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Alesha Bowman Debuts Kansas City’s First ‘Plus Size Weekend’ Celebrating Inclusive Fashion

Mackenzie Martin
KCUR 89.3
Alesha Bowman and Tajuana Blackmon held a kickoff event for Kansas City Plus Size Weekend Thursday night at Swope Park. The "full figured field day" involved the kinds of games you would have played back in gym class.

In the first four-day festival of its kind for Kansas City, thrift store owner Alesha Bowman doubles down on her mission to build up plus-size women.

The first four-day festival celebrating plus-size bodies in Kansas City kicked off with some serious gym class nostalgia Thursday night at Swope Park.

"Think back to when you were in elementary school... usually everyone picked the fat kid last," says Kansas City Plus Size Weekend founder and president Alesha Bowman. "So today we just want to even the playing field. We're going to get out here. We're going to play. We're going to run. We're going to have a good time."

The "full figured field day" is the first of multiple events happening in Kansas City this weekend, all with the goal of empowering plus-size persons to be fearless leaders "despite their size, weight or structure."

"I'm so excited. It's been two years since we had the first inkling to come together and make this happen," says event vice president and lifestyle blogger Tajuana Blackmon.

Tonight's sold-out fashion show will feature plus-size models from as far away as St. Louis, area designers like 79 Roze and a special performance by Kansas City rapper Amira Wang. For those who didn't get tickets fast enough, footage from the fashion show will be shared online later.

"For a lot of people, it's like, I never see my body in that form. I never see my body on a runway. I've never seen my body in sexy clothes," Bowman says. "It's going to be an experience."

There's also a sold-out pool party on Saturday and the entire weekend culminates in a vendor fair on Sunday afternoon. Bowman says people might be surprised to learn that there are at least 20 plus-size boutiques in the Kansas City metro area.

"And it's more than just clothes on Sunday," Bowman says. "We have a candle maker that's sculpting plus-size bodies in candle form."

The plus-sized weekend concept is far from Bowman's first foray into spreading this kind of inclusivity in the fashion industry. She owns unLESHed+, a secondhand plus-size boutique at 4243 Troost Ave., where affordability is an equally important part of her business model.

"When you can't even walk into the store and find something that's fashionable and affordable at the same time... It's kind of like, what's the use?" she told KCUR's Up To Date earlier this year. "Who are you making clothes for? And who's going to be your customer of the future?"

While Bowman has never personally struggled with body positivity, she knows some of her customers do, so she puts a lot of effort into creating the right atmosphere inside her shop. On the walls, she posted self-affirmations — including song lyrics from icons like Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion.

Courtesy of Alesha Bowman
You can find unLESHed+ at 4243 Troost Ave. in Kansas City.

Another staple? No mirrors in the dressing rooms. Bowman says that's because no matter what size you are, there's a lot of self sabotage in a dressing room. Putting mirrors in the public part of the store forces you to look at your outfit in a "curated space of positive vibes."

"If it's something you're not liking, I'm there to help you figure out what shapes would make you feel more comfortable," she says. "And most of the time, there are other customers in here. So they're hyping you up and telling you you look good and stuff. And it's just a one big, encouraging moment."

Business has been good for Bowman since she expanded and reopened her store this spring. But last fall, in the pandemic, she was dipping into her personal savings to pay rent. Asurprise $10,000 check from the Ellen DeGeneres Show helped her get back on her feet.

"I give all props to Ellen and her team."

Bowman says if 2020 has taught us anything, it's to have as good of a time as you can as often as you can.

"Tomorrow isn't promised to us," she says. "If you just spend your life worried about what somebody's gonna say if you wear a swimsuit to the swimming pool, that's not a good way to spend your time. Just go out there and enjoy yourself."

Kansas City Plus Size Weekend's lineup of events runs until Sunday, June 27. The Frames & Figures Fashion Show and Plus*Pool*Ooza Twilight Swim are both sold out, but more information about THE BIG BANG! Vendor Explosion on Sunday from 12:00 - 4:00 p.m. is online.

Whether it’s something happening right now or something that happened 100 years ago, some stories don’t fit in the short few minutes of a newscast. As a podcast producer and reporter at KCUR Studios, I help investigate questions and local curiosities in a way that brings listeners along for adventures with plot twists and thought-provoking ideas. Sometimes there isn’t an easy answer in the end – but my hope is that we all leave with a greater understanding of the city we live in. Reach me at mackenzie@kcur.org.
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