Ashley Nell Tipton's clothing line proved plus-size can be functional and fashionable—even on the runway

By Carly Graf
November 06, 2015
Market Watch (Barbara Nitke/Lifetime)

Even after 14 seasons, Project Runway still finds a way to surprise its fans. On last night's finale, judges named Ashley Nell Tipton the winner, making her the first ever plus-size designer to take home the title. Even cooler? This badass lady sent an entirely plus-size collection down the catwalk. News flash: That's a Project Runway first.

The 24 year-old San Diego, CA resident has been a fashionista her whole life. She started off designing clothes for her Barbies and had created her first complete fashion collection by the end of her senior year of high school. From the start, her goal has been to create clothing for full-figured women that makes them feel confident and sexy: "I'm inspired by curvy women [and] I want to offer them the opportunity to wear fun colors and to avoid the pit-falls of only wearing black," she says on her website bio. Lilac-haired Tipton certainly led by example, sporting bright hues and a variety of silhouettes throughout the season.

Going into New York Fashion Week, site of the season finale, Tipton hinted that her design would be something totally different from the expected Fashion Week catwalk show. She told E! News that she was there "representing for myself and for the rest of the designs that I have been doing."

The result? A bold, fearless, colorful collection made just for gorgeously curvy ladies. "I love to design clothing that is not out there for your average plus-size woman, and I want to fill in the gap of that industry and not design cookie cutter things," Nelson said going into the finale. (For the fitness-focused, check out Sportswear Brands That Do Plus-Size Clothes Right.)

Clearly, Tipton did just that as she wowed regular judges Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Zac Posen-as well as guest judge Carrie Underwood. (Go Behind the Scenes with Carrie Underwood!)

But despite the ultimate victory and an inspiring amount of confidence, Tipton didn't always have an easy go. During a challenge early in the season that divided the designers into two teams, Tipton was selected last, even though she had won two of the four previous challenges. Later, a fellow finalist called some of her pieces "costumey." After some tears (which she doesn't regret, mind you), Tipton used these scare tactics as proof that she was a threat and took that inspiration through the end of the season. (For all you haters, Fat Shaming Could Be Destroying Your Body.)

"I'm talented, I know what I want, and I believe in myself, and I'm true to myself," said Tipton on the show. Sounds about right. Welcome to the fashion in-crowd, girl!


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