NYC's Full Figured Fashion Week taps Toronto for plus-size modelling talent

Modelling scouts head North in search of top-notch talent for New York City's Full Figured Fashion Week.

Model scouts head North in search of top-notch talent for June 12-18 event

Canada's talent pool is brimming with plus-size models, but according to Full Figured Fashion Week founder Gwen DeVoe, the market has gone 'untapped' – at least within our own country. (Robert Skuja/

It's never been a secret that Canada is a hotspot for talent – but as our exports of chart-topping artists, Hollywood heartthrobs and elite athletes rise, so too do the number of entertainment producers looking North for stars.

And they're striking gold, it seems, when it comes to supplying the demand for models in one of fashion's fastest-growing segments.

Could the next Ashley Graham or Tess Holiday be strutting in your midst? Maybe – but only if she gets discovered by someone from somewhere else.

Casting directors with New York City's Full Figured Fashion Week, one of the world's high-profile plus-size fashion events, hit Toronto this weekend in search of "the fiercest catwalk divas" for its 2016 season – the only Canadian stop on its roughly 15-city tour.

Delia Reuben of Toronto is one of the many Canadian models hoping for a spot in New York City's Full Figured Fashion week this June. (Lauren O'Neil/CBC News)

Just 50 women will be chosen out of thousands for what has been nicknamed "The Oscars of the plus industry," but tough odds are no deterrent for these models, who travelled to Saturday's auditions at plus-size fashion boutique Your Big Sister's Closet from as far away as Edmonton to advance their careers.

"We just find that the talent here is ... untapped," Gwen DeVoe, FFFW's founder and executive producer, told CBC News. "A lot of the women here don't have a lot of opportunity to come to New York to do anything. I think locally, they're all trying to perfect their craft. They just need the right person to see them."

Gwen DeVoe is the executive producer and creator of New York City's Full Figured Fashion Week. A former plus-size model and basketball player, she's got a keen eye for both business and talent. As boutique owner, Karen Ward put it, 'Gwen is the OG.' (Robert Skuja/
That right person could very well be one of the designers, buyers or editors attending her event, now in its seventh year, this June.

Since 2009, FFFW has grown from "a bold step to support the plus size fashion movement" to a flagship event in North America's fashion capital, hosting hundreds of industry professionals and appearing in publications like Vogue, The New York Times, CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

For a Canadian model, walking these runways could mean the difference between booking part-time, local catalogue jobs and a lucrative full-time fashion career – like the aforementioned Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition 2016 cover model Graham. 

"Ashley was our model of the year in 2014," says DeVoe, herself a former plus-size model and longtime producer of fashion shows. "I knew she was a star! She's unstoppable. We're just so very very proud of her."

And more stars will surely be born as the plus-size fashion industry grows

"The whole industry right now is focused on plus-size models, especially with Ashley Graham and the Sports Illustrated cover," says Abbygail Ackham, a model at Saturday's casting call in Toronto. "The attention is on us right now and I think we need to use that opportunity to shine and show the industry exactly what we're about, and why we need a place in mainstream fashion."

Models Tierra Sedgemore, Tarah Campbell, Abbygail Ackham and Latoya Taylor prepare to walk for the judges at Toronto's leg of the FFFW casting tour. (Lauren O'Neil/CBC News)

Another model, from Brampton, Ont., named Trisha was similarly happy for a chance to shine.

"This opportunity is awesome because a lot of people think that plus-sized women are lazy, unhealthy, not active – We have to go across the border most of the time to get the designs of clothes we want," she said.

"Canada has a very small plus-size community... I mean, we should be having our own Toronto Fashion Week for plus size, but this opens up opportunity for models of all sizes – big boobs, small boobs, big hips, small hips – we need something that's going to represent all plus size women, not just one type right?"

FFFW is unique in that it casts plus-size petites, meaning models can be shorter than five-foot-eight if they've got the right look and personality.

It has also been active in pushing for more size-diversity from retailers, according to DeVoe – particularly in the way of urging them to open more physical stories that sell fashionable, plus-size clothing.

"Most of the clothes I buy are online – not because I want to," she says. "I would love to be able to go into stores and have a try-on experience... but we don't have any of the brick-and-mortar stores."

Karen Ward opened her boutique, Your Big Sister's Closet, three years ago to meet the needs of discerning fashionistas size 12-plus. She's had customers travel from across the country to shop at a stylish brick-and-mortar store for plus size women. (Lauren O'Neil/CBC News)

"I think that the more we do this, the more we get the word out, it's only good for the industry," DeVoe says. "All I've ever wanted, is for the industry to grow and for the fashion industry to recognize that the plus-size consumer dollar is a strong one.

"There is definitely a gap in the market, and there is a lot of money to be made."