What were some of the challenges you faced creating the line?
It’s hard to find a bra that will give both support and shape. We went back to the drawing board many times. There’s a specific plate to make each cup. We went from foam to gel to a type of padding. It’s very intricate and specific. I would go into Ashley Stewart and say, “OK, this is good. This isn’t going to work. Let’s try this.â€ There was lots of starting over. There’s a science to it all. Making a bra is difficult.
The line faced some criticism because the sizes weren’t expansive enough for some women. Are you looking to expand the line?
Right now it’s a great bra, but it’s not for everybody. I’m going to do my best to take it from a 60th percentile to at least the 90th percentile in terms of meeting the needs of more women. So I’ll need to do bigger and smaller sizes, more colors and styles, as well as maternity bras and girdles.
What you’re doing is a reflection of artists diversifying their income streams. How important is that for artists?
You have to diversify because nothing is guaranteed. I learned this from my mother. She can sew, lay down hardwood floors, perform acupressure, and is also a dental hygienist. All of those things make her happy. That’s how I’ve wanted to live my life. If it happens to become something financially beneficial, then great. I sing, write, and act because I can’t help myself. I love being creative. Of course I want to make money to take care of my family and myself, but I want a livelihood that gives me internal pleasure.
In addition to redesigning bras, you’re also reshaping the mold for leading actresses. How did your new HBO series come about, and why is it important to see plus-size women on TV?
The more roles, the more diverse we can be, the better. The character I’m playing is a traditionally built woman. There are no hang-ups about her size in Africa because there’s a different mentality in terms of standards of beauty. She’s normal. She’s beautiful.
This story originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.