Transforming plus sized women into curvaceous queens is a full-time calling for Samoan fashion designer, Dee Tuitama. The former waitress and bartender took the plunge this year to focus on her clothing label ‘VAB Designz’, a brave but risky decision that’s required nerves of steel.
“Financially it’s not easy and you have to back yourself because a lot of people will doubt you,” says Dee. “I’m motivated by the desire to be my own boss, make my mark on the world and be a role model for my three kids.”
VAB is a play on the initials of her children – Victoria, Alexander and Brooklyn. It also stands for ‘Voluptuous Assets Boutique’.
Her father in law, an expert fabric cutter, introduced Dee to the notion of fashion design when she saw the end results of his work.
“I’d see designers coming to pick up the fabric he’d cut for them and then I’d see how much the final design would sell for,” recalls Dee. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’.”
After showing at the 2017 Pacific Fusion Fashion Show in Otara, Dee sought business advice to launch VAB Designz. The reality of the rag trade industry has been tough though with Dee opting out of attending a fashion show in Italy in April to avoid financial risk.
“This fashion business venture hasn’t come easily but I’ve worked my butt off to get to where I am today,” says Dee. “Although I’m not racking in thousands and millions yet I’m making my own way there, of course – with the support of family and friends.”
Dee is now preparing to show eleven garments at the Pacific Runway Fashion Show in Sydney in October. It’ll be the first time she’ll have sold her own stock and an important chance to extend her networks.
Through clever use of draping, darts and versatile peplums, Dee creates magical illusions around the fuller form. She’s a self-taught designer who wants to cater for big women and make them look amazing.
“I use a lot of peplums because it covers your tummy,” says Dee. “I try to use the structured V, like high waist jeans so it tightens everything up. It’s the type of illusion a lot of designers use. I like to keep styles classy, casual/corporate and comfortable.”
One thing you won’t see in Dee’s designs are Pacific patterns and fabrics. It’s important for Dee to break into mainstream fashion and appeal to a wide range of plus-sized clients.
“For me being a Pacific Islander, I was looking at a greater market out there and more contemporary mainstream designs other than just Pacific designs.” says Dee. “Having said that, I’m also inspired by designers who are creating Pacific Island wear. I reckon that’s something that the world needs.”
A former teenage mum, Dee is making up for lost time and years of feeling unfulfilled with her life. She’s well aware of the war bigger women wage on their weight and their struggle to dress and look good.
“Fashion and well-being go hand in hand,” says Dee. “If you look good you feel good and that contagious feeling just goes out everywhere. When you feel confident you are confident. It’s what we’re trying to help women build.”