Meet Keia Bounds, the Costume Designer Behind All THOSE Looks on “Survival of the Thickest”

Editor’s note: This interview was completed before and published during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers and actors.

“I’m a New Yorker and I wanted it to feel like real New York.”

Keia Bounds 

It’s something about seeing fashion on a plus size body that thrills me the most whenever I’m watching a particular movie or television series. Having seen the trailer for Netflix’s “Survival of the Thickest,” I was immediately intrigued with how well the series’ lead, Michelle Buteau, was styled throughout the 30 second clip.

New York’s own, Keia Bounds (and her styling/design team), delivered stylishly with each episode of the series, bringing an edgy, city-inspired theme. One that captured the essence of the energy, culture, creativity and individuality, and sex appeal often seen walking the runway sidewalks of the different boroughs of New York. 

Survival of the Thickest TrailerMeet Stylist, Keia bounds the stylist behind Survival of the Thickest
Image via Netflix

When given the task off interviewing Bounds, I jumped on the opportunity IMMEDIATELY! Having watched the series and being a wardrobe stylist myself, excitement ran through my “Single Black Female Addicted to Retail” veins seeing different brands like Eloquii, Brandon Blackwood, Selkie (I’m such a fan of The Puff Dress in the cover), and plus athleisure wear like Adidas, I couldn’t wait to ask Bounds those questions that style enthusiasts would ask.

In attempts to calm my nerves and relax the urge to go into a full anxiety filled episode, I put on my pink lipstick, entered the Zoom chat room, and had a one-on-one girlfriend chat with the lead stylist of “Survival of the Thickest.” TCF supporters, fans, and audience members, I present to you, Keia Bounds. 

Get to Know Keia Bounds, the Costume Designer for Survival of the Thickest!

Entering the chat with such warmness and a chill-relaxed vibe, Bounds (alongside her publicist), (with passion in her eyes) gave me the inspiration to dive deep into asking questions not only pertaining to the film, but her career as a fashion-designer-turned-wardrobe-stylist.

We wondered, as a Costume Designer, what was her inspiration for each episode with each character. Being able to put her genius into play, in order to make sure that the fashion was so amazing and so New York, and so forward? We had to know; what was the inspiration behind that?

Survival of the Thickest TrailerMeet Stylist, Keia bounds the stylist behind Survival of the Thickest
Survival of the Thickest. Michelle Buteau as Mavis in Survival of the Thickest. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Keia shares “So I guess the inspiration behind it was that I am a New Yorker, and I wanted it to feel like real New York, as well as to get what they wanted me to get off of the page (the script).” 

Hearing, “the real New York,” brought me back a time of the early 2000s and watching nighttime television with shows like Sex and the City. Being a native of the city, Bounds seemed to have not only grasped the vision of the film’s production, but she was able to style Michelle Buteau in such a way that made me want to try on the apparel and add them into my closet.

Out of curiosity, I asked her about her time working with Michelle Buteau.

Survival of the Thickest TrailerMeet Stylist, Keia bounds the stylist behind Survival of the Thickest
Survival of the Thickest. (L to R) Peppermint as Peppermint and Michelle Buteau as Mavis in Survival of the Thickest. Cr. Vanessa Clifton/Netflix © 2023

On working with Michele Buteau, Keia Bounds shares, “She’s AMAZING! To work with her as a woman, as a Black woman, as a curvy woman! Like all these things, Michelle is hilarious! She’s not the kind of hilarious that you wish they would turn off either. She’s just herself and just naturally funny and naturally brilliant. It was fun!”

Throughout each episode, I noticed familiar brands and brands that I had not been introduced to yet. With each cast member having their own stylistic appeal, I often wondered if the styling crew had any challenges with finding different fashion brands wanting to collaborate with the film.

Although the fashion industry has evolved and continues to evolve with size inclusivity and body type inclusivity, while also creating supportive and stylish forward environments for the members of the LGBTQIA+ community, there are still brands who aren’t as on board with making clothing for the ever-changing society that we live in. 

Survival of the Thickest Trailer 1
Survival of the Thickest. Michelle Buteau as Mavis in Survival of the Thickest. Cr. Vanessa Clifton/Netflix © 2023

Knowing that the film excitedly highlighted so much of the plus size AND LGBTQ community, we wondered about Keia Bounds’ experiences or challenges with accessing plus size fashion for the cast members.

Keia shares, “I think that, because as we know, it’s hard to find fashionably pieces (especially designer pieces) in plus sizes, for curvy women. For the fashion industry to still not be up to speed on what is happening in the real world made it hard for me to find a lot of the things that were needed.” 

Understanding her challenges, Bounds applied her creative and professional touch throughout the series with creating pieces that were needed to be created, reached out to different designers to receive specialized original garments, and took the treasure of finding unfamiliar brands to make sure the crew were styled to the T.  

Although not surprising, Bounds’ empathy towards not having as many available plus size designer brands to choose from for this project helped me to want to ask myself, “What is the hold up with the fashion industry?” 

Survival of the Thickest Trailer
Survival of the Thickest. Nicole Byer as Nicole Byer and Michelle Buteau as Mavis in Survival of the Thickest. Cr. Jocelyn Prescod/Netflix © 2023

With a career that has stylishly stretched from the early 2000s, Keia Bounds has worked with actors such as Jack Black, Dave Chapelle, and Edie Falco, and television series like “The Get Down” and “BMF.”

“I would love my legacy to be about impacting the culture in a positive way. Whether the culture be the culture of fashion or the culture of people of color, I would love to be able to have a stamp in there somewhere.”

Keia Bounds

Getting a sneak peek in her background was surprising. Having turned from being a fashion designer to becoming a stylist, then to costume designing, Keia Bounds has a flexibility with her creativity that has not only made her a pioneer but also given herself the ability to continue with the legacy of helping others make an impact, working in fashion and style within the television and film industry.

Be open to the possibilities and be willing to learn all of the different processes in order to figure out what that one thing is that you want to do. ”

Keia Bounds

Bounds spoke passionately on the challenges and successes of being a costume designer in the film/television industry, while also mentioning how refreshing it would be to have more higher-ups respect and appreciate the art of costume and wardrobe styling and compensating more for the profession and talent within the film/television industry.

If you haven’t already, please watch Netflix’s “Survival of the Thickest” and let us know what you thought about the fashion!

With such television projects as “Survival of the Thickest,” we hope to see more indie plus size designer brands featured and included, to serve the ever-changing society that we’re currently living in.

Stylishly signing off, I’m D. Ni’Cole!

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