I sometimes dread shopping. From struggling to imagine an interesting shirt gracing my favorite sustainable lifestyle blogger on my body to the frustration of thrifting when nothing fits right, it’s stressful. There are significantly fewer options for stylish clothes if you want sustainable and ethical options and have a body that is outside the Instagram ideal. This is more than just plus size vs. non-plus size, because tall, pear-shaped, muscular, short, and disabled people aren’t given a fair market share in the sustainable fashion world. If the goal of sustainable fashion is to change the industry, and the average American woman is a size 14, shouldn’t it follow that they offer a wider range of products? Or is the goal to create an exclusive, aspirational lifestyle brand to make money off well-meaning sustainable shoppers? Sustainable brands often look too much like luxury brands whose entire ethos is exclusivity, and that needs to change.
It shouldn’t be so hard to replace the pieces I used to wear when I was younger. In my late teens and early twenties, I ate, or attempted to eat, one meal every other day — I still struggle to understand why some people consider that an eating disorder because it not only seemed normal, but morally superior. Intermittent fasting is good for you, after all (not necessarily to that extreme). Even then, I thought I was fat. I got older, I moved out of my parents’ house, I gained weight. It is a burden. My inability to find sustainable options serves only to enhance a toxic obsession with my body. I’m reminded by brands whose mini dresses, pencil skirts, drop necklines, and boxy cuts do me no favors and the vintage shops who stock their shelves with a demographic in mind that doesn’t include me. Its fuel for the “I’ll finally be happy when I’m skinny” voice, though even when I was, I wasn’t.
I wear a size 10-12, I have 40-inch hips and a 29-inch waist, and certain cuts and styles will never look good on my body. That’s OK. I’m still the audience these brands should be courting, as an ambitious, socially engaged, liberal woman in her 20s living in an urban center. But I’m not. As an aside, to preempt some comments that are inevitably coming, I’m not looking for dieting advice. I do yoga, walk everywhere (I don’t have a car), avoid sugar, and eat a plant-based diet. My habits aren’t perfect, but I know how to be healthy.
Sustainable brands have become aspirational to the detriment of their accessibility; that’s because they’re modeled after luxury fashion. In luxury fashion, the idea is that not just anyone can own your brand. The air of sophistication, luxury, and exclusivity on their high-end pieces, which are still made in polluting factories with exploitative labor practices, is what sells their low-end pieces. Gucci belts, Dior sunglasses, these are small pieces of the aspirational feeling of being a member of the 1%. Similarly, the environmentalist movement is sometimes personified as a hobby for the elite. I’ve written about the need for inclusivity and environmental justice before, and this ties into that thread. If a brand, website, or “influencer” relies too heavily on aspirational messaging, they’re creating needless barriers to the sustainable lifestyle.
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It makes both economic and moral sense for brands to feature a wide variety of fits and sizes because they would immediately expand their audience. The sustainable shopper is already niche, splitting it further is counterproductive. Plus-size, trans, hourglass, pear, apple, a whole damn fruit basket, there are concrete steps a brand can take to be more inclusive to the wide variety of shapes humans come in. It’s not just about sizing up designs, but designing with diversity in mind. It’s clear when a design was made with someone thin in mind and is then just sized up across all metrics as if they took the image and dragged the corner until it was bigger in the same proportions. The problem with that is that most people don’t have the same shape. You end up with baggy, unflattering pieces that fit in the broadest sense of the term. This doesn’t mean that designers need to create huge collections, but rather that their styles shouldn’t all be made with one body in mind.'The environmentalist movement is sometimes personified as a hobby for the elite... If a brand, website, or “influencer” relies too heavily on aspirational messaging, they’re creating needless barriers to the sustainable lifestyle.'Click To Tweet
I’m not the best voice piece for this issue, I recognize that. I’m still a cis white woman who can generally fit “regular” clothes, and I’ve never been heckled or abused like plus-size friends and activists in the body positivity movement. But I do want to specifically bring this issue to the attention of sustainable brands who might be struggling to find an audience and the activists who support them. Let’s consider as a movement who we’re excluding from the table and why a skinny white woman leaning against a brick wall or posing in a field are the images most often associated with sustainable brands. We need to appeal to a fast fashion audience too, but can’t we also do better than exclusionary fast fashion?
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