Slow fashion brands are doing a lot of things right.
They often use manufacturing processes that are kinder to the planet. They’re dedicated to stamping out the mistreatment that many garment factory workers face. They’re a huge part of the push for lowering our absurd levels of consumption as a society.
However, I’m a dedicated member of the camp that says, “Just because a brand does something ‘good’, doesn’t mean that they should be given a free pass if they do something ‘bad’.”
So, let’s not skirt around the topic: Slow fashion has a size-inclusivity issue. And a pretty major one, at that.
Take a look at the vast majority of sustainable/ethical fashion retailers, and you’ll quickly realise that there’s a very particular woman being catered for: Someone who is thin, able-bodied and, often, white. In a worrying number of cases, sizes don’t even stretch beyond a UK 14-16. Or, when they do, it’s only within a limited range or for certain styles.
Not only is this damaging to the sustainability cause, but it’s damaging to women more widely. It needs to be addressed.
You can’t claim to empower women, without empowering all women
One of the main pillars of slow fashion is the fact that all workers are treated fairly and are paid a decent, living wage. This is a direct response to the massive amounts of mistreatment that happen within the factories of fast fashion retailers.
And there’s no doubt that that’s a huge and important step for a retailer to make. It’s one that should be celebrated.
Related post: Everything wrong with fast fashion
However, it doesn’t sit right with me that so many of these brands claim to champion women, whilst simultaneously pushing plus-size and even mid-size individuals out of the narrative. It’s not simply a case of removing a person’s choice to shop at your clothing store, which is awful enough, but is actually a case of the slow fashion industry as a whole removing the choice for particular people to be more ethical and sustainable.
Buying from these brands is not an option for many!
I spoke to Nicole Ocran from The Noteworthy, who blogs about her personal style journey and identity.
Talking to her experience of trying to shop from ethical brands, she said that many give off the same message: “there is nothing here for you.”.
On top of the fact that a shit tonne of companies simply don’t cater to anyone above a UK size 16, those that do often stock wildly different styles dependent on size. Having visited a People Tree sample sale, for example, Nicole said that “the racks were full of clothes and pretty summer dresses for sizes 6-12. As soon as you got to the 14-16 racks, they were all winter jumpers in styles you just didn’t want to wear…”
If fast fashion is offering a better service, it will always win
If we want sustainable living to become the norm, it needs to be as easy as possible to adopt.
The truth is that many high street brands, including plus-size retailers, stock a much wider range of sizes than their slow fashion competitors. Granted, the range still isn’t great, but it is often better.
If an individual can walk into a shop and feel represented; if they can actually buy something? Of course, they are going to! We all need clothes and, above that, we all deserve to feel good in the clothes that we own. As such, high street brands, and plus-size fast-fashion retailers, are simply offering a better service to their customers.
And with the average size of a woman in the UK said to be somewhere between a 14 and an 18, that’s a lot of women that are getting bad service. In fact, of my Instagram followers, only 48% that answered a poll on my stories (obviously a very scientific method) said that they felt catered to within slow fashion.
Discussing the topic, I spoke to Ghenet from Ghenet Actually, a lifestyle and fashion blog where she shares her own experience “so that perhaps you feel a little less alone in yours”. She said, “A lot of sustainable brands just don’t make clothing for anyone bigger than a size 14 or 16. There have been a few occasions where I’ve been able to find clothes in a size 18, but what if I were bigger than that? What if I were a size 22 or 24, like quite a few women I know? There’s nothing…If I struggle and I’m relatively straight-sized, what about all the other people out there who are plus-sized?”
People expect more from slow fashion
Slow fashion costs more money. Whilst this is for good reason, it’s another barrier for many people.
Inevitably, it also means that we have much higher expectations regarding the quality of ethical pieces. I mean, a seam splitting on your £2 Primark t-shirt isn’t such a big deal. However, if the same happened with a £35 top from People Tree? Yeah, that’s a much bigger blow.
In the same way, people don’t want to have to get clothes altered if they’ve already paid a lot of cash for them!
Two lovely ladies (Emily Clarke and blogger, Life Being a Wife) spoke to me in my Instagram DMs about the difficulty finding sustainable, petite clothing. They both said that the process was tricky enough, before the added cost of having to get things altered.
That’s yet another reason why slow fashion retailers need to up their game: Consumers have naturally and justifiably higher expectations that the clothes will be a good fit on them, no matter their size.
“But what about charity shops?”
One narrative that you’ve probably heard a lot of ethical fashion bloggers pioneer is that, if you can’t afford or find something from a sustainable brand, opt for secondhand instead. Simple, right?
Well maybe if, like me, you’re straight-size.
Honestly, this is something that I truly believed until relatively recently as well, thanks to my own levels of privilege.
Having spoken to various women about it, though, it’s clearly not the case. Ghenet shared her own experiences: “I can barely find my size on the high street, let alone in vintage shops or anything. The times I have shopped in a charity shop there’s been nothing that fit me”.
The same was reiterated by Alice Christina, Thrifty Fashion and lifestyle blogger from Alice’s Wonder Emporium, who works in charity retail. Talking on secondhand shopping, she said that these types of retailers “rarely get any items over a size 16…I have been in other shops where they have up to a size 32, but you do have to hunt more for them”.
Either way, the shopping experience in charity shops, as in the vast majority of clothes shops, is clearly catered more to straight-size individuals.
The ethical blogging community and inclusivity
Inclusivity within ethical fashion stretches beyond retailers. We, as influencers, need to look at ourselves too.
One of the main things that I think ethical fashion bloggers need to check themselves for is “shamey language”: Do you criticise people for not shopping sustainably, or suggest that it’s “easy”?
The fact is that, for a lot of people, ethical clothes shopping just isn’t plausible. So, your language on this topic matters.
Furthermore, when I asked my followers whether they felt represented by ethical fashion/lifestyle bloggers, 90% answer “no”.
That’s a number that needs to change. And myself, along with every other straight-sized, white and able-bodied sustainability blogger out there, have a responsibility to help create that change.
The following from Nicole is something that I think we all need to take note of:
“When it comes to straight size ethical influencers, I appreciate the message they are putting out there about slow fashion and ethically-made, sustainable fashion. It’s such an important topic, but I think they should be acknowledging the privilege available to them (where relevant)…
I have yet to see actual plus-size influencers showcased by slow fashion brands Instagram pages…Also, are you paying plus size women to feature your clothing in their content? It’s not enough if you say you are an inclusive, ethical/slow-fashion brand, but you aren’t paying plus-size women for their work.”
As the individuals that have the representation (and, therefore, the greater amount of power in the industry), we need to first recognise the level of our privilege. Then, we need to use it to generate change by assessing collaboration opportunities for their inclusivity and by talking directly to the brands that we work with.
Including something like Vix Meldrew’s “Influencer Inclusion Rider Template” in contracts could be helpful here.
On top of that, as creators, we need to amplify the voices of those that are too often left out of the narrative within sustainable fashion: Share their posts, support their projects, recommend them directly to brands.
Brands and movements are only inclusive when they truly champion, empower and financially compensate women.
That means that we need more plus size representation within slow fashion. So, whilst I fully support the rise of ethical retailers, I know that there is still plenty of work to be done in order for them to be branded as truly “ethical”.