“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if he was in Africa, he probably wouldn’t make that statement,” designer Aisha Abubakar Achonu told AFP backstage.
Achonu, a regal 32-year-old with feline eyes, said that in Nigeria bigger can be better.
“Our culture appreciates plus-size more than other parts of the world,” she said. “No woman should be subjected to looking a certain way.”
Most seemed to agree. When the lights went up and the first plus-size model strode onto the runway wearing sunglasses, crimson lips and a ton of attitude, the crowd went wild.
“Oh. My. God,” said a woman in the audience with an afro and gold hoop earrings. “Wow.”
Unlike the hesitant, calf-like models before them, the curvy women owned the runway, blowing kisses to the cameras as they shimmied down the catwalk to hoots and cheers.
Model Olivia Emenike, who is a size 18 and stands over six feet tall, says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve never criticised my big bones or thick thighs. No one should feel ashamed of what they have,” said the 25-year-old.
“I wanted to be part of this event and show that plus-size women are fashionable.”
Plus-size clothing is shedding its dowdy reputation as more big name stores including Target and Mango introduce larger lines.
US actress Melissa McCarthy introduced her own Seven7 brand after no one would make her a dress for the 2012 Academy Awards, with her manifesto declaring “clothes should flatter our bodies and not just try to cover us up.”
Of course, it’s not just about looks: plus-size is big business too.
Annual US sales of women’s plus-size clothing — 14 and higher — rose to $20.4 billion in 2016, according to market research firm NPD Group.
With studies showing that waistlines are starting to bulge in Africa too, designers are set to cash in on the growing demand for curvy clothes.
“They see someone as big as me and look at my dresses and say I can relate to that,” designer Makioba Olugbile said.
Olugbile, who says she’s a size “Africa 16”, showed a dramatic collection inspired by the moon “for how you want to look in the spotlight.”
Her business is booming. “You can’t even imagine,” Olugbile said, her eyes widening with excitement.
“Now people are embracing plus-size.”
A movement is born
The enthusiasm was infectious backstage.
“I saw some of them when they were walking, I was like — you go girls!” said 18-year-old model Aduke Shitta-Bey, wearing a white lace robe and her straight black hair in a high pony-tail.
“Nigerians appreciate curvy girls, they say why are you so skinny? They say big is healthy, that’s Nigerian beauty.”
The curvy collective was brought together by Latasha Ngwube, a 33-year-old former journalist and founder of About That Curvy Life, a lifestyle website “aimed at inspiring and supporting the plus-size community”.
Ngwube started using the hashtag #AboutThatCurvyLife when she was attending fashion shows. Now her website has 15,000 visitors a week.
A movement was born, Ngwube said.
“I think it’s just mission started, but for tonight we’ll take mission accomplished.”