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.”