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Career

Meet Joanna McLeod - the fashionista bringing colour and fun into plus-sized clothing

Fed up with the stigma, Joanna is a proud "fat" person, bringing colour and fun to fashion for plus-sized Kiwis.

By Julie Jacobson
With her bright blue hair, enormous beads and rainbow-coloured skirt, you can't miss Joanna McLeod. And that's exactly her point.
Fed up with being labelled and stigmatised, the 38-year-old is a proud "fat" person, bringing colour and fun to fashion for plus-sized Kiwis.
By day the Wellingtonian is a civil servant – albeit one who pointedly eschews the drab and sombre tones traditionally associated with the capital's public sector – and in her spare time she is the brains behind new clothing label The House of Boom.
Launched in July last year, Boom was born from Joanna's frustration at the lack of ethical clothing options in larger sizes.
"I wanted to wear bright colours, not prints that look like couches or things with random ruffles and frills," she says. "With no disrespect to mothers of the bride, that is not me.
"I complained about why no one was doing anything for so long that in the end I thought, actually, I guess I will."
Aged 12 in Japan (with her dad Neil), Joanna couldn't find clothes that fit.
Society's anti-fat bias was another motivation. Joanna, the daughter of a diplomat, spent her early years between New Zealand, Rarotonga, Germany and, from age 10 to 14, in Japan.
Being a big, tall child meant diminutive Japanese clothing was out of the question for Joanna, so any new clothes would generally be purchased on annual trips back home.
"Plus-size shopping can be a traumatic experience, just awful. In most shops, their plus-size section is at the back of the shop. It's hidden away as if you don't deserve to be seen. I utterly reject that idea."
She has no compunction about describing herself as fat.
"It's really important to use the word 'fat'. It should be a neutral term like being brunette, being tall. Instead, people use it as shorthand for lazy or bad or gross.
"When people make fun of politicians like Donald Trump, it is like there's a million things these people do that are bad, that are horrible, but it's often that they are criticised for their body size. Their body size is not why they are bad."
With no background in fashion or design – Joanna is a marketing and communications graduate – she's had to call on the "village" that is Wellington to get the label up and running.
Berhampore-based pattern maker Iona Woolgrove, who made the coat Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore for her Vogue fashion shoot, helps to design and make the garments, and everyone involved in the manufacturing process is paid good wages.
"I don't draw, so it's a bit like Pinterest," says Joanna with a laugh.
"I will show Iona a photo and say, 'Like this but change this bit, and change this, make it longer, give it pockets…' She'll come up with samples and we'll tweak those before we finalise what the garment will look like."
Being an online business with no physical presence – "my accountant said no to a shop" – hasn't been an issue.
Joanne turns her Thorndon home into a pop-up shop for launches, clears furniture out of the lounge, and turns her bedroom into a changing room.
Joanna is bringing bright, fun choices to the plus-sized market.
Like her first collection, her just-released second collection, It's Wild, features friends, and friends of friends, as models.
The Boomettes are "different body shapes, different heights, different aesthetics".
It is imperative, she says, that her models showcase and reflect the range of people she thinks would wear her clothes.
The photoshoot was all about "bringing the best version of yourself".
Each of the garments is named after a friend. There's the Kini, a loose, practical, pocketed shift dress in cotton named
after a woman who does a lot of travelling, and the Demelzia, an easy, comfortable dress whose namesake is a tough, capable acquaintance.
The Tiare skirt is a nod to Joanna herself. Tiare is her middle name and the skirt isthe one she always wanted but could never find.
"Of course I'm going to name the perfect skirt that I designed after myself!" she says with a grin.
One of Joanna's creations.
Being able to do good is important to Joanna, who donates five percent of Boom's sales to an organisation that supports young people.
"When we had the season-one shoot, one of the models brought her 12-year-old daughter along. She's a bigger girl and she was really shy, but she talked to the other models and hung out for the shoot.
"Back home, she said to her mum she wanted to start a sports clothing line for big girls. The rest of us were sitting there finishing the wine when we heard that and we all cried – it was just a really great moment, that we could perhaps inspire that next generation."

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