- STANDING OUT ‘Being African American in Sonoma County was weird,’ says Malia Anderson. ‘There’re not a lot of us.’
Not long after Malia Anderson moved to Santa Rosa almost 17 years ago, people started saying she looked familiar.
"You went to my high school, right?" they'd say, trying to guess where they recognized her from. "I'm guessing that's because I became such a big part of the community so fast," says Anderson, 38, with a satisfied smile.
Last month, even more local women got a taste of her vibrant energy and savvy style when Anderson hosted the first and only West Coast trunk show for Eloquii, a nationwide online plus-size retailer. On a sunny Sunday, over 20 women poured into the headquarters of Style by Malia, on Second Street in Santa Rosa, tried on clothes, sipped sparkling wine and happily gave in to Anderson's charms.
It wasn't so easy at first. Anderson was born and raised in San Francisco, and studied fashion merchandising at San Francisco City College. She later produced fashion shows for Macy's and Sak's Fifth Avenue. In 2001, she moved to Sonoma County to live in her husband's hometown, where she immediately stood out.
"Being African American in Sonoma County was weird," she admits. "There're not a lot of us. Sonoma County has a small-town community kind of feel, so when I moved in, I definitely felt like an outsider. It's not an easy place to break into."
Anderson's solution? Jumping head-first into local events, trying to get as involved as possible.
"I wanted to make sure people really see me," she says.
Anderson is currently on the board of the North Bay Black Chamber of Commerce and is involved in the local young professionals network. She volunteers at the American Heart Association and gives style advice on the pages of North Bay Woman, a local magazine published by the Marin Independent Journal.
After first moving to the county, Anderson changed careers and worked in marketing and driving to modeling gigs in San Francisco. Soon, fashion called her back, and for the last eight years she has been working as a private wardrobe stylist and buyer. Her clientele includes more than 2,000 women ranging from bankers to artists, younger women to CEOs in their 60s.
As a plus-size model, Anderson often displays the body confidence her much skinnier clients lack.
"I often tell them, I don't have your insecurities in my head!" she laughs. "I know when something looks great on them, despite their doubts."
This confidence doesn't mean she hasn't had her fair share of insults and body shaming, in Sonoma County and beyond. But it doesn't hold her back.
With the Eloquii event, as with others in the works, Anderson wants to bring Sonoma County plus-size women more stylish advice and great clothes. An atmosphere of acceptance, diversity and pure and apologetic fun is just a bonus.
Check out Style by Malia at stylebymalia.com.