My love for vintage clothes started long before ‘fast fashion’ was a common term, when I was 15. It started due to my obsession with 70s and 80s music, and was a way of fulfilling the desire to have clothes that no-one else does.
At the time there were only three vintage shops where I lived, and the weekends were spent trawling through the masses of clothes to try and find that special item I could show off on the early days of Instagram. It wasn’t until I got a few years older, and my body changed, that finding vintage clothes become harder.
I’m 22 now, and my body has changed a million times since I was 15 (I wish someone would have told me that would happen, it would have made a lot of things easier) and vintage and second-hand clothes now go hand-in-hand with the fight against fast fashion.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions and is set to rise to 50% by 2030, so it’s natural that people have began to question the impact of the way we shop. With thousands of items of clothing available to us at all time, which can get to us in under 24 hours, we are all guilty of over-consuming.
“The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions”
A lot of us are changing our shopping habits, swapping the high street for eBay and more expensive eco-conscious brands, but that isn’t within everyone’s reach.
The conversation around fast fashion has always had tones of classism, as it usually focuses on brands offering cheap clothes like Pretty Little Thing and Primark, but for anyone with a body that doesn’t fit the norm; bigger, shorter, taller, its a problem compounded by the fact that a lot of eco-conscious clothing brands don’t care about you.
With the majority of the blame of fast fashion put at the door of brands who also carry the largest size range and are the most reasonably priced, those people who cannot afford to shop anywhere else or simply cannot find their size anywhere else also bare the brunt of the blame.
Some brands are facing the problem of exclusive sustainable brands head on. Kennedy is an inclusive and sustainable brand based in Glasgow, Scotland and is owned by Fiona Kennedy. It stocks sizes 6-26 and is described by its founder as “a little wild, rock ’n’ roll inspired”, and is “designed to be an empowering and bold fashion brand, we want people to feel bad ass when they wear our clothes.”
As Kennedy makes everything in-house and only deals with fabric suppliers, she has full control over the sizing, which arguably makes it easier for her to provide an inclusive size range.
“I feel it’s just a standard step that any business should make [having an inclusive size range]. I personally disagree with the sizing that most companies offer and instead wanted to offer a broad range of sizes to accommodate all kinds of body shapes,” Fiona said.
“I myself struggle with a lot of brands sizes and tend to be a different size on top and bottom and realise the effect misfitting clothes can have on you, as an independent brand that makes everything in-house I wanted to make people feel good about themselves.”
When discussing any industry in our capitalist society, the bottom line is always money. A lot of brands claim it’s just not cost affective to include a wide size range. High street retailer New Look has been accused of having a ‘Fat Tax’ when it was noticed that the same item of clothing in its plus sizes section would cost more than its counterpart in the ‘straight’ size section.
Brands like Kennedy are finding ways around this: “I accommodate my full size range within my pricing for any collection so all costs are covered. It was a smart business choice to avoid overspend on materials and improve cash flow but I am also aware of customer interests and felt that i have to make my own steps in improving the state of the planet as fashion tends to have such a bad name.”
For 15 year old me, Kennedy would have been my holy grail. Their biggest fashion icons are: “Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Bowie and Marc Bolan,” which at that age was everything I wanted to be. This is a comforting sign of how much has changed in just seven years.
A brand with a slightly different aesthetic to Kennedy, Hours, based in New York, is also leading the way again in sustainable and inclusive fashion. A sophisticated, high-quality and chic brand which was born “because we were tired of perpetuating a standard of sameness that didn’t reflect the diversity we saw in our lives.”
“Having backgrounds in fashion, we saw first hand the lack of care and consideration given to the plus size woman” says co-founder, Harroop Gulati Kaur. “The lack, even total dismissal, of diversity on the runway and fitting room doesn’t reflect what we see in the world.
“Our lives are filled with people of unique backgrounds and bodies. Frankly, we grew tired of telling friends and family ‘No, I don’t know where you can get this item in your size,’ so we decided to do something about it,” Harroop said.
The intensely frustrating feeling of wanting to dress in a particular way but brands not catering to your size is a common feeling for a lot of women. Until recently, it was just accepted. The fashion industry made it pretty clear that certain styles of clothes were not meant for you.
