Los Angeles native Melissa Mercedes' foray into fashion began long before she nabbed an invite to the Latin Grammys in 2017. After being unable to find a size-inclusive gown in her style, she decided to sew her own — a DIY approach she's taken ever since designing her own sweet sixteen and prom dresses, which eventually led her to create her own luxury line of sustainable plus-size womenswear.
Now, the self-taught local designer is the latest winner of Eloquii's Cultivate Award, which includes a $10,000 grant, a one-year professional mentorship program, and a capsule collection produced and sold by the plus-size retailer.
"[The Grammys] experience really inspired me — I knew I wasn't the only woman to have this issue," Mercedes tells WhatRivaWore. "I understood the familiar pain and stress of standing in the dressing room and finding nothing to wear, especially in the plus-size space. I wanted to be a bridge and help alleviate that painful experience."
The designer believes that psychology isn't currently as big a part of fashion as it should be. To remedy that shortfall, Mercedes designs each garment to "present you with good feelings, with more personality, and with more character in each style."
Presented by The Curvy Fashionista and Eloquii, the Cultivate Award was founded to support and nurture the next generation of BIPOC indie designers in the plus-size fashion community. New York-based Eloquii was founded in 2012, shut down in 2013 by then-owner The Limited Brands, and made a come back in 2014 thanks to customer demand.
"I am really excited to have the platform with Eloquii to expand my options to more plus size women," Mercedes explains. She also tells us that she's particularly excited about the award's mentorship component.
"Being self-taught means I know I have raw talent, but I am not trained in certain aspects," says Mercedes. "I never went to design school, so learning and honing in on skills to properly execute a line is something I am really excited about."
One of Mercedes's mentors is Eloquii design director Yesenia Torres. "I couldn't be more excited to collaborate and learn as much as I can from her," Mercedes shares. "When I began this journey, I went for it without a proper fashion education. I decided to do it, and learn along the way, so this mentorship is god-sent!"
Since her start as a designer, Mercedes has made garments worn by actress Laverne Cox and Mexican American singer and television personality Chiquis Rivera.
Though Mercedes is technically $10K richer, her priorities haven't changed. Atop her list of goals is continuing to break industry standards — which she plans on doing "by creating unique plus-size options and staying authentic to my creativity."
Eloquii and Mercedes are still ironing out details like the number of styles, depth, fabrication, and technical design process of her capsule collection. The collection will be produced and sold exclusively on the brand's website in 2022.
Shared exclusively with WhatRivaWore, Mercedes has a sweet and true message for curvy girls in the L.A. area. "You can still look good, even though you're not a size two. You don't need to be a certain size to look and feel beautiful. It's cliche, but beauty really does come in all shapes and sizes," she says.