With 13 years in the fashion industry under her belt, model and singer Yumi Now is well aware of that including size, especially for plus-size women, has been lacking, both on the runway and at retail. Much of her career has been spent tirelessly swapping in and out of ill-fitting clothes backstage at some of the most coveted shows.
“I’ve been modeling since I was in school, but the plus-size industry wasn’t, and still isn’t, really that developed, so we don’t see as much diversity and inclusion in collections,” she says. As “indie sleaze” and “heroin chic” resurface and make Miu Miu micro minis are dominating the fashion sphere, it almost feels like we are moving backwards.
After being sorely disappointed by plus-size offerings over the years, Nu recalls spending her days scrolling through her feed during the 2020 lockdowns, which finally sparked a moment of realization.
“I was bored, like a lot of people, and I tried to check every staple off my wardrobe list and it just went horribly,” she says. “There are some pieces that literally don’t exist in my size—I’m on the medium to plus size scale. I have the privilege of being able to fit into many of the final sizes for many brands. But I thought if hard for me, that’s it so much harder for someone who has like a 2X, 3X or even a 6X. It is a lack of genuine care and inclusiveness [from brands].”
With a constant stream of celebrity-founded labels and influencer-inspired brands, the straight-size market is oversaturated to say the least. But with a cost estimate of almost 200 billion dollarsthe plus-size market is still largely untapped.
After moving to New York from Los Angeles over two years ago—much of which was spent going door-to-door, meeting hundreds of pattern makers and looking at sample fabrics—Nu is ready to introduce Bluekia brand of custom pieces available in sizes XXS to a 6X, with prices starting at $350.
Creatives across the board can agree that with any business startup, one of the hardest parts of the job is coming up with a name. For Nu there came a day when she overlooked her mother’s phone while she was playing poker; she entered the name “blueki”, a combination of her family’s maiden name, Aoki, with its English translation, “blue tree”.
“I just thought it was really cute and sounded like a little character. I liked that [blueki] has this familial meaning behind it,” says Nu.
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Blueki’s first collection spotlights 12 knitwear styles made to fit people of all shapes and sizes, inspired by a mood board stacked with iconic ’90s references, futuristic 3D digital art and Japanese design, alongside beloved fashion brands such as Helmut Lang, Blumarine and Eckhaus Latta. There are a range of comfortable ribbed pieces that offer a timeless edge, mini dresses and renaissance-inspired lace-up corsets, ballet core-inspired cropped cardigan sleeves, plus Nu’s favorite: the Deb maxi, a knit dress adorned with cutouts at the midriff.
Now may not have gone through the typical fashion school funnel, but inclusive sizes aside, she envisioned Blueki as a resource for versatile wardrobe staples.
“I tried to design some cooler pieces that have some edge, but I still want it to be cool five to 10 years from now,” she says. “With fast fashion, there’s a constant need to be up to date with what to wear. I wanted to lean into what’s cool now, but can also be used years later and even passed down. I think of anything and everything, because I don’t take it lightly that people invest in the brand and buy things from us.”
In addition to Blueki’s size-friendly It-girl pieces, Nu is also committed to ensuring that her line is consciously and ethically produced in New York City. Nu assures that her pieces are made in a 3D knitting factory, so there is not much human work behind her collections. Each item is also created based on demand to reduce overproduction.
“One of the biggest things about starting this brand is that I want to add an opportunity in the fashion industry: we don’t have to ignore the unethical practices that happen behind closed doors, and this garment won’t fall apart after a few washes and ends up in some donation center, then a landfill,” she says. “I have to admit that it costs more, especially if you’re a smaller brand… It was expensive for us to make 12 sizes in a collection, so I understand how much money and effort it takes for a smaller brand to make this switch. But if you’re a big company with tons of money, there’s no excuse, especially if you stop at an XL—they’re going to be left behind.”
Nu’s original plan was for Blueki to be a plus-only brand, “but then I thought it would be cool for someone of all sizes to wear my pieces,” she says. “The plus-size community definitely needs it more, but I wanted to make Blueki a fully inclusive brand because we all deserve to be clothed.”
The future looks bright and hopeful for Blueki and Nu: In the coming months and years, the 26-year-old will experiment with different aesthetics, create more non-stretch pieces, and just be like “the cool older sisters” who provide customers with options.
“I really want everyone of all sizes to feel like they belong,” she says. “I feel like we haven’t had that… Little by little I’m putting a brick on the house and aiming for it.”