When a friend asked her two years ago to model some clothes for a photo shoot, little did Kera Holley know that she would have a future as a plus-size model.
Since then, the 5-foot-11-inch Annapolis resident has booked shows and shoots throughout the Mid-Atlantic. She was chosen last fall to participate in Lane Bryant's "#PlusIsEqual" campaign in New York City's Times Square.
"There are so many different doors that are opening with plus-size modeling that weren't there before," said Holley. "You just have to put forth the effort."
Holley is among 700 attending the fifth annual Curves Rock Fashion Weekend in Baltimore, which begins Thursday. Geared toward plus-size women, the event combines fashion, fitness and nutrition with self-empowerment.
Holley, who is a size 14, has come along at a time when the plus-size fashion industry and the body-positive movement have gained momentum. But Curves Rock was ahead of the pack when it launched five years ago.
"There were no plus-size fashion events in the area. There were no events that catered to empowering plus-size women. I wanted to combine those two things," said founder and CEO Chanell Jones.
Jones, who has modeled in local fashion shows for the past 10 years, decided to launch Curves Rock because she knew there was a dearth of opportunity for plus-size models (who generally wear a size larger than 12).
"Being a plus-size model myself, there were never any clothes for me," Jones said. "I always wore the matronly clothes. There needed to be a show that represented people like me."
Since its first sold-out year, the weekend grew to more than 500 attendees last year. This year, organizers expect more than 700 people to participate in the events offered at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards.
"Not only has it taken off in retailers and more designers ... being interested in providing clothing for plus-size women, there are more events all over the country," Jones said.
Last year, plus-size women saw a number of new clothing lines made available to them. Several of these lines were from celebrities, including actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy, who launched a collection sold through retailers such as Macy's, HSN, Nordstrom and Lane Bryant. Actress Rebel Wilson also teamed up with plus-size retailer Torrid to create a 25-piece line. Singer Beth Ditto unveiled a limited-edition plus-size T-shirt designed in collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier. She also released a full plus-size collection in February.
Designer Ashley Nell Tipton made history last November as the first contestant specializing in plus size fashion to win "Project Runway."
This spring, Maryland native Christian Siriano — another "Project Runway" — unveiled a spring/summer collection with plus-size retailer Lane Bryant. The ad campaign featured actress Danielle Brooks. And the runway show for the collection included plus-size supermodel Ashley Graham.
Progress has also been made off the runway. Brands like Forever 21 regularly feature full-figured mannequins in floor displays and windows. And Target ads feature models with an array of body types.
Aspiring designers are embracing diverse body types, too. This spring, fashion design students at Parsons petitioned the school to make more plus-size mannequins available.
All of this means more opportunities for models like Holley.
"You have so many different fashion shows available in different communities, areas and states," she said. "There are lots of magazines. You can schedule a simple photo shoot. That picture can go so many different places."
For Holley, who attended Curves Rock for the first time last year, the weekend has not only been a place where she can showcase her talents; it has also allowed her to build her confidence and make contacts within the fashion industry.
"There are so many different women," Holley said. "To be able to network and make friends in such a short amount of time, it makes you feel amazing. While I was there, I felt vivacious. I felt fearless. It teaches you to dream big and not to give up."
Activities for the weekend include a networking meet-and-greet, an awards brunch and panel discussion, and a workshop to help aspiring models break into the industry.
The weekend also showcases the talents of the plus-size design community.
Carl Trogdon's label, Alek Risimnic Couture, will be the featured designer at Curves Rock Fashion Weekend. The Baltimore native's collection will be colorful, with a "couple gowns" and "some everyday pieces."
Although he's made custom clothes for his fuller-figured clients since he launched his career 10 years ago, the 10-piece collection Trogdon will unveil Saturday night at Curves Rock will be his first devoted to plus-size women.
Trogdon, like many designers who cater to traditional store sizes, explained that, for fashion shows, it's less expensive and easier to make sample-size clothing that requires less fabric.
"I had to fund my own collections, so it's kind of difficult," said Trogdon, who now lives in Washington. "You can do a lot more with less fabric for a smaller person than you can do with a plus-sized person."
Despite that challenge, Trogdon has seen a major shift in the fashion industry's stance toward plus-size women.
"In the past couple years, people have been catering toward them and finding that there is a market for them," he said. "More people started discovering that the mass population wasn't a size zero. It's the evolution of fashion."
Trogdon has also seen a change in the mindset of his curvier clients.
"They started wanting nicer clothes," he said. "Now they want to look just as good or better than their competition who are smaller."