‘we can’t let clothing sizes ruin our lives’

Candice Huffine became one of the foremost ambassadors for body inclusivity before the term even existed. In 2000, aged 15, she was signed as a plus-size model at a time where fashion opportunities were at best limited for women over a size 14, at worst they were given the leftover scraps – plus size categories were just a few secondary, undercooked and uninspiring stands, often shoved in the corner of a store.

“I remember shopping in a New York department store and the plus size section was a few racks that sat next to the mattresses,” says Huffine. “At the time I thought, maybe it was down to the phrasing ‘plus size’ – that it was causing a problematic divide which made brands think, ‘this woman is so different and so her shopping experience should be different.’ There was no life, no music, no nothing.”

Today, Huffine has no issue with the term plus-size – whatever description women most identify with is fine by her, but she’s been rolling with ‘curve model’ recently: “It just flows better,” she says. In the two decades since Huffine has been working in fashion, inclusivity has become a buzzword. She has never and will never allow herself to be held back simply because she doesn’t conform to a size eight ideal of what a woman should look like.

The only way forward is inclusion

“The only way forward is inclusion,” she says. “There is truly no way that the consumer, the badass woman at home, is going to let any other mentality stay for long. Everyone’s voices are so powerful now and that’s been a catalyst for the change we’re seeing. If a brand is getting it wrong, they’ll know about it pretty fast.”

One of Huffine’s defining traits is tenacity – if it looks intimidating or closed off, she’ll lean in just in case it works out better than she first thought. It’s an approach she’s also applied to fitness (she’s now completed two marathons) and also to her lack of understanding about technology (she recently signed up to be part of gaming platform Drest’s latest supermodel project, but more of that later). She refuses to feel demoralised by brands who don’t cater to women of her size purely because she knows that they’ll change tact soon enough. This is clearly true of Victoria’s Secret; in 2018, the brand’s former chief marketing officer Ed Razek said he had no intention of casting plus models in VS shows, claiming that “no one had any interest”. Two years, later the lingerie giant cast Huffine in its campaign, alongside its seasoned favourites Joan Smalls and Jasmine Tookes.

“I’m a silver linings gal, so if I see a brand that isn’t being as current in terms of inclusion as they could be, I’m patient because I know what’s coming,” she says. “There is no going back. I just think, ‘just wait until you see me in one of your bras.'”

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This determination and self-belief has been a big contributor to her success. The Washington-born brunette grew up in Maryland where she followed her family tradition and competed in beauty pageant. Huffine always had her eye on a bigger prize – becoming a model whose face would one day appear on a billboard in Times Square. When she wasn’t plucked from obscurity by a model scout, she decided to take heed of a suggestion made by a pageant audience member and travelled to New York for open calls.

“I didn’t have a plan b and I’m thankful for the confidence of 15-year-old me,” she laughs. “I went to New York thinking, ‘I’m heading out to get what’s mine and to make my dreams come true early.’ I’m so shocked by that teenage girl; she knew what she wanted and got it.”

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Huffine on the Christian Siriano catwalk in September 2017

Peter White

During the two days she spent in New York, Huffine was knocked back by eight model agencies, one of whom told her to lose 20 pounds (1.4 stone). She was a UK size 10 at the time. One agency wanted to sign her as a plus size model, and her career began from there. She has since starred in numerous campaigns and featured in the pages of high-end glossy publications, including Harper’s Bazaar. In 2015, she became the first plus size model to star in the Pirelli calendar.

Huffine was knocked back by eight model agencies, one of whom told her to lose 20 pounds

2020 is a very different place to 2000 and the fashion industry has grown up with Huffine. More and more designer brands are embracing women bigger than a size 16 and the choice of beautiful, stylish clothes are more widely available. Labels such as Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty have proven that inviting everyone to the fashion party is not only morally correct, but also extremely lucrative. That’s not to say that there isn’t still work to be done. Too many labels (Huffine is far too chic to name names) are guilty of tokenism, an approach that serves no one. What is needed is meaningful commitment.

