIN: How did your grandmother introduce you to design and clothes?

TIPTON: When I was younger, she took care of me. And we would always do arts and crafts. And she would always teach me things that she's learned in the past. And since she's taught me how to sew, I decided to start making my own clothes for myself when I was in high school. And then that's where I really enjoyed sketching something and then make it to real life.

MARTIN: So, I mean, have you even ever seen "Pretty In Pink"? Do you even know what that movie is? You're too young.

TIPTON: Yes, I have seen "Pretty In Pink" (laughter).

MARTIN: (Laughter) But that was, like, the movie I grew up with when, you know, the girl is, like, this super talented - and she turns this hideous prom dress into something cool. That was you? You did that stuff all the time?

TIPTON: Yes, yes, exactly. So I didn't really start from scratch. I would just take little things here and there and be creative with it and try to make it my own. And I really think, throughout my years of high school, I was always an oddball. I wasn't your normal plus-size girl who would dress in all black and hide in the shadows. I was very out there. But I was very shy and insecure about certain things. But that was just my comfort level. Like, I had to be at that point with colored hair and dress in the way I wanted to and not hide.

MARTIN: Have you encountered a lot of doubters in your career path, people who have told you, I don't know, there's just not a good market for plus-size fashion design?

TIPTON: Not necessarily. It's more of, like, are you sure you want to do that? You know, that's a lot of work, you know, just doubting my ability. Or it's the people who not necessarily say that don't do plus-size, but they're just not for it - or I'm promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.

MARTIN: You're not just designing clothes for women who happen to be plus-size, size 14 or something.

TIPTON: No, no.

MARTIN: I mean, your - your work is much broader than that. But because you do have a focus on this, you end up taking on a much bigger challenge, right? Because you're trying...

TIPTON: Exactly.

MARTIN: You're working in an industry that has such a focus on being thin - very thin - that, inevitably, you're trying to change an industry standard for what it means to be a beautiful woman.

TIPTON: Yes, exactly. And I feel like we have so much options for the straight sizes. That's what I like to call anywhere from a size zero to a size eight, 10. And I feel like we have enough options for those sizes. And I feel like we don't have enough options for the plus-size industry. Like, by me being on this show and the fact that I went out and put there - put a collection down New York Fashion Week that with all plus-size models, I feel like I was very, very brave because it's so much pressure. You have to think about what the judges are going to think, what the audience are going to think, the people who watch the show, the people who are in the plus-size community, the people in the industry. It's like you have so many people to think about that you want to make sure that you're pleasing everybody and that you are representing the plus-sized community in the right way.

MARTIN: Were you pleased with yourself? Did you look at your collection and say, yeah, I nailed it?

TIPTON: I did. I mean, I cried. I mean...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TIPTON: (Laughter) There wasn't a time that I didn't cry on the show. But definitely looking at my lineup and watching my girls go down the runway was the most incredible feeling ever. It's something that I've always dreamt of doing. I just never thought it would be happening this soon in my life.

MARTIN: Ashley Nell Tipton is the season 14 winner of "Project Runway." Ashley, thanks so much for talking with us. And we'll be watching your career. Good luck with everything.

TIPTON: Thank you. I appreciate it.

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