Renee Cafaro

Renee Cafaro

by Melissa Magsaysay

Advocate and editor Renee Cafaro on Advancing the Size-Inclusive Conversation in Fashion

Renee Cafaro is what can easily be called a triple threat. Ivy league educated, politically active and a strong voice for size-inclusive fashion, the New York-based writer and US editor for Slink magazine is using her intellect and political prowess to advance the conversation around plus-size fashion as well as be an advocate for issues including affordable housing to funding the NEA that provides veterans with cultural and arts therapy.

Her passion for public service may only be rivaled by her love of style. She refers to leopard as a “neutral” and can rock a statement making red suit as easily as most wear sweats. While her stature is small, Cafaro is nothing short of a force, navigating the politics of Washington DC as well as local issues in New York (she was appointed to the Manhattan Community Board) with grace and of course, style.

Here, she discusses her background in politics and gives great advice on how to get involved in making a difference in your own community.

"It's very easy to get overwhelmed and angry when you see so much you want to change. Pick a few things you are most passionate about or may need your help the most."
Renee Cafaro wearing the split sleeve crepe blazer and boot cut pants by Prabal Gurung
Renee Cafaro wearing the split sleeve crepe blazer and boot cut pants by Prabal Gurung
Renee Cafaro and Christian Siriano
Renee Cafaro with designer Christian Siriano
Renee Cafaro
Renee Cafaro in Christian Siriano's studio

Q & A With Renee

How would you describe your personal style?

I usually joke that while most people go for minimalist, I want to be the person to be known for "maximalist" style. Fashion is art and expression and should be seen as such. I have an eclectic life with many interests and must express all facets through my style, so I love to mix couture trends with a bit of rocker edge. I feel that statement jewels and leather are wardrobe must-haves and leopard print is a "neutral."

How and why did you become involved in politics?

I've always been interested in politics which I credit to going to high school in DC and being tight with my older sister who became a State Senator. I was fascinated by the "cult of personality" phenomenon - in Latin American dictatorships specifically- and studied this at Stanford. I always assumed I would go into the foreign service but then when 9/11 happened, it was a new world order and didn't know if I wanted to be an emissary of the Bush Administration. When my sister Capri ran for her first office in 2004, her campaign was my first job out of college and I swiftly learned that I had a knack for political organizing. It was a great way to channel my passion for social justice, equality, affordable/accessible education, living wages and a better life for all people who work so hard to get even less for their money every year.

Are you still politically active? If so, how?

Yes. After 14 years in the industry from labor unions to the NY Governor's office, it's in my blood. Most of my chosen family in NYC I met working in politics and some have recently become elected. I was appointed to Manhattan Community Board 5 a few years ago and still serve in leadership so I can keep up my work on neighborhood issues like affordable housing, zoning, quality of life and homelessness. I also go to Capitol Hill twice a year to advocate for my pet charities: Arthritis Foundation (since I've lived with the disease most of my life) and the Creative Coalition, which fights to save the NEA that funds local cultural programs and arts therapy programs for veterans.

In today's political climate, how would you advise someone getting involved who has previously not been active but now wants to be?

First, think of what you are trying to accomplish and what your message is. It's very easy to get overwhelmed and angry when you see so much you want to change. Pick a few things you are most passionate about or may need your help the most. I always say to look local first. For instance, instead of giving money to the DNC or joining a national anti-gun campaign, look for the anti-gun Congressional candidate's campaign and sign up to knock doors or give your $50 directly to the person you want to win. Being targeted is not only a more savvy way to get things accomplished but it will be a lot easier for you to digest at first.

You've been vocal about more diversity in fashion, do you feel the industry has made great strides in recent years?

It has. It is undeniable that the body positive movement has gotten a great deal of momentum in the past few years thanks to designers putting plus models on the runways, more brands offering plus, more content in media and Ashley Graham taking over the world. We've come a long way but that's not to say the industry can pat itself on the back and relax. We have to keep pushing the ball forward until women of all sizes, weight-distributions, heights, and skin colors feel accepted.

Describe how you've focused your work to shed more light on the size-inclusive conversation.

Serving as the new US editor for SLiNK Magazine is not only a distinct honor, but the best thing I could be doing for the size-acceptance movement. We are the premiere print magazine for plus size fashion which makes us the epicenter of equal representation for curvy women. It's appalling that 67% of women are considered plus, and yet they never had the ability to flip through a magazine that was relevant for them until now. It's one thing to preach inclusion. It's another to work for a media outlet who is leading by example. It's fresh and well-rounded. We have fitness and swim features, but never do the bidding of the weight loss industry. We show models who are both visibly plus and standard curve models - and we show them in artfully-done, sexy, edgy editorials like you'd expect of Vogue. I am so incredibly proud of the high-quality glossy that our EIC, Rivkie Baum founded.

You're also a big fan of fashion, who are some of your favorite designers?

I started my love affair with fashion after seeing Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face when I was about 4 or 5. Ever since then, I've been sketching looks for fun with hopes to collaborate on a collection someday, so I find that usually my designs are influenced by classic designer icons of that era: Norman Norell, Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta. Sadly it is pretty hard to find that aesthetic in my size, though I do own some Oscar. So, today I love the embellished and thoughtful designs of Naeem Khan, Christian Siriano, Marchesa, Alexander McQueen, Miu Miu and Roberto Cavalli. Thanks to 11 Honore I can finally find many of these in my size and will no longer be relegated to the accessories or rare caftan that may fit! The Siriano crystal harness and the chic red Prabal Gurung suit from 11H have swiftly become some of the most-cherished items in my wardrobe. Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy exquisite fabrics and concert tickets, which is basically the same thing for me!


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