At 24 years old, Emma Manis has overcome anorexia to build a body positivity clothing company.
Born and raised in Richmond, Manis graduated from the fashion merchandising program at Virginia Commonwealth University and landed her first job at Alton Lane, a custom-designed menswear line based in Scott’s Addition.
Shortly after she began worked there, she was diagnosed with anorexia.
“It was the stress of everything: of graduating and working full time. I was also recovering from a sexual assault. I felt the need to control something in my life,” Manis said.
She lost 60 pounds in five months due to extreme dieting, over-exercising and abuse of laxatives.
“I was very sick. At one point, [my doctors] said they didn’t know if I was going to make it,” Manis said. “Now I’ve been in recovery for a full year.”
But it wasn’t easy. Manis and her family had to spend $13,000 out of pocket for her treatment.
“It was really hard. I think my drive to help other people got me through it,” Manis said.
She left her job at Alton Lane and decided to start her own body positivity clothing company called Evolve.
The clothing company carries on-trend, fashion forward styles for young women in sizes from XS to 24.
Evolve carries trendy items like jumpsuits, chunky sweaters, flirty dresses and graphic T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beauty Has No Size.”
Manis also handpaints the backs of leather jackets with inspirational, body-positive passages like this one from best-selling novelist Amy Bloom: “You are imperfect./Permanently and inevitably flawed./And you are beautiful.”
Prices range from $20 to $90 for most items.
Big-name retailers like Loft, H&M and ASOS have begun to carry the same range in sizes, but Manis said it can be hard for women to find clothing in a wide range of sizes in smaller boutiques like hers.
Right now, Evolve operates as an online store, and Manis runs pop-up boutiques on college campuses around the area.
On the Evolve website, the clothing is modeled by a mix of models in different sizes and races.
“It’s empowering for girls to see models who look like them. Then they can see what the clothes will really look on different body types,” Manis said.
For Evolve, she orders most of the clothing from wholesalers, but hopes to create her own fashion line and designs in the future.
In the meantime, Manis is busy building the brand and learning how to navigate the world of social media as a voice for body positivity.
She has a blog, Facebook and Instagram, where she has more than 30,000 followers, and she recently started a YouTube channel posting videos on fashion and mental health in general.
“I try to be as transparent as possible,” she said. “The average size for a woman in America today is a size 12. It’s important for women to know that.”
She uses the “#beautyhasnolimits” hashtag with her social media posts.
“I really want to change how women are affected by negative body image,” she said. “The diet industry makes so much money preying off of women’s insecurities. Being able to point that out is extremely helpful.”
Next up, Manis is hosting a fashion runway show at Boulevard Burger and Brew on Saturday called “The Evolution.”
It will feature models of all shapes, sizes, ages, races, gender identities and backgrounds.
“Everybody should feel comfortable in their clothes,” she said. “The point here is that every woman in the crowd can look at the runway and see herself represented.”