By Manna Zel, she/they
Every so often, you encounter people who inspire you so much that they change the trajectory of your life. If the stars are aligned, you might even team up to continue the work together that you’ve each been pursuing separately. That’s how the story goes for the Power of Plus, the size-inclusive community co-founded by fashion and culture writers and Teen Vogue-alum Gianluca Russo and Shammara Lawrence. Hosting bi-monthly virtual panels, exclusive events, and safe spaces dedicated to furthering conversations about fashion, body positivity, and fat politics, the Power of Plus is dedicated to promoting acceptance and respect for every body in continually innovative ways.
“Some people might call us naive, but honestly I feel like we are super powerful and especially when we come together as a collective, we make a world of difference,” Lawrence tells me. “The more we keep pushing back, the more we can keep using our voice to showcase the importance of size inclusivity and representing all body shapes and all body types in fashion.”
When Lawrence first crossed Russo’s radar, he was a college student and she was leading plus-size fashion coverage at Teen Vogue during the magazine’s widely-publicized revolution. Her stories centered plus-size fashion and voices, and Russo, new to the world of body positivity, was captivated. He cited Teen Vogue and Lawrence’s work as shaping much of his perspective, instinct, and inspiration from then on.
“If I hadn’t seen Shammara’s pieces at Teen Vogue when I was in college and trying to figure myself out and what I wanted from life and what my voice was, I probably wouldn’t have found it,” Russo tells me over Zoom. “I wouldn’t be here because I wouldn’t have known there was a possibility for a voice like mine to matter within the larger fashion conversation.”
Their relationship holds deep significance for Russo, both personally and professionally. When Lawrence left Teen Vogue, Russo went from admiring her work to taking the reins, expanding plus-size fashion coverage as conversations in the industry continued to increase. They became fast Internet friends after a few of Russo’s pieces went viral and landed on Lawrence’s timeline, but they wouldn’t meet until years later in 2018—waiting in line for a New York Fashion Week party that wrapped around the block. Russo, at the front of the line, graciously let Lawrence skip him—and they’ve been friends, collaborators, and business partners ever since.
Fashion Week after Fashion Week, they’d meet in the city—attending shows, events, and parties together and having conversations.
“There’s so many perspectives, so many people, so many conversations that aren’t being had during Fashion Week or in fashion in general. We wanted to create something that could push the boundaries in a way that had never been done before—because so much change has been made, but not nearly as much as we need,” Russo says.
The Power of Plus has really taken a digital-first presence—using social media and free digital events to further conversations around size inclusivity, fatphobia, diet culture, and issues that impact their community on a daily basis. In 2022, their eyes are set on expanding resources and becoming the go-to fashion and lifestyle destination for plus-size folks. Among those resources are networking opportunities for community members to connect with people at the top of their industries, like size-inclusive designers, models, and influencers.
But it doesn’t end with fashion—size inclusivity, fatphobia, and diet culture impact so much of our lives beyond the clothes we wear.
“We want to be able to provide body positive mental health practitioners and weight discrimination lawyers,” Russo says. “[For] all these different parts of life that are impacted by our size, we want to be able to provide support and resources for the people of our community.”
And better yet, the Power of Plus programming comes free of cost—Lawrence and Russo agree folks shouldn’t have to confront additional barriers to access their community.
“Gianluca and I honestly have a very similar vision about what we feel like the future of fashion should look like,” Lawrence says. “We are passionate about using our voices and our platform, through the Power of Plus, to make the world a better and more welcoming place for folks like us who are plus and are just tired of being treated as second-class citizens just because of our size.”
What else is next for The Power of Plus? A book penned by Russo himself, out in 2022, about plus-size fashion—specifically the women who brought it to life.
“The Power of Plus book and platform came at the same time, and that’s why it’s so good to do it with Shammara. [She] was the only one I was telling about this book. She was the only one seeing me go through like, ‘What is the formula? How can we make it the most empowering? What stories need to be told? What conversations do we need to have?’ Shammara helped me format that,” Russo says.
For eight months, Lawrence supported Russo as he wrote the book proposal. In that time, they realized they had so much more than a book—there was a need for community.
“It’s so much more than one headline, than one book, than one trailblazing moment,” says Russo. “It’s about changing the narrative, and to do that requires doing it from all aspects and all angles. This book is a celebration of every person who has contributed to building this community over the past 30 years — like Yumi Nu, Hunter McGrady, Iskra Lawrence, Kellie Brown, and all of these incredible people who have been doing the work for so long but have never gotten the attention and recognition they deserve for it.”
“Shammara opened the door for me to have a voice,” Russo says. “And now we get to open the door for so many other people behind us. Even though Shammara and I have very different identities, we can still connect on very fundamental levels of what inclusivity means to us, what diversity means to us, and what the future looks like to us.”
Want to get involved with the Power of Plus? Visit their site, follow them on Instagram, participate in their open conversations, check out their free panels, and consider how you can partner with or support their initiatives!