“Inclusivity can’t be a drop in the bucket or a token moment,” she says firmly. “I remember once not getting booked for a job because they’d already booked the plus-size girl and I thought, ‘but you can book another right?’ Just represent women in a way that you haven’t done before and do it constantly and consistently. It won’t go unnoticed, and it will have a domino effect across the industry.”

“If it does seem like I’m there in a small pool of curve models, I just crush it and show them what they’re missing to make it clear why there should never just be only two of us here again.”

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Huffine pictured in New York in June 2019


She has spent the pandemic with her husband in their holiday home in Long Island. It’s the longest period that the couple have ever spent in the same place together, such was her former international schedule.

“From the day I met him, I’ve spent my life on planes,” she says. “This is the first time under one roof for this long my whole life since high school. It’s also the longest I’ve stayed with my husband under one roof too. Our honeymoon was two weeks and I think that was the longest period that we together in the same house prior to this. This period, as tragic as it has been for so many, has really changed my outlook – I need to dedicate more time for me to just be, to sit and spend time with the people I love.”

Huffine has also been busying herself with a newer pastime – gaming. The model has teamed up with Drest to become one of five supermodel avatars on the luxury styling game, which first launched last year by former Harper’s Bazaar UK editor Lucy Yeomans. Users are able to choose their respective supermodel and can cast them in dedicated photoshoot challenges, while also having the option to style them with a choice of 200 luxury brands.

“Tech is never on my side,” she admits. “I always feel a little behind on it, but being a part of Drest I have been catapulted way beyond anyone I know. I played Drest even before I became an avatar and instantly put a jacket in my cart, and I thought ‘really, so this is gaming? This is so fun.’”

She’s right in that there are few better times than to get into gaming. “Pandemic aside, it’s winter so we’re all inside, so how good to be able to immerse yourself in a virtual world that offers glamour and international travel – you can try on a designer dress and then be in Paris during a photoshoot,” she says. “Also, we’re on our phones so much for business reasons that we forget that we can use it to carve time out of our day to use it for fun and to escape. Our devices don’t have to be serious.”

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Huffine as an avatar in Drest’s new supermodel game


She was also drawn to the project because of Drest’s pledge to donate five per cent of each avatar purchase to the model’s charity of choice. Huffine chose the Movemeant Foundation, which teaches young girls that physical movement is the key to self-confidence and resilience. It’s a cause that the model has only relatively recently come to understand herself after getting into running, which has helped her to feel truly happy in her own skin.

“At high school, I didn’t see myself represented in the running community, so I felt that that meant it wasn’t for me,” she said. “But my husband dared me to do a half marathon a few years ago and it was life changing. I just found that moving my body in that way shifted my outlook on the importance of it. I realised I needed to do it for my mental health and my confidence.”

We need to change the narrative around movement – exercise is not just for weight loss

Finding the right workout apparel for her size was the biggest challenge, so she established Day/Won, America’s first truly inclusive activewear brand, ranging from 0-32. “When I first started running for these races, I only had one pair of leggings that I could actually train in,” she recalls. “Everything was uncomfortable and unflattering. The hardest part of training back in 2016 was finding the gear to do it in, so I could actually focus on running.”

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She stresses that the rhetoric around fitness is wrong. “We need to change the narrative around movement – exercise is not just for weight loss,” she says. “That idea befuddles things further, this concept that the only reason you need to work out is to become smaller – and we have to move away from this mentality. It’s damaging and it sends the wrong message. I want young girls to find this out earlier than I did and Drest is helping with that. These are the ladies to change the world; we can’t be worried about dress sizes. Sizing is a bizarre mathematic thing made for each brand, we’re letting these numbers dictate our lives when there’s no rhyme and reason for them.”

In times such as these, many of us are struggling to find our mojo, with bouts of low confidence and mood dips. For this, Huffine, has a clear message – avoid toxic people, find something that makes you happy and work at it. “You are in charge of what you consume,” she says firmly. “It’s about finding that thing for yourself, it could be affirmations in the mirror, but whatever that thing is you’re going to have to put in the work to do it otherwise you’ll never understand how to get yourself back to good, or to manage these days in a productive way. The internal work will get you there.”

Download the Drest app at apps.apple.com

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