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Fast Fashion is Not Good For the Environment. But What to Do if It’s the Only Option?

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If you were a statistician following the growth of the size-inclusive clothing market, there are many data points that would show that shopping for plus-size people is much easier and more affordable than it was ten years ago. It seems that this is true. In the past 10 years, retailers have made it easier for shoppers to shop at sizes 16 and higher. Also, prices are more affordable, especially when it involves fast fashion. There are many niche options available from smaller independent brands, including eveningwear, workwear and luxury. Although we’ve made great strides, it is still difficult to find sustainable, size-inclusive brands.

There are many facts that point out how dangerous fast fashion can be for both the workers who make it and the environment. There are more campaigns and brands that oppose fast fashion, to remind us of this fact. Celebrities and influencers are often shamed or criticised for selling fast fashion or encouraging it. While we all need to reduce our carbon footprint, does the general message that we “all” should shop from sustainable retailers make sense if more than 60% of women aren’t included in the size charts?

Consider the variety of choices available. The market for ethical and slow fashion is smaller than the straight-size market. This means that there will be fewer options for plus-size customers. You can count on ethical brands that offer sizes 22-24, as well as the rest of this market. This is before you consider the price and style preferences.

Marielle Elizabeth, a writer, photographer and expert, believes that plus-size customers shouldn’t be held to equal standards with straight-size shoppers. However, there has only been a limited range of sizes-inclusive fashion styles for a fraction of the time. For someone 26 or larger, shopping at more than one store has been a rare option over the past five years. Refinery29’s Sheryl says that plus-size women, regardless of their preference for ethical fashion or fast fashion have only been able buy pieces in their sizes with any level trendiness. “Many plus-size people are still trying to figure out their style and how they dress.”

Shaming plus-size customers for shopping at a retailer that finally caters to their style needs could be a mistake. This is especially true when you consider that being fat means being marginalized in more ways than just shopping. Elizabeth shares that it is well-documented fat people get less pay and are given fewer opportunities in the workplace. All of these things make it difficult for plus-size individuals to spend ethical fashion’s high prices.

True story: Although the term “ethical” has become a trendy word in fashion, it refers to brands with a traceable supply chain where every worker involved in creating a garment is paid a living wage and provided with safe working conditions. Ethical fashion is often more expensive than fast fashion because it underpays workers and uses other questionable, corner-cutting practices. Sustainable fashion is more expensive, which can make it difficult for people from marginalized communities to access sustainable fashion. Although secondhand clothing is more affordable and keeps fashion from going to landfill, it can be costly. However, this option has its limitations in terms of sizing.

Gianluca Russo is a plus-size fashion expert who will be publishing The Power Of Plus. He says he has mixed feelings regarding tagging fast-fashion brands via social media. “It’s nerve-racking for me to tag brands I wear on Instagram as a plus-size fashion expert, especially when I know the majority of them are in fast fashion.” He shares the truth: “That’s all I have.” “As a plus-size male, my choices for clothing are limited.”

Russo admits that he is uncomfortable sharing brand names. However, he says that it is better than the alternative.

Elizabeth said that her goal is to make the movement more inclusive than to exclude people, even though regulations have not yet been established. She says that the main question in ethical and sustainable fashion is how can we make it more accessible to everyone, and not who is most ethical. Both of these things often stem back to financial privilege. I don’t believe that it is a good idea to vilify influencers who are making people feel better about themselves and helping them feel more confident in the clothes they wear.

She also points out that consuming conscious doesn’t necessarily have to be a one-size-fits-all experience. You can make small changes or make a gradual change like buying one high-quality, long-lasting piece of clothing instead of a few trendy pieces a year. Elizabeth states that even small changes such as changing the way you wash clothes or making a commitment to repair clothing rather than tossing it and replacing it, can have a significant impact on the environment.

Elizabeth says, “We continue to try to get people functioning at 100% rather than just trying to get everybody participating at like 10%.” “And that is something I think about a lot when it come to the work that I do with the intersections of plus-size fashion & ethical fashion. How can I get someone who has never purchased an ethical garment to purchase one?” A simpler first step: Follow Elizabeth and her Patreon to see how she shares slow-fashion brands and resources. Because, yes, size-inclusive brands do exist.”

Are there more ethical fast fashion brands that claim to be ethical? Yes. Even if every slow-fashion brand offered plus sizes, it is still true that plus-size customers have a different experience with style, clothing, and accessories than straight-sizing shoppers. This will continue as long as there are fat biases and discrimination. This concept extends beyond plus-size customers.

Elizabeth states, “I believe collectively the goal should be to consume less and buy better products, but I think that the way we see ethical, sustainable and slow fashion must allow for people who have different barriers, regardless of size, gender, disability, or race.”

Perhaps, one day, fashion industry will be able to see these differences and make real changes for everyone.

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