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Breaking the Barriers

Winner of Fashion Week San Diego Opens up About Life as a Plus Size Designer

WRITTEN BY: JILLI JOFFE

PHOTOGRAPHED BY: CHRISTINA SHOOK

CREATIVE DIRECTOR: BRIANNA WELTZIEN

DESIGNER: SHARLENE BORROMEO MODELS: TATIANA SLEPOVA & SUMMER NICOLE

MAKE UP & HAIR BY: TERRELL MITCHELL, KAT DIAZ & CHEYENNE HETTICH of Bellus Academy

For the past three years,  Sharlene Borromeo, owner and designer of A’doreus Fashion, and the winner of Fashion Week San Diego 2014, has been the only plus size designer to participate and apply to be in this event. But that doesn’t phase Borromeo one bit—it was this very lack of plus size representation in the fashion market that prompted her to become a designer in the first place. Recognizing that this market just wasn’t being catered to, she decided to take matters into her own hands, going back to school to learn how to become the plus size designer she had originally set out to help.

It was at Fashion Week San Diego that Sharlene really jumpstarted her career as an independent designer, with the launch of her plus size line for women, A’doreus, back in 2012. It was FWSD’s willingness to accept her line for what it was, regardless of who would be wearing it, which really gave her the platform to be a plus size designer. Three years later, perseverance and a belief in her designs finally paid off. Inspired by her incredible passion, talent, and dedication, the audience voted her Top Designer of FWSD 2014, proving that while she may not have always seen herself as a designer, she was born to design! Through Fashion Week San Diego, Sharlene has given a face and a voice to plus size fashion, proving to all of her detractors that there is an important need in the market for her designs. And, what’s more, is that there is a thriving fashion scene right here in San Diego.

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Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a designer?

Sharlene Borromeo: I never really considered being a designer when I was younger. Even after participating in Fashion Week San Diego for two years, I still wasn’t convinced that I was meant to be a designer. In many ways, my supporters believed in me and saw my talent before I was able to accept it. But winning FWSD 2014 Top Designer has truly built my confidence, and I’ve found my voice as a plus size designer.

Q: How did you get your start in the fashion industry?

SB: It was through my business internship with world-renowned designer and fashion icon, Zandra Rhodes that I discovered my creative side and was encouraged to pursue fashion design as a career. With Rhodes’ mentorship and encouragement, I went to school for fashion design and debuted my brand A’doreus in 2012 during Fashion Week San Diego—that was my start as an independent designer.

Q: That’s actually a great segue into the next question. As someone who has attended design school, and also credits an internship with shaping her career, what do you think is more important when it comes to fashion: school or experience?

SB: Getting two degrees, in Fashion Business and Technology, as well as Fashion Design and Technology, was certainly helpful. As an independent designer, I’m able to see the industry from two different perspectives. I needed to go to school to learn the basics. However, the experience I’ve gained from my internship with Rhodes and Fashion Week San Diego has been instrumental to my personal growth and longevity as a designer. It’s one thing to read and learn about industry principles or how to create a collection, but actually doing it is a whole different thing.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

SB: The most important piece of advice I have for aspiring designers is to know and not compromise your worth. You will be flooded with “opportunities” to showcase, freelance and style clients. You have to start somewhere and work for free to build your portfolio and gain exposure. However, it’s ok to say “NO.” Time is money, and when your time is not valued, it’s ok to decline.

Q: What prompted you to start your own line, A’doreus?

SB: Fundamentally, I wanted to understand and “fix” the stigma that plus size women face because of the social pressures of the fashion industry. So I launched A’doreus as a clothing line that focused on the fuller figured woman. I was determined to be able to contribute to the clothing options available to plus size consumers. I want to change people’s perception of what plus size clothing and women look like. I want to push the envelope.

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Q: Where does the name A’doreus come from?

SB: It’s a little personal, and a lengthy story, but I will say this… it involved a guy that I was dating who broke my heart, but was instrumental in me discovering my self-worth. A’doreus is not a tribute to him, but it is a constant reminder of where I have been and how far I have come.

Q: How would you describe the brand’s style?

SB: I utilize classic silhouettes, simple style lines, and focus on the details of the garment. My designs are meant to make a plus size woman feel equally feminine, sexy, and refined. It is important to me that the garments I create are both wearable and effortless; I want to create pieces that stand the test of time in any woman’s wardrobe.

Q: Do you follow the trends?

SB: I don’t follow trends. I really don’t even have a favorite designer. I’m not a brand snob, and I rarely flip through fashion magazines. I really do create from the heart and for the body I plan to clothe.

Q: A’doreus has been the only plus size line to showcase at Fashion Week San Diego San Diego. What’s that been like?

SB: Being the only plus size designer at FWSD three years in a row has been a great way for me to market myself. And now that I’ve won Top Designer, it’s even better! I continue to showcase at FWSD because I want to change people’s perception of who the plus size woman is, and what plus size fashion could look like.

Q: Are there any particular challenges that plus size designers have to face?

SB: I can’t speak for other plus size designers, but personally, I do face several challenges with the design process. Each full-figured body is different from the next; you can have two size 14 women, but their curves are in different places, thus the garment will have a completely different fit on each body. Therefore, designing for a woman with curves takes more time and effort. Another problem I face is that many people don’t want to pay what my garments are worth. I design, make the patterns, source the fabric, cut and sew each garment with my own two hands. My garments do cost significantly more than what they may be used to paying at H&M or Forever 21.

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Q: Knowing that A’doreus first launched at Fashion Week San Diego in 2012, how integral has FWSD been to your brand?

SB: Fashion Week San Diego has been a great platform for me as an emerging designer. It’s given me the opportunity to execute the things I learned in college. Beyond the design process, it’s also helped prepare me for the business components: marketing, social media, networking, photo shoots, press interviews, etc.

Q: Why and how did you first get involved with Fashion Week San Diego?

SB: I learned about FWSD through a Facebook post that circulated in January of 2012. I then attended an informational meeting where we met the founder, Allison Andrews. When Andrews said that she was willing to have a plus size designer showcase, I was all in. I didn’t want to have to leave San Diego and move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in fashion. It’s important to me that I contribute to cultivating a fashion community in my hometown. And with 70 percent of all American women wearing a size 14 or larger, I know that my target market is in every city.

Q: Can you describe your experience with FWSD?

SB: My experience with FWSD has brought out a multitude of emotions, and I think that just comes with the territory of being a plus size designer in a mainstream fashion show. I have definitely made some of the most profound connections. But as a plus size designer, I’ve also been overlooked during casting calls, or by bloggers and photographers, because my line doesn’t coincide with their specific clientele or interest. It’s definitely given me a taste of how the fashion industry works. If anything, it keeps me motivated and has taught me to be more proactive about certain aspects of the industry.

Q: Has winning affected your personal life in any way?

SB: I have always danced to the beat of my own drum and never needed my parents’ approval. However, it is gratifying to be able to show my traditional Filipino parents, who are skeptical of my career, choice that my hard work is finally paying off.

Q: How has winning Fashion Week San Diego affected the way that you think about your brand?

SB: Winning FWSD has solidified the A’doreus vision: to live a lifestyle of “a’doring” and embracing diversity and size acceptance through the many facets of fashion. Now I have a really concrete foundation for my brand, and I know who I am as a designer. It’s a rewarding feeling.

Q: What does the future hold for A’doreus?

SB: I’m taking it one day at a time. I do know that I will be returning to FWSD 2015 for a fourth year. In the meantime, I am looking into e-commerce, and hope to be taking pre-orders in the spring, so stay tuned!