Designer makes her mark with plus-size clothing

Lisa Aviva line

Designer Lisa Bleviss knows fashion runs in her blood. The Toronto native recently launched her luxury plus-size womenswear line Lisa Aviva. “This is a lifelong dream,” she says. “This is decades in the making.”

Although Lisa Aviva is still in its infancy, Bleviss started designing clothing at a fairly young age. “We have pictures I drew of fashion designs that I sent to my grandparents in Florida when I was like between four and seven,” she says. Her grandmother even ran a dress store in Toronto for many years.

Bleviss studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a multi-disciplinary degree, which included fashion studies. She incorporates aspects of her fine art background into her work.

Prior to moving back home to Toronto in 2014, Bleviss was stateside and lived in New York City for 15 years. There, she founded the men’s accessories line Aviva Underpants. “The joke was I sold everything but my underpants to start the company,” she says with a laugh.

Within four years, Aviva Underpants was in 30 stores and was especially popular in Japan. But Bleviss eventually had to shut it down. She took time to develop herself spiritually before jump starting her latest venture.

Now seems like the right time to introduce her plus-size collection. “There is such a tremendous body-acceptance movement happening,” she says. “Primarily I would say it’s centred in the U.S., but it’s happening around the world right now and certainly Canada is playing a large part in that. So I really felt like the climate was changing and it was time.”

And the industry looks like it agrees. Plus-size model Ashley Graham featured Lisa Aviva’s indigo high-waisted wool skirt in her September “Great Style Has No Size” column in InStyle magazine.

The body-acceptance movement is gaining steam as those in the fashion industry continue to challenge often-unhealthy weight-related expectations and plus-size models move more into the mainstream.

Back at home, Primaala in Toronto currently stocks Lisa Aviva. The Australia-based eco-friendly online retailer Well Made Clothes will soon list the collection too because Bleviss is committed to sustainability.

Bleviss is troubled by fashion’s negative environmental impact and uses all natural fibres in her pieces and does all of her manufacturing in North America.

However, she travels to Milan to choose her fabric and works closely with an Italian mill.

The fabric, she says, really helped inspire her current collection. She found it at an exclusive trade show. “At one point, I was walking around and I looked and I’m like, ‘I think [French fasion designer] Christian Louboutin just walked by me,’” she notes, recalling her experience abroad. “Here I am, I’m a small designer. So it was pretty thrilling.”

And she’s just as thrilled to see women actually wear her clothing and appreciates how it works on those of all ages and sizes. She thinks of her pieces as versatile and easy-to-wear, especially for those on the go.

“It’s been really exciting to see the clothes on women who are 20 to 70,” she says. “And to see that the clothes really do fit.”