Patricia Luiza Blaj is loud. She’s loud about feminism and LGBTQ rights. She’s loud about politics and entrepreneurship. Most of all, she’s loud about living in and loving the body you’re in. Which is why when clothing shops in Romania stopped stocking her size, she took matters into her own hands.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, fashion is superficial’ when you can fit into anything in the store — because really, you have the opportunity to express yourself [through clothes] however you want,” she told The Calvert Journal. “When you can’t do that, it feels restrictive. It’s a kind of self-censorship.”
Blaj’s answer was to create and promote Loud Bodies: her own clothing line in sizes XXS to 5XL. Unapologetically overstated and romantic, each outfit is a world away from the bland or oversized outfits typically reserved for Romania’s plus-sized sections. Each design was a step into the unknown — but also deeply personal.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion, but more fashion journalism,” she says. “I think when you start out, you’re always drawing things that you would want to wear, and that’s normal. But really, I wanted to make something of my own that I could believe in. Before, I would try to squeeze into clothes. Now, I’m wearing the right size for me and it makes such a difference.”
The decision to make her own clothes came at a turbulent part of Blaj’s life. The 22-year-old journalism graduate was recovering from bulimia. But as she gained weight, Blaj was hit by prejudice, as well as support. Despite having already built a loyal following as an Instagram content creator, sponsorships with Romanian companies began drying up.
“I had to prove that I was worthy to work with. Other plus-size influencers either talk a lot about weight loss or avoid the subject. That’s more acceptable than what I’m saying: this is me and I am just living my life”
“As an influencer, brands would not work with me. I had to prove that I was worthy to work with,” she says. She believes her outspoken views and embrace of the plus-size label were to blame — even today, she is one of the region’s few body positive bloggers. “There are other plus-size influencers but they either talk a lot about weight loss or avoid the subject,” she says. “That’s more acceptable than what I’m saying: this is me and I am just living my life.”
Setting up shop, however, wasn’t easy. Blaj has no formal design training, and at first struggled to manage all the logistics from scratch. Finding reliable suppliers is a constant battle: when we speak, one bolt of fabric has been waiting in a warehouse for delivery for the past week and a half. Blaj wants to be honest about the strain of startup life. Setting up your own business isn’t a smooth path to success, and it certainly doesn’t come about without plenty of support from family and friends.
“I did get help from my parents to buy my first sewing machine and my first bolt of fabric,” she says. “My boyfriend is a fashion photographer who does our catalogue. I want to be upfront about that: we save a lot of money doing that work in house. It doesn’t mean I’ve put in less work, but no one is 100 per cent self-made. We should celebrate the fact that no man is an island.”
The struggle was worth it. If brands didn’t believe in Blaj’s market appeal, her customers did. Word of Blaj’s collection first spread through her own Instagram following, then other plus-size influencers. Now, shoppers from across the world race to snap up Loud Bodies’ designs. Aged just 23, Blaj has three employees working beneath her, all to cope with the number of orders being shipped out of their workshop in Cluj-Napoca. Some 80 per cent of orders go to the international market. “When we launched, we had no coverage or support in the Romanian press,” Blaj says. “Social media is really important for us.”
But while most Romanian brands would die to have Loud Bodies’ international success, Blaj still feels frustrated by Romania’s reluctance to accept bigger bodies. Blaj says that she regularly struggles to be taken seriously by her own doctor, who delayed her diagnosis of PCOS — a common condition which often causes weight gain — with the insistence that she just wasn’t trying hard enough to lose the pounds.
Shop assistants regularly challenge larger customers by announcing unprompted that the store will be unable to meet their needs. The country’s body positivity movement is “quite non-existent,” says Blaj. Faced with this kind of pressure, it’s difficult for plus-size women to rock the boat, even when they do choose to wear clothes that aren’t solely designed to help them blend into the background for once.
“In Romania, the body positivity movement is still just starting out,” she says. “And that can be lonely. People are still afraid to speak out and I don’t blame them. It’s always a bad thing. You’re always patronised. From a young age you learn that you have to be careful if you’re not how you should be.”
For now, Blaj’s dreams remain small. Her main goals are to keep her employees paid and happy and to make rent each month. If things go well, she wants to dream a little more about designing a line of evening dresses. But even small steps, she says, can make a large difference.
“If we stay silent, this bullying and discrimination will prevail,” she says. “One gay person, one fat person, one disabled person: they can’t take all this on their own. If one person goes downtown and screams, it’s useless. But if one hundred people do it, together? That can change something.”