Shopping for clothes for a plus-size woman has always been a hostile environment, no matter your personal style. This is slowly changing, but just as high-street retailers have actually started to carry more sizes, society has once again has rejected the plus-size shopper by placing all the blame of fast fashion on those retailers.
“Many brands that cater to the plus women occupy the fast fashion space and so historically plus women have been confined to fast fashion. With Hours we are trying to create high-quality garments that are sustainably made while also being accessible. We feel this is the biggest gap in the plus size market today,” Harroop said.
“For many brands, it is hard to rethink their business model and culture. Of the brands that try to be inclusive, many to do it in a cost effective way by simply adding a few styles in extended sizing. This is very much an afterthought and it is clear to the customer. I think for brands to really expand their customer base and be truly inclusive, they have to value that customer and invest time and resources to do it in a thoughtful and meaningful way”.
“We are trying to create high-quality garments that are sustainably made while also being accessible.”
One big way we can all fight the devastating affects of fashion fashion is buying second hand clothes. Whether that be from online retailers like Depop or ASOS Marketplace, or the traditional charity shop, buying secondhand is now a part of everyday society. This means the prices have been driven up, and the community a lot more cliquey.
The growing popularity of this again poses problems for the shopper on a budget, or the plus-size shopper. We all know a size 14 from the 70s is much smaller than a size 14 now, and some brands just don’t feel like the plus-size person fits into the desired aesthetic of brands (We’re looking at you, Victoria’s Secret and Hollister).
“The sustainable fashion industry is much more progressive but it will probably never be completely inclusive. There will always be brands that find plus-size people simply not cool enough to wear their fashion,” suggests Alissa Steinbach of Plus Babes Vintage.
Based in Germany, Plus Babes Vintage is a shop run through instagram (and very soon Etsy) and specialises in mid-to-plus-size vintage items. Steinbach has made it her personal mission to provide vintage wear for the plus-size community after struggling herself for years to find vintage clothes in her size.
“From my youth until now I have worn all sizes between 16-26 and always had a very limited selection of plus size clothing. When I got more into the topic of sustainability, I became more and more interested in vintage clothing,” Alissa told us.
“I’m a UK size 18, and have visited vintage shops all over Europe. I barely ever found anything in my size. This lead me to imagine how excluded people with a bigger size than mine must feel with having an even smaller amount of clothing to choose from. So in April 2020 I decided to take it into my own hands and offer vintage clothing to mid and plus size people.”
Our teenage years profoundly shape us, and especially shape our relationship with our bodies. It can take a lifetime to recover from the excruciatingly awkward experience of being a young girl, unsure in her body, trying to buy clothes and literally having no options. More responsibility should be put on the fashion community to consider the way their sizing affects their customers body image – but that’s a conversation for another day.
The problem of plus-size shoppers having limited choices isn’t helped by the lack of social awareness some ‘straight-size’ shoppers have. The tireless campaigns against fast-fashion brands only further alienates those who have no choice. This was highlighted in the media when the people queuing outside Primark after its closure during lockdown were ridiculed – Primark is one of the most accessible shops in both price tag and size inclusion.
“It is often forgotten how plus-size people have always been ignored by the fashion industry.”
“They [plus-size shoppers] are mocked for consuming fast fashion and how they dare to work with these exploiting brands. It is often forgotten how plus size people have always been ignored by the fashion industry. They simply don’t have alternatives to fast fashion brands. While getting upset that plus-size people still heavily consume and advertise fast fashion, people forget that the access to sustainable fashion choices is very limited for plus-size people”.
It’s clear that the fight against fast-fashion must go hand in hand with the fight for inclusive and accessible clothing for all. Until we all have more sustainable clothing options that we can also all afford, all of the blaming of fast-fashion brands is pointless, as many of us just can’t do anything else. The campaigning is a facade for a much deeper issue ultimately rooted in the hatred of the lower classes and fat people that sill plagues our society.
Thrifting is a privilege. Shopping at expensive sustainable brands is a privilege. Buying designer is a privilege. Once we realise the problem lies with the exploitative corporations, and not with the shopper, then maybe we will see change.
Featured image courtesy of Plus Babes Vintage Clothing.
Edited by Ropa Madziva and Daniela Ferreira Teixeira