Interview with Nina West…
This year, Lane Bryant is changing it up during their annual Pride Month celebration.
The global plus size retailer is not only offering a new (and expanded!) Pride collection but has tapped Drag Queen superstar Nina West to be their first spokesperson for this special month.
Photo credit, Lane Bryant
West, who appeared in season 11 of Rupaul’s Drag Race and won Miss Congeniality that season, is a Columbus, Ohio native, which is where Lane Bryant’s corporate offices are located.
As part of her spokesperson duties, West stars in a dedicated video and digital media campaign promoting the collection and Lane Bryant’s powerful tagline “Say it With Love”, which is so on time.
Photo credit, Lane Bryant
The brand wants to empower everyone throughout Pride month to create their lane their own way by celebrating hope, inclusivity and love through that digital campaign. The video also features Lane Bryant associates with West encouraging viewers to join in and share how they “Say it with Love” during this month.
The new 2020 Pride collection at Lane Bryant now includes dedicated accessories, LIVI activewear and limited-edition denim apparel in addition to Pride-perfect Cacique Intimates.[divider] . [/divider]
I got the opportunity to speak with West on the phone to chat about this new role, her feelings on being confident, owning your space and more.
PMM: Thanks for speaking with me, Nina! Lane Bryant has had a dedicated collection during Pride month for years. You’re the first spokesperson for Lane Bryant’s pride month AND the first drag queen the brand has partnered with! That’s a big deal. What does that mean to you and what do you hope customers will take from that?
Nina West: It’s incredible. It’s so amazing and powerful to be effective for a brand like Lane Bryant. It’s really powerful to be that voice and recognize that Lane Bryant is a brand that supports the LGBTQ+ community. And most people can feel seen and heard. It’s great to partner with a brand from Ohio and I’m from Ohio. So it’s really cool to be affiliated with something that’s so intrinsically Columbus but still a global brand.
I’m a big person. So I honestly thought I would never be the person to get the call for something like this kind of thing. I thought it would go to someone smaller. So I never allowed myself to even consider something like this. To be the spokesperson and model [for Lane Bryant] is overwhelming but very cool. I’m not what beautiful looks like in the traditional sense. So I celebrate Pride Month having pride in myself and in my community. I hope this will show the brand’s desire to align with this theme of love and how this campaign and Lane Bryant, in general, give people a different perception of what it means to be plus size.
Drag gives me a lot of confidence and the ability to navigate in a world that otherwise may not love or accept me. And it makes me be heard and seen. So I rely on drag to get my message across.
I hope that when that person walks into a Lane Bryant store and puts on that really great dress that it makes them feel confident as if they’re wearing armor. For me, drag is my armor. It gives me confidence. It’s all about making yourself the centerpiece of your life and that armor helps with that. I hope it makes them feel like they matter and they’re the centerpiece of their lives.
PMM: I totally get what you’re saying because as plus size women, we are told we are not worthy of taking space. And that makes it a challenge to embrace ourselves and not be judged by our body size.
NW: Yes! Media and mainstream culture gives us the idea that we (fat girls/women) are supposed to be only one thing when we can be so much more. We can be whoever we want to be.
I know people see me when I walk into a room and I want them to see more than just a big person. Instead of making everyone else feel comfortable about my size and presence, I have to navigate me within that space. I want them to see my fragility, my beauty, everything that makes me who I am and not just see my size. We are not given space. But I want others to know that while some may feel we don’t deserve to take space, we do and we choose how we navigate in this world and claim our space.
This is why this campaign means a lot to me. It all goes hand in hand. It shows how important it is to get accommodation from a plus size brand, a midwestern brand, pairing themselves up with a big drag queen. It embraces kindness — allowing room for everyone at the table and having a conversation about what everyone looks like at the table. Providing room and space for all. I feel really lucky I am the one to represent this campaign and help Lane Bryant push this message.
PMM: The tagline for this collection is “Say It with Love”. How important (and timely) is that message, especially with how tough 2020 has been?
There are so many opportunities for us to rise up, to make it count and say it with love. I’m very actively involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. And I had to ask myself, how can I help? How can I say it with love because I can’t sit back and just watch what happens. Sure, we’ll get a vaccine and life will get better in that respect but what about everything else going on?
Here we are in the middle of a pandemic and Black and Brown people are being targeted. And it’s been like a perfect storm of things. Black and Brown people dying during this pandemic at alarming rates and then also being killed by police. This made me ask myself… What kind of world do I want to live in? What kind of world do I want to raise kids in? What kind of place do I want to facilitate my own happiness? And being numb and turning our heads is not working. We have to speak up and say it with love. This campaign really does that and is another way for me to promote kindness and love for all.
I love my Black and Brown brothers and sisters. I’m doing the work I do out of love. My motivation is all of that. It’s all rooted in people and is an act of love. I do a lot of work in figuring out what I have to do with myself to be part of the change. And that’s also making myself better, not just for me but for my community. I still have more work to do and I just want to make sure I’m good enough for myself and others.
PMM: I was surprised to learn that you auditioned 9 times for Rupaul’s Drag Race before making it onto Season 11. What made you not give up and what would be your advice to others who are feeling discouraged right now? I know there are people out there who are very discouraged right now, especially with the state of the world. What would you say to them to keep going?
