Every Body celebrates inclusivity and the representation of human beings in every shape and form.
Nadia Boujarwah isn’t shy about her company Dia & Co’s mission to make fashion trends accessible to women of every size. This past February, when the fashion world gathered in New York to preview the Autumn and Winter collections from designers like Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs, the CEO and founder behind the plus-size subscription styling service made a bold statement about inclusivity and the industry’s embarrassing record of serving only the size two and under crowd.
“Fashion she can’t wear is becoming a bit unfashionable,” read a full-page ad in the New York Times. “This week, we challenge true fashion vanguards to start designing for women of all sizes.”
It’s a challenge that Boujarwah has made her personal goal, aiming to bring on-trend fashion to women sized 14 and up by corralling a team of professional stylists to pull clothes chosen specifically to suit their current wardrobe and individual style and budget.
Can you tell us about where the inspiration behind Dia & Co comes from—what led you as an entrepreneur to start a fashion subscription service for women sizes 14 and up?
Dia&Co was founded out of my personal experience. I have been plus size my whole life—I’ve been every size between a 12 and a 22. Growing up, I always struggled to find stylish clothing that fit my body.
But it wasn’t until I attended Harvard Business School that I discovered how many women shared my struggle: 67 percent of women in the United States wear a size 14 or above, yet plus size clothing only accounts for 17 percent of total apparel purchased. As I began to research this further, I often heard that retailers didn’t carry or produce clothing in larger sizes because they believed plus size women weren’t interested in fashion. I knew firsthand that this just wasn’t true, and I believed millions of other plus size women wanted to participate in fashion too.
In 2014 I teamed up with my Harvard Business School classmate Lydia Gilbert to found Dia & Co. In founding [the company], we wanted to not only democratize fashion for plus size women by providing easy access to a variety of quality clothing, but also to build an inclusive community of women who use fashion to celebrate who they are, as they are today.
In an interview you did recently with Forbes, you said that your personal mission is to “inspire radical self-love through style.” Can you explain what you mean by that, and how your business makes that happen?
Self-love shouldn’t be radical, but we live in a society where women are constantly told that their value is determined by the size and shape of their bodies. For me personally, self-love is about knowing that my value is determined not by the size of my body, but by the quality of my character. It’s about knowing who I am on the inside, and celebrating that person. And style is one of the ways I do that.
I truly believe in the power of style. Style is much more than the clothes we wear — style is self-expression. It’s being yourself and showing off your superpowers. It’s owning who you are and how you see the world. All women deserve equal opportunity to do that — but the unfortunate truth is that right now women who wear plus size clothing have limited choices when it comes to fashion. Our company is committed to expanding the options available to our community so that they have the resources to truly express and celebrate who they are.
How do you choose fashion-forward stylists and brands to work with while making sure they have the same philosophy you do about self-love and body positivity?
Lydia and I have always been determined to foster a company culture that’s truly mission-driven, and for us, that means making sure all members of our team are deeply committed to serving our customer exceptionally.
We’re also committed to fostering a culture of inclusivity, and a core piece of that is valuing the inclusion of our customer in our workforce. Two of the first hires we made were a YouTuber who had reviewed a Dia & Co box, and the sales associate from the plus size department at Lord and Taylor, who had noticed us buying a suspicious quantity of clothing, and who happened to be a plus size woman herself.
Today, more than 75 percent of the Dia&Co styling staff identifies as plus size, and the majority started as Dia customers themselves. We’re also proud to have an executive team that is 60 percent female and a workforce that is 83 percent female.
When it comes to brands, we’re looking for partners who share the same mission and values we do. This is incredibly important to us, and we have passed on potential partnerships when it seemed that the brands did not share our love for and commitment to our customer. Fortunately, we have also found many brands who are eager to serve this customer exceptionally, and we’ve been able to work together to significantly improve the offerings available to our community.
There’s a lot of ingrained stuff in language and pop culture that we constantly reference without thinking about how it affects our own and other people’s self-image in a negative way — phrases like “bikini body” or describing clothing as “slimming.” Are those things on your mind when you’re promoting and marketing your business?
I think about this a lot — and as you say, many of these bits of language can be deeply ingrained, so regular self-reflection is critical. So much of the conversation around fashion— and around women in general—can focus on the body. But again, at Dia & Co our perspective is that clothes are a way to express your personality. That’s what it’s all about for us, and that’s what we try to focus on through our language. We want to live in a world where a woman’s style choices are described in terms like “bold,” “expressive,” or “sophisticated” — not “slimming” or “figure-flattering.”
One thing in particular that struck me about Dia & Co’s business model is the idea of getting to try on clothes in your own home. I think a lot of people have had the experience of going to a store and feeling awkward or uncomfortable because of an overly enthusiastic salesperson or a lack of mirrors or decent lighting in the change room. Do you think this specific aspect of Dia & Co’s system makes a difference to your clients?
As you said, it’s unfortunately very common for women of all sizes to have negative fitting room experiences. In fact, we did a survey last year and found that only 22 percent of women reported feeling happy the last time they left a fitting room — and 33 percent reported feeling significantly worse when leaving than when they entered. And for women who wear plus size clothing, these negative experiences have often been compounded by uniquely poor service from retailers. The plus size clothing sections in stores, if they exist at all, are typically severely understocked and located far away from the main sales floor. Who would want to shop in that sort of environment?
When we founded Dia & Co, we decided to focus exclusively on serving women who wear size 14 and above, and our primary objective was to serve this customer exceptionally. We spoke with thousands of women to understand their experiences, and to hear from them firsthand what their dream shopping experience would be like. We considered a variety of approaches, but ultimately the insights we heard from the community led us to begin with an in-home shopping model. Since launching this service, feedback has been incredibly positive, and we’ve now worked with more than a million women.
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(Photos courtesy of Dia & Co)