When we talk about ethical clothing, we’re often talking about how clothes get made. We ask questions about the where and the what and the who of what happens before clothes are ever worn. Less often, we ask questions about what happens after clothes have outlived their usefulness. (What do we do about clothing waste? Are we repairing, or donating, or digging clothes back into the soil?). Still more rare is to question the ethics of who gets to wear what. Who’s represented and included in the ethical fashion conversations—not to mention on the racks and in the lookbooks—from a consumer point of view?
68% of American women wear size 14 and above. Indeed, the average American woman wears between a size 16 and 18—a range that’s considered plus-size by the majority of the fashion industry. And yet the options available in these sizes remain incredibly limited. Why is it so difficult for folks searching for ethical and sustainable options to find clothing sized to fit?
This week, I invited Aja Barber to help us crack open the subject of plus-size fashion and extended sizing, especially as it relates to ethical fashion. Aja offers her tried-and-true tips below.
Here’s more from Aja:
Clothes shopping and fashion can be an arena that leaves large groups of people feeling intimidated and left out in the cold. Because we exist in a world that doesn’t make space for everyone, we have large groups of the population who feel forgotten when it comes to fashion and style. (Raises hand.)
Changing the landscape of fashion means that folks of all sizes need to start joining the conversation and speaking out too. It’s going to take all hands on deck in order to fix these problems. For far too long, people who fall into the category of standard size haven’t been forced to look at or acknowledge the problem. Now that we are on the precipice of what is a new dawn for fashion production, consumption, sustainability and ethics, it’s high time we start to look out for each other and realize that ethical fashion also means fashion that’s inclusive and diverse. In the last twenty years, I have been a variety of sizes. Navigating my own changes in size have allowed me the unique opportunity to view the fashion industry from multiple sides and to see exactly where some of the problems are. Even when I was at my smallest and would have been considered “standard size” by the industry, I still couldn’t fit into some designers’ trousers, which says a lot about who the majority of clothing is made for.
Today, when I’m not microblogging on Instagram, or writing, or helping my clients of all sizes pick out clothing they’re going to love, I am actively reaching out to brands that I enjoy to ask for more inclusive sizing, in addition to better representation of all kinds in their spaces and lookbooks. Often I make headway but sometimes I don’t get a response at all. It’s tiresome and it’s SO worth it. Until every brand and designer is as diverse as we’d like it to be, here are some of my pointers for shopping more ethically when you don’t fit into “standard size” (whatever that means).
Try avante garde (and secondhand):
I personally gravitate towards more avant garde designers because they tend to make clothing that I can move in freely and that fits a variety of shapes. I was in Japan last month and I was on the lookout for designers like Issey Miyake,Comme Des Garcons, and Junya Watanabe. I ended up with a gorgeous dress and two very nice jacket/sweaters by sleuthing in secondhand shops for the names of designers who I love
Buying second-hand, in my opinion is the most sustainable shopping one can do and I never feel guilty about it. I’m saving something from the landfill and I’m not driving the demand for fast fashion. Luckily there are even a few places to shop online:
+ thredUP*: As a stylist many of my clients have had good luck with thredUP which has a dedicated plus-size section. Being able to filter through the entire inventory of clothes to find clothes that you know might fit can feel so encouraging. Be sure to filter by size so you’re not hit with a flood of material.
+ eBay*: When you really truly know what brands you like and you know your size and how the clothing fits, you also can’t lose with eBay. I just bought a Junya Watanabe x Marimekko dress on eBay recently and I’m so excited to get it. It’s also great for brands like Universal Standard.
If you know your style and you really know what you want, consider having someone make you exactly what you’re looking for, made to measure. You could find a local tailor to work with, but increasingly I turn to the internet. There’s a wealth of tailors and makers all over the world who can make exactly what you’d like, and sometimes for not that much more money than fast fashion brands. Cost aside, having clothing made to order isn’t nearly as wasteful as the fast fashion process is. It gives me great personal joy to see my money going directly to the maker. Sure, it takes a bit more time, and you need to know your measurements, but what you receive in return is going to be made JUST. FOR. YOU.
+Etsy*: When looking for custom-made clothes, I almost never go wrong with Etsy. From my perspective, Etsy stores really give makers back their power and help build small businesses in communities worldwide, which seems to be good for everyone. For the most part, I’ve been incredibly happy. People often write to me worried about bad experiences, but I’ve only had one experience with a shop I wouldn’t patronize again. One pro-tip: Read the feedback from other customers carefully before taking the plunge with a new shop you don’t have experience with.
Hire a professional:
If all of this still sounds daunting to you (it’s not everyone’s cup of tea), consider working with a stylist. It’s more affordable than most people think and sometimes it’s good to have someone to hold your hand, help you make new outfits with combinations you wouldn’t normally wear, and push you to have the courage you need to try a new styles. Ultimately, you save money when you buy clothing you like because there’s a lot less trial and error than when you’re wandering around trying to do it on your own. No matter what, everyone deserves to wear beautiful clothing that they feel happy in and I hope you find something out there which makes you feel good.
A few of my favorite brands for new ethical clothes with extended sizing:
+Universal Standard (My clients’ personal favorite.)
+ Elizabeth Suzann (A favorite among my Instagram friends’.)
+ Hackwith Design House (They just introduced some cute swimwear pieces.)
+ Girlfriend Collective (I have a pair of their leggings that I love.)
+Tuesday Bassen (A lot of fun clothes that remind me of the best bits of the 90s.)
+ Reformation* (I hope plus sizes are here to stay this time!)
+And Comfort (A great place to start building a capsule wardrobe.)
What about all of you guys? Favorite places to shop ethically that serve a wide range of sizes?
Aja Barber is a writer, stylist and consultant who lives in London. Aja writes about fashion, style, race, and feminism because all of those things intersect! You can read and support her work on Patreon and follow along with regular updates on Instagram. She enjoys matcha lattes and helping people shop better for clothing they’re really going to love.
* Denotes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. Several of the brands mentioned above are current or past sponsors of this site. This post is not sponsored and brands were included at the author’s choosing.