It's hard to escape the body-negative perils of online shopping and the fashion industry.
Not a month goes by without another major brand getting called out for photoshopping thigh gaps. Historically, not many women of color have graced the cover of major beauty magazines. Indeed, most models on the runway or posing in catalogs represent a narrow idea of what it means to look like today's woman.
But one new online brand hopes to expand the old definitions of what it means to be beautiful.
Courtney Smith, the owner and designer of Rum + Coke, told Mic she started the line roughly a year ago to craft a differing perspective on beauty and how women see themselves. All designs are sold online, and sizes range from a small to a 3XL. While her sizes target a specific demographic, Smith's models are similarly unconventional when it comes to the stereotypical department store mannequin.
Instead, they are all women of color — and none of them wear a size 2.
Smith told Mic that the decision was a natural one.
"Besides being a plus-size woman of color and wanting to see someone like me in a campaign, I feel it is necessary to include women of varying ethnicities and sizes," she said. "Oftentimes women of color and plus-sized women are overlooked or completely absent in ad campaigns, even though both groups represent a large population. I use these models to expand the definition beauty and what is fashionable."
The developing line includes an array of skirts, dresses, pants and tops, some of which are named after bar-time favorites, a nod to the Rum + Coke name. Other styles bear the names of women who Smith says played influential roles in her personal life or in pop culture, such as the characters from the hit TV show Girlfriends. In an interview with Refinery29, she said the line itself is inspired by one of her nicknames, adding the "rum" for a bit of fun flair.
That balance between lighthearted enjoyment and displaying styles and models who defy convention are part of what makes Rum + Coke stand out as a brand.
In addition to positioning women of color as fashion icons, Rum + Coke also runs counter to how the fashion industry seems to patronize women who wear plus sizes — or worse, excludes them altogether. Although larger corporations like Target and Gap are making headlines for recent attempts (and failures) to include these customers, there's still plenty of work to be done if the industry wants to authentically include fashions that appeal to women of all sizes.
"Brands are beginning to pay attention to the needs of women who are larger than your standard 'large.' However, I feel many brands fall short of making quality plus pieces, or plus pieces at all, because of the stigma attached to weight," Smith told Refinery29. "Some of these larger brands can do better, but choose not to because they know there are a limited number of places that cater to this demographic."
But plus-size fashion and diversity aren't exactly where she wants the conversation to end. In addition to helping showcase the varying manifestations of beauty, Smith hopes her work also creates a dialogue around self-love and empowerment as it relates to fashion.
"I want to take you beyond the idea of body positivity and acceptance. Acceptance stops at adequacy and 'social presentability,'" Smith said, adding that she wants women to know that they are enough. "Rum + Coke takes it a step further and calls for a full embrace and celebration of oneself."