Sustainable Fashion has a Size Problem

 

Laura O’Sullivan writes about her experience as a young plus-sized woman attempting to buy into the second-hand renaissance and the difficulty it poses. 

I hate shopping. 

The meaning of ‘let’s go in town for a sconce’ once meant a bop down Opera Lane, an overwhelming half an hour in Penney’s and a quick run around the make-up counters of Brown Thomas. This, as a teenage girl wearing a size 16- 18, sparked enough dread that I’d spend hours planning outfits the night before for fear of being the dowdy chubby friend who can’t take care of herself. 

But as the landscape of shopping has morphed from ‘thanks hun, Penneys!’ to ‘thanks hun, found it in a charity shop!’, it’s created a new level of discouragement for plus-size people.

As our collective environmental awareness has grown, there’s been a large push against fast fashion – people are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers that companies producing fast fashion present to not only their workers, but to the climate. 

This led to a second-hand renaissance. Buying clothes second hand has become normalised in our modern culture. Whether it’s spending hours on sites like Depop to find your LBD for the year or bussing around the country to find the best vintage Levi’s, we’ve all welcomed this change into our lives.

Sustainable clothing options not only keep cash in our pockets, but also reminds us that by filling our sustainably sourced cotton totes with a winter wardrobe, we’re doing our part for the environment. If you’re between a size 8-14, this is your reality, and it’s such a wonderful thing to make environmentally conscious fashion choices. But it’s not mine. 

Now, it’s worth noting that the average size of a woman in Ireland is 14-16. This is on the verge of what is considered “plus-sized”- “plus-sized” being the frilly way of saying fat (which isn’t a curse word), curvy, or, my personal favourite, ‘thicc.’ 

Considering that the national average is on the cusp of a size 18, which is where you get into plus-sized territory, it begs so many questions as to why sustainable fashion has cripplingly few avenues for plus-size people. 

Grown, a sustainable brand that runs to a size XXL. With a strong belief that “clothes shouldn’t cost the earth”, the founders of Grown root their beliefs in not only sustainable clothing, but in protecting the rural landscapes and coasts of Ireland. 

Largely though, in the case of shopping sustainably online, the scarcity of anything larger than a size 14 is astounding. Not to mention the countless hours I have spent hunting in vintage stores, only to turn up empty handed or, at best, with an oversized button down and a pair of ill-fitting jeans that never make it to the tailors.

Where does this leave us? It leaves plus-size people feeling disappointed, outraged and hurt. It further marginalises an already villainised group of people for no real reason. Plus-size vintage does exist, it exists in the shopping bags at the back of charity shops, it exists in suitcases at estate sales that get left behind, and it exists in mock-ups that never leave work-shop floors. 

But it stays there in the belief that the people wearing these sizes don’t care. And in a world where there’s space for everybody and everyone’s bodies to be celebrated, where there’s plus-size influencers for people to look to, where celebrities we all know and love (looking at you Lizzo) are being open and unashamed about their stomachs, asses and thighs, it’s overtly clear that we do care. We care an awful lot.