On Size Inclusivity
To all the ethical fashion brands of today and tomorrow
An ethical fashion movement that doesn’t recognize the importance of size inclusivity is simply unethical. Mission statements claiming a commitment to combating societal norms around consumption are invalidated when brands only market products to a minority of the population. The community claims its broader goals are the protection of the planet and others, mostly women, as workers and as consumers. If these goals only pertain to apparel for women sizes 00-14 in practice, then we have really lost our way. The average American woman is at least a size 16. This means over fifty percent of women are being locked out of an ethical fashion movement that rarely includes anything above a 14.
My personal journey toward a sustainable lifestyle has been generic in many ways. It started with a metal straw and the rest was history. However, I continue to face roadblocks whenever I delve into matters of fashion. For months, I was actually convinced there were no ethical options for plus size people. I use to love discovering new ethical brands. I would eagerly browse pages of beautiful linen pants and organic cotton dress only to find that the largest size offered is large or extra large essentially designed for smaller women to get that oversized look. Did someone somewhere assume I wouldn’t be interested in a beautiful linen dusty rose babydoll dress? If so, they were way off. If often feels as though women like me were actually never a thought. The ethical fashion movement challenges everyone as consumers of fashion and apparel to think about what they buy, what they throw out, where the items came from, and who made them. Within this community, we challenge each other to set higher standards for our closets and expect more from brands. It is not only an oversight but counterproductive to act as a gatekeeper to ethical living. Assuming that plus size women don’t want to invest in the clothing for their body of today flies in the face of buzzwords like empowerment and inclusivity.
The fashion industry at-large has a history of body policing and trying to dictate what bodies are and are not good enough to wear what clothes. Brands run by thin people are projecting their fatphobia on the fat people of the world. Extended sizing is an investment, but it is a worthwhile one. If sizing is extended from large to a 3X or 4X, brands could exponentially expand their market without radically changing your product-line or branding. When plus size people don’t see themselves represented or included, it implies that brands don’t wish to include us in their market or their movement. I think it is inherently important that we break away from this idea, particularly amongst ethical brands, in the name of being ethical. Zero-waste operations and living-wage facilities are ethical practices, and I applaud these efforts. However, in a market dominated by women on both the consumer and business side, we need to be better about uplifting and empowering all women with ethically made pieces that make them feel good about themselves.
As a plus-sized woman, I wanted to talk to people who had been advocating in the space up until now, and spoke to some of my favorite voices within the plus size ethical fashion space. I looked to Rachel, the mind behind the blog A Step To Simplicity. If given the opportunity to sit down with or speak to some of their favorite ethical brands about inclusive sizing, I asked her what she’d say. Rachel talked about how she had been made to feel “alienated from the ethical fashion community because she doesn’t see bodies like [hers] in their marketing”. She challenged brands to think more long-term about the effects of their body policing on potential customers.
Sydney Grace, another one of my favorite voices in the space, touched upon the importance of including plus size women and how their feedback lends itself to more equitable shopping experiences. The most commonly offered piece of advice was to include plus size women: inclusive marketing and design are best achieved through an inclusive team. When brands look to extend their sizing, they should consider why they need other voices and expertise in designing and developing a plus size collection.
Luckily, there are plenty of amazing plus size women that are happy to help.