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Jen Wilder in front of the Plus Bus
Jen Wilder in front of the Plus Bus
Danny Liao

Jen Wilder: The Plus-Size Fashionista With a Persistent Streak

There is no bus at the Plus Bus. But this cheerful little spot in Glassell Park offers something more important: community.

"In a city full of millions of people who are plus-sized, we're still the only [place] offering a safe space for fat bodies to experience fashion and to have access to self-expression through clothing," Plus Bus co-founder Jen Wilder says. "It becomes very personal when you're a bigger girl — it becomes more than just clothes, it's opportunity."

Wilder knows what she's talking about. She's a big presence. She's 5 foot 10 and what she would call fat: "I identify as a fat woman and I call myself a fat woman, to take the power away from people using that as a degrading term to me my whole life," she says.

"I've been making clothes since I was 14, because I grew up plus-size and there was nothing to wear," she says. She now has a full-time corporate job, designing "all these clothing lines I couldn't wear," she says with a laugh. In 2012 she started her own plus-size line, Cult of California. Although it shuttered in 2014, Wilder hopes to restart it. "Five-year plan, I'm looking for an investor to do my line again and to have franchises of the Plus Bus."

She dreams big: "I feel like it's a very important store that is needed in a lot of cities, if not all major cities. Not even just in the United States, like worldwide — you need a plus-size store in every town because there's just not much going on for us."

Wilder wasn't always destined for fashion. She was pre-med in college, with plans to become a forensic pathologist. "But I couldn't get my homework done because I was always making dresses! So I decided that I probably should go with what I'm passionate about instead of trying to go with something that was rebellious against my family of artists."

College was the University of Oklahoma — her parents, spooked by the 1992 L.A. riots, moved the family there from Orange County when Wilder was 16. Although it was "a bit of a culture shock," she says, "I honestly feel like it made me a better version of myself. ... If you're an artist and a weirdo in Oklahoma, it's kind of an identity, and it's like big fish in a little pond, because there's not much competition for a plus-size designer in Oklahoma."

Visiting her brother in L.A., Wilder discovered the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and became determined to attend. She went home and put together a new collection, shot it on models, did a PowerPoint presentation of it and, within six months, was a student there.

Something else came out of her FIDM days: husband Doug Meyer and, eventually, their two kids. "My first class was my husband's class [in art history], and I fell in love with him at first sight. I'm pretty much that kind of person. I set my mind to something and I don't let go until I get it," she declares.

Her persistence has paid off. The Plus Bus celebrated its second birthday in April, and it's going strong. "What I say is we took our closets and we turned it into a community," Wilder says of the boutique she opened with Marcy Guevara-Prete.

"Since I was 14 until now — I'm 40 — it's been such a huge change in the focus on women's bodies. It used to be Barbie and now it's Kim Kardashian," Wilder continues.

"But ... there's so little thought in the fashion world of the plus-size customer. ... It's not just the clothes. It opens people, it allows them to envision their lives in a way that is different, and it allows them to envision a whole life that isn't just held back by the value or worthiness of that body."

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