Making our style sustainable is more important than ever. While the average consumer may be changing their shopping habits from cheap and cheerful to ecological and more expensive, those of us without the budget to do so are often demonised. We all know that sustainable fashion has a class issue, but for the plus-size shopper, it's a problem that's compounded even more by the fact that eco-conscious clothing usually doesn’t come in a size fat.
There are practical business reasons for independent brands being unable to supply a full-size range — from fit testing to surplus stock — but affordability or size inclusion are facts that are rarely brought up in campaigns for sustainable fashion. On Instagram, this hits plus-size influencers even harder: many are criticised and called out more often for working with fast fashion brands than their thin counterparts.
Joey Darlin, a plus-size model and influencer, agrees that fat fashionistas are expected to be more “woke” than other kinds of influencers. “Because the plus-size community is marginalised, a lot of the community is based on activism — both in casual and intentional ways.” She considers, “We speak up for things that are wrong because we know no one ever speaks up for us. Because of this, a lot of people expect us to be active and ‘woke’ when it comes to ev-er-y-th-in-g.”
Lauren Smeets, aka The Curvy Roamer, agrees that fat women are expected to be more switched on to the ethics of fashion than other kinds of influencers. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I think being plus-size has come with its own continuous battle in the industry.” However, Smeets wants this to turn into something positive: “I’d hope individuals who have experienced a lack of inclusion because of their size would be more aware and sympathetic towards the wider and more important issues within the industry.” Danielle Vanier, a plus-size blogger, agrees with Smeets and adds that “there needs to be a greater understanding from slimmer people about the fact we have such little choice. I wish my slimmer peers would help amplify our voices and put pressure on sustainable brands to extend their sizes.”
For those who do find their size in styles that they like from sustainable stores, it comes, quite literally, at a cost. Eco-friendly fashion is repeatedly referred to as an “investment,” an aesthetic ethos that requires an expensive purchase that can be worn and re-worn over the years. While on one hand, this demands a knowledge that your body will be the same year in, year out, it also necessitates a cash flow that can afford expensive clothes. It's been reported that fat people earn less money on average than thin people, with fat discrimination putting the average plus-size person in a lower wage bracket. While we're urged to purchase investment pieces of sustainable clothing, having the ability to do so in the first place also needs to be addressed.
For those of us who don't see ourselves reflected or included in the sustainable movement, we often turn to charity shops and vintage stores for eco-conscious clothing. Resell apps like Depop and eBay, that not only give you access to wardrobes around the world, but also champion a circular fashion ethos, have far more options for size inclusivity, but, in the same way that we're often limited to online shopping because our clothes size isn't available in physical stores on the high street, the choice to buy second-hand IRL is just not there in the same way.
Plus-size fashion journalist Marie Southard Ospina wrote about a shocking experience in a charity shop, not shopping for second-hand clothes, but trying to donate them:
“One woman told me ‘plus sizes just don’t sell for us, so we don’t keep stock above an 18 usually.’ Another told me ‘there just aren’t many plus-size people around so we end up having to get whatever we can’t sell taken to landfill.’ All of my clothes were between sizes 22 - 26. I know for a fact that there are plenty of plus-size people around, but I also know that fat folks are so used to not being catered to in stores that many of us don’t even try shopping IRL anymore.”
Speaking to Alissa Schmitz, owner of Plus Babes Vintage, the damaging misconception that plus sizes don’t sell for secondhand stores is a common one. Of 12 European vintage wholesalers she contacted when starting her business, only two could provide for her online shop. “I believe that many vintage stores want to act exclusionary since they define themselves particularly through their ‘cool’ customers.” Schmitz states. “I assume they don't consider plus-sized people to be just that. They might share similar ideas with Mike Jeffries, ex CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, and simply find plus size bodies to not look good enough to represent their brand.”
Fiona Kennedy, who designs and creates all the clothing for her own glam rock-inspired brand Kennedy Designs, explained to me that although plus sizes use more fabric and larger patterns, she is determined to cut the costs elsewhere to ensure her line is inclusive: “Ultimately it isn’t that much extra work to extend sizing, really just the time to grade pattern. I would encourage all brands to consider extending their size range and ensure that everyone has access to the same pricing for sustainable style.”
Writer and influencer Stephanie Yeboah questioned the notion that it's plus-size people that should be doing more for sustainability, and not the other way around, in a piece on sustainable fashion for Metro: “Progress [in fashion sustainability] won’t be made if sections of the population are not provided with the tools to change.” Writer, personal stylist and consultant Aja Barber echoes this sentiment. "Until the sustainable fashion movement really proves itself to be a better and more inclusive space than what we're used to from fashion, then no one can expect the plus-size community to move to sustainable fashion at lightning speed," she tells me. "You can't wear the clothes if no one will dress you and a lot of well known sustainable fashion brands still practice fatphobia in their reasoning behind not dressing bigger bodies. I know it: I've had the conversation again and again. I'm bored of it and I'm bored of these brands and their fatphobia."
Exclusivity is a huge issue across many ethical movements both in and outside of fashion, but the tools won’t be provided to plus-size people unless the entirety of society demands that they are. If thin bloggers are boycotting fast fashion brands to promote fashion sustainability, they should also boycott brands that refuse to supply a full size range to their customers, too. As RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Ginger Minj says, “There’s solidarity in solid people.” What if that solidarity was reflected by those who don’t look like us? That could invoke real progress, not just for inclusivity, but for sustainability too.