Why Plus Size Fashion Is Just The Beginning For This Wellness-Focused Founder — digitalundivided

Image via Camille Newman Instagram

“I was born in Mandeville, Jamaica, on the south coast. A lot of people think of Jamaica as Kingston, which is our capital. But Mandeville was a different coast and climate, with black sand beaches.” says Body By Love founder Camille Newman, who moved to New York City for high school to capture her family’s hopes of obtaining the American Dream.

“I remember putting in my admissions essays, ‘I want you all to accept me because I currently sleep on the floor in my one-bedroom apartment with my dad.’ That was my immigrant story. I mean, it was tough. It was tough. We had a challenging life.”

Camille’s family wanted her to become a doctor or gain her Ph.D. — career paths that could convert an adversarial journey into one of stability, security, and upward mobility. But Camille was also inspired by the boldness of her entrepreneurial father, taking significant risks for the betterment of his family and finding tenacious and innovative ways to support his family through trades like real estate.

Studying economics but secretly passionate about pursuing riskier and more creative paths, Camille’s desires came to a head during college when a horrible shopping experience turned into a fashion startup pathway. Read on to learn how this digitalundivided BREAKTHROUGH founder claimed her truth, started her businesses, and now empowers other full-figured women to embrace their bodies, mind, and fashion sense through wellness.

Image via Body By Love Instagram

digitalundivided: What is Body By Love, and what does the brand do?

Camille Newman, Body By Love: Body by Love started as an online shop for curvy trendsetters sizes 12 +. Our current collection is a curated assortment of contemporary, international, and indie pieces. But Body By Love is also evolving into a virtual wellness space. Plus-size women are not included in the discussion of wellness. I’m plus-sized myself. I never hear anyone talking about anything outside of weight loss. I’m an active plus size. I work out. I want to talk about yoga. I want to talk about different aspects of wellness. I want to empower others through positive body image messaging. I believe Refinery29 even did a study that women over size eight — or plus size women — only represented 2–4% of media images.

Body By Love will be a size-inclusive company. We’re bringing size inclusion to wellness and incorporating plus-size products. I surveyed my customers and asked them what are some things that they wanted in their lives. One of them was larger-size towels. I explored that and love the concept. We’re introducing a shimmer body oil and a candle. We’re also looking at samples for our plus-size bathrobes, too. So we’re doing product lines. But my ultimate goal is for it to be a safe space for wellness to discuss wellness for plus-size women.

digitalundivided: You applied to digitalundivided BREAKTHROUGH New York while your startup pivoted into the wellness space. What was that experience like?

Camille Newman, Body By Love: Oh, my gosh, digitalundivided’s BREAKTHROUGH New York was utterly unique! I have been in a lot of cohorts in my day. I have to say that digitalundivided’s BREAKTHROUGH is transformational.

Yes, I was nervous coming into the cohort. I almost questioned why they selected me. I clearly stated in my submission that I was making a pivot. So, I thought, I’m not getting into this cohort. But I did get in, and I’m deeply grateful because they helped solidify my pivot.

It was also a different experience because the BREAKTHROUGH cohort is condensed. You might think that you won’t learn the same material in a condensed format, or it will feel rushed. But every week’s class was exactly what we needed. The facilitators of the material were informative, and their help was very eye-opening. digitalundivided picked the best facilitators and entrepreneurs and brought them together. I learned so much from every one of them. We still communicate! We see how we can support each other. I’m so grateful for that cohort. There’s this voice in your head — that immigrant voice saying, ‘Here we go again, you should have been a doctor. Yet, here you go, trying with this business again.’ But this cohort helped me silence that.

I’m grateful to digitalundivided and grateful to Chase. Thank you, God. It was a transformative experience.

Image via Body By Love

digitalundivided: So, take us back to before the pivot and when all this started. When did you know you wanted to go into fashion?

Camille Newman, Body By Love: My love for fashion started with my grandfather. His name was Horace Hutchinson. But they used to call him Mr. Hutchy. I always thought if I were to come up with a men’s brand, I would call it Mr. Hutchy. He used to wear these perfectly tailored suits that he would sew himself. I mean, they were perfect. He would sew them on this old 1930 singer machine.

In college, I remember being in the fitting room at Express. I was a size 12 at the time. My sorority sister said it was traumatic to watch me go through that experience because they didn’t have anything that fit me. I will never forget crying like that in the dressing room. I thought, ‘Why does life have to be this?’ So, I decided I was going to start this plus-size company and went to discuss my idea of moving into a career in fashion with my econ professor. He said, “Camille, I think you’re great. You have a brilliant mind. You can do investment.”

I said, “I want to go into fashion, I want to start a company.” He told me he thought that was shallow. So, I decided to leave Oberlin and get the experience. But corporate fashion for me was toxic — like cutthroat, poorly paid, lack of diversity, overworked, and no promotional opportunities. I also always felt that as a woman of color, because there were other women of color, we were always at the bottom. As a woman of color, you’re not always recognizing that that’s impacting your ability or confidence to believe you can move forward. I did that for 15 years of my life. I had myself second guessing myself coupled with this whole need to be like a doctor, lawyer, or immigrant education regret.

The moment came for me when I was laid off from this particular company. It was the one time in my life I got laid off. I was about to go on COBRA and decided to get my whole body checked out before they cut my insurance off. They discovered I had 11 fibroid tumors. When I looked out the window at the 4th of July fireworks as I was getting treated, I said, ‘There has to be more to my life than this. You’ve been waiting, Camille. You got to do you. You gotta do it.’

So, I took the time when I was laid off. I started laying the framework for a company called Pop Up Plus, which was a pop-up in the plus-sized fashion space. I was talking to investors, getting no after no after no. Project Diane was published when I was on my journey. So, I figured out I’m not crazy — less than 1% of black women are getting funding. That helped me put things in perspective. But the company started running out of money. We couldn’t support our marketing efforts. We had built this community, but it was just not enough. Then, other companies started to get into plus-size fashion. Eventually, I closed Pop Up Plus.

But our customers started emailing us, like, ‘What are y’all doing? Where are you?’ So, I surveyed our customers. They picked the name Body By Love. Well, Body By Love is new since 2021. And the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. So I started again as a plus-sized clothing and now, wellness company.

digitalundivided: What is the one piece of advice that you would give to entrepreneurs that are out there reading this interview?

Camille Newman, Body By Love: Don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s wins. I was in a peer group, and three of the founders in that peer group were million-dollar businesses. I’m happy for them — one was even on Shark Tank! But also, I started to doubt myself. I learned you have to run your journey. You have to run your race. You cannot compare yourself to other people. Right now, my dad is critically ill because he has Steven Johnson’s disease, unfortunately. He survived it. Then I’m also helping my sister take care of my aunt with dementia. Given everything going on in my life, my metric for success will be very different from someone who doesn’t have similar caretaking responsibilities.

Are you a Miami-based, early-stage founder looking to understand your customers better, grow marketing strategies, and gain networking opportunities to scale your venture? Apply to digitalundivided’s BREAKTHROUGH Miami program today! Each company accepted into the program will receive a $5,000 grant — applications close August 23rd, 2023.

[Editors note]: This interview has been lightly edited from its original transcription.