For me, I could just see myself on the show. I can visualize it. I had always dreamed it so I couldn’t understand why I kept getting a no. I just knew I would go to Drag Race. This is what I had imagined for myself and it wasn’t happening so I kept trying. I held onto it, that dream. I couldn’t give it up because I believed it was supposed to happen.
Thing is, I have always believed in myself on some level. My confidence has been kicked around by what people would think about me or say about me, but I held onto this dream.
I think of it this way. This is what I want my life to be like, this is what I envision. And I believe in that. So all the no’s from Drag Race were hard but I couldn’t give that up. I felt it was going to come true.
I think the biggest lesson that I learned was that if you don’t knock on the door, how will you know if it will open? For instance, when I don’t get a response back to an email, I just send another email. I keep knocking on the door.
First and foremost, I believe in what I want and I believe in myself. If people say no, I find another route to that dream. I have not always had the confidence or ability and I have worked very hard and sacrificed a lot to get to this point. But all of these things have been the perfect storm to get my life to where it is.
Sometimes you’ll find out that it’s not the right thing for you and that’s okay. You move on. And sometimes it is your time. You learn as you go. And now in turn, I get to do that for people. I get to inspire others and help others to pursue their dreams.
Being told “No” eight times [By Rupaul’s Drag Race] made me a better performer, stronger person and someone who was able to see success in failure. If you’re able to look at it that way.
It’s like the hashtag #AloneTogether during the COVID-19 pandemic. It sounds so simplistic but it’s so true. We’re in this together. Don’t ever forget that. Yes, we live different lives but we’re all going through this experience. I think what matters is how we react to it which determines how we deal with this experience.
PMM: Drag queens represent uniqueness and individuality. They inspire others to be confident in who they are and celebrate their differences. How do you feel about that and what would be your tips to those struggling with their confidence?
I think it’s about surrounding yourself with positive reinforcement. And that’s tough with the way mainstream media is; there’s always someone somewhere, regardless of size, skin color, gender, some kind of voice saying to them “you’re just not as good enough as we think is best”.
I think positive affirmations and mindfulness in your own life are key. You should definitely give yourself time to appreciate your value and your worth, and what you give to other people and what you give to yourself.
Practicing mindfulness allows yourself to be much more able and ready to deal with the onslaught of terrible things you’re going to hear throughout your day, whether it be directly or indirectly. I think when you practice mindfulness, you’re going to be like a ninja and ready to tackle your day with this attitude of like “Not today!”. Just remember, YOU create your own willingness in dealing with the things that people will throw at you.
Is it something that’s helpful to me? Is it something that’s going to make me a better person? Does it value me? That’s what I ask myself during those times, to work on setting my self worth and boundaries. And I make the decision on whether I need to read this or see that or listen to this. It’s so important to be your own advocate, deciding what you will and will not accept.
And to those reading this right now, you are worthy and you are worth it. If someone hasn’t told you that today, I’m telling you right now, you are worthy. And no one else gets to determine that but YOU. So stop giving over your time and energy to people who don’t give a sh*t about you. You give a sh*t about your success. You put yourself first, you make yourself the priority. Because you already are. You just have to believe that.
I spent a lot of time in my life being the cheerleader for other people and not being as strong a cheerleader for myself. There has to be balance. So it’s your job and your responsibility as the person who is living your life to determine and define what is not acceptable for you. You set your own markers and metrics on what you let into your life. Believe me, they’re going to adjust every moment of every day and change over and over again. But know that you have value and worth and should put yourself first in your life.
PMM: Along with the video, Lane Bryant has also teamed up with you on an exclusive co-designed Nina West tee shirt that will be available in open Columbus, Ohio retail stores and on LaneBryant.com. They will also donate $5 for every tee sold to your foundation in support of organizations serving Central Ohio LGBTQ youth and families. Please tell us more about the Nina West Foundation.
I started the foundation in 2001 with the official induction happening in 2015 as a way to give back to the LGBTQ+ community and offer support. We have since given away about $2 million dollars, to specifically service our LGBTQ+ community members.
We especially help the youth and elderly, whether it’s assisting them in knowing their healthcare rights, to offering community resources, and just providing a platform that amplifies service for these individuals. We have a lot of work to do, especially for our black trans brothers and sisters who are being murdered at astounding rates. I’m hoping that through the foundation we can address this issue and help in any way we can.[divider] . [/divider]
Thank you, Nina for speaking to us and being so passionate in your mission to be kind and loving to all. We appreciate and support your powerful message.
In addition to their partnership with West, Lane Bryant will also continue their support of GLSEN, a national education organization working to create safe and inclusive K-12 schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, by contributing 10% of the purchase price of the Lane Bryant Pride collection through June 21st to the organization; up to $30,000.
Photo credit: Lane Bryant, Featuring Model Jennie Runk
The Lane Bryant Pride collection is available in sizes 12-28 on LaneBryant.com now. For information regarding the status of local stores (closed or open to customers and/or curbside pickup ), please visit stores.lanebryant.com/search.
Learn more about Nina West at www.ninawest.com. You can also follow her on Instagram here, Facebook here and on Twitter here.
Want to contribute to the Nina West Foundation? Click here for more information.
You can join in on the conversation and let Lane Bryant know how you’re saying it with love this month by using the hashtag #SayItWithLove and #CreateYourLane on social media.
What do you think of Lane Bryant partnering with Nina West? Follow us on social media and let us know: @plusmodelmag: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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