Martha Hudson posing in front of her bus in one of her swimsuits. Martha Hudson/Courtesy
On the side of a highway in Santa Cruz, California, Martha Hudson sits in her bus as she waits for a facetime call from me. Cars can be heard faintly in the background and somewhere out of sight lies her dog, newly returned from a visit to a vet earlier that morning.
Hudson is the proud owner of not only her bus, but also of her swimsuit company Luv Martha. Her work targets fitting the hole in the fashion industry that does not support plus size bodies, trans bodies and any other body deemed “wrong” by society. The business started as a side-gig for Hudsom to make some extra money on the side, but it quickly grew as many felt seen and accepted by her work.
“I think there was immediately so clearly a lacking in the swimsuit industry and fashion industry for plus-size bodies, trans bodies, for I don’t know, actual human beings who have actual needs for their clothes and are like trying to express themselves too,” Hudson says. “Especially with swimsuits, I think they just haven’t been fitting us for a long time and like the rhetoric and the conversation around that was that there was something wrong with our bodies, they’re not working, and so like they’re being developed by people that don’t have boobs and like don’t wear bikinis and not always, but originally. Kind of like how bras were developed by men who wanted to put boobs in cages.”
Hudson has been sewing since she was five. She started developing her skill set while living in Sacramento, where she would receive lessons after school a few days a week from the eight elderly women who worked at a local fabric store. Sewing has become something Hudson has been able to use multiple times throughout her life to make extra money when she needed it, from alterations to stuffed animals to purses and now, swimsuits.
One of Martha Hudson’s swimsuits designed for a client. Martha Hudson/Courtesy
Though she loves her bus, the business has become so popular it’s becoming more difficult for Hudson to continue to run it from the comfort of her mobile home. Vehicles have been home for Hudson for a good portion of her life.
“I consider myself like having experience with houselessness before I was ever van life,” Hudson says. “I probably spend most of my 20s living in vehicles. After college, I moved into my friend’s RV while I was sorting my stuff out and then I later moved into a Jeep while I was trying to live in Hawaii and then eventually, at one point, like breaking up with a boyfriend, I moved into a truck and then Subaru and then eventually I had more stable housing and started this company.”
With the global pandemic, Hudson has had to limit much of her traveling. She spends a lot of time bouncing between family members now, particularly her mother in Reno and her grandmother in Sacramento.
Hudson’s educational background is not in fashion, but in economics. She attended the University of California Santa Cruz to study economic justice and economic theory. This further ignited her desire to become an advocate for many platform issues facing America today.
“I’m obviously running a business in a capitalist system and I have to like sell my product to eat and stuff just like the rest of us, but like I’ve always wanted to also turn it into a conversation about like how that the work I’m doing is subversive to the systems I don’t agree with,” Hudson says. “Like same with body positivity and fat-phobia and that kind of thing is like the work I do posting photos of my body in bikinis and bodies bigger than mine in bikinis is like actively taking power away from patriarchal structures and stuff like that and so the work I do as an activist like is permeating everything and it’s why it all exists kind of.”
Hudson also considers living in her bus to be a form of anarchism, defined in simple terms as the abolition of government and replacing it with a society that voluntarily runs itself without force. Living out of the bus came from financial necessity first, but later grew into a way of healing for Hudson.
“I think America has a grind culture addiction and it’s really toxic to creating healthy like bodies and also creating healthy vibrant communities and friendships and relationships,” Hudson says. “I have an anxiety disorder. I have PTSD and it’s suits, it’s been like incredibly healing in navigating my anxiety disorder, because I can just pack up my entire house and bring it with me to a party or a social setting that could potentially be triggering.”
Hudson doesn’t know if she will keep living out of her bus forever. As her business has grown, she is unsure she can keep with the demand inside her tiny home. For now, she continues to sell high-quality swimsuits while using her platform to be a loud activist on the side.
Catherine Norby in one of Martha Hudson’s swim suit tops, custom-made with the measurements Norby provided. Catherine Norby/Lariat