Is sustainable fashion size inclusive? This plus size woman finds out

Four ways, tried and tested.
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Polly Jean Harrison

As it becomes clearer what our actions are doing to the planet, sustainability is gaining momentum. Whether it’s farming, flying or fashion, we’re slowly destroying our environment and people are starting to take a stand.

While going vegan is reportedly the single best move you can make to reduce your environmental impact, fashion is another good place to start.

Since 2000, Greenpeace report that we buy twice as much and only wear it half the time. This is having a hugely detrimental impact on our planet, with the fashion industry’s textile production accountable for global emissions equivalent to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year – a bigger carbon footprint than all international flights and shipping combined.

READ MORE: Why has sustainable fashion left plus size women out for so long?

While buying eco-friendly clothing from retailers that pay their workers fair wages is definitely something we should all aspire to, for a lot of people it just isn’t attainable. As a plus sized woman, I’m already excluded from much of the fashion market and struggle to find options from high street brands as it is.

Add in sustainability and you make the pile even smaller. A lot of eco-friendly fashion options fail to be size inclusive and when they do, the clothing often comes with a higher price tag. So while climate change is without a doubt a serious issue, it seems to me that there isn’t an accessible replacement for fast fashion yet.

Before I can truly judge something however, I need to try it out for myself. So I decided to attempt to build outfits from various sustainable fashion outlets to figure out whether it’s something I will be able to do carry on with – assessing inclusivity, price and style.

Slow fashion

Polly Jean Harrison wearing Sadie Alys and  Aesthetic Laundry
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

The Outfit

This outfit is made up of two brands that have admired for a very long time, so I was thrilled to try them out.

My gorgeous pink dungarees are from the Welsh brand Sadie Alys and my t-shirt is from Aesthetic Laundry, a brand I am literally obsessed with. I love all the pieces they create and the brand itself has such a fun vibe, particularly on Instagram. Aesthetic Laundry also have a big emphasis on zero-waste and are constantly looking at ways to reuse offcuts into their main collections.

The Process

I love this look; it’s very me.The pieces are both so well made and you can tell just by looking at them that the brands have taken the time to make them perfect.

Aesthetic Laundry included a note to say exactly who worked on my order, which I think really hammers home the slow fashion message. In terms of sizing, I didn’t struggle at all with these brands as both are truly size-inclusive. That’s one fantastic thing I’ve found with slow fashion brands; many offering custom sizing options that cater to plus sizes.

Tartan Dungarees, £70, Sadie Alys – buy now

Something I’m put off by when it comes to slow fashion is price. There is often a significant mark up, but the brands are sourcing high-quality sustainable fabrics and paying their employees a fair wage, so of course prices are going to be higher.

While I am 100% okay with this, I don’t think I’m going to be replacing my whole wardrobe anytime soon. I got both of these pieces on sale which made them far more affordable for me and I may not have been able to splurge if they were full price. One purchase here or there is a lovely treat, but for a lot of people, paying £30 for a slow fashion T-shirt versus paying £3 for a fast fashion t-shirt is just a no brainer.

The Verdict

Slow fashion is a real treat for me and it’s going to stay that way. Sizing isn’t much of an issue, but the price is something I can’t justify all the time. It won’t stop me from purchasing a special piece now and again however.

READ MORE: 6 sustainable fashion brands who make beautiful clothes to order

Rented clothing

Credit: Polly Jean Harrison
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

The Outfit

 I’m wearing a rented dress from slow fashion brand Loud Bodies, so it’s a double-whammy. I have been following this brand on social media for a while now, so I was thrilled to try out one of their dresses – and let me tell you, this was a corker.

I ADORE this outfit. It’s the perfect blend of elegant but quirky, and it’s so attune to my style. Every detail of this dress is wonderful, and I desperately wish I had a wedding or a fancy garden party to wear it to.

The Process

Renting clothing isn’t new, but traditionally you’d rent clothes for formal events like your wedding.

There have been many events that I’ve been to in the past that I’ve bought a new outfit for, only for that outfit to end up at the back of my wardrobe never seeing the light of day again. With that in mind, renting clothing more often could an easy way to get some variety without having to splurge every time you go out.

WRAY Birdie dress 2 hurr
Hurr

Birdie Dress, from £33, WRAY – rent now (available in sizes M, 2XL and 4XL)

In terms of size inclusivity, Hurr is the only rental platform I’ve come across that offers plus sizes. While there are only a few options up to a size 28, I was told by one of their representatives that they are looking to expand their plus size collection by taking on new designers and have committed to increasing their size range, which is really promising.

I was gifted this rental free of charge by the Hurr team, but it would have been around £28 to rent. The cost of renting varies across the site, and from what I can tell the more expensive the clothing would be to buy, the more expensive it is to rent. However they do seem to hover at under £50, which would be worth it for a special event.

The Verdict

I’m really excited to take my rented dresses out on the town and I definitely want to explore renting clothes more, but I’m holding out on more companies extending their sizes.

READ MORE: How to make money from renting your clothes

Second hand fashion

Credit: Polly Jean Harrison
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

The Outfit

This outfit is casual, eclectic, and so me. I bought this denim jacket, which is originally from ASOS, from eBay for £20 three years ago and it’s no exaggeration to say I live in it. It’s super comfy and wonderfully colourful.

The dress is originally from Boohoo, but I bought it from Depop for £15. Boohoo is cheap, so I didn’t make much of a saving, but I felt better buying it second hand. I love an interesting sleeve and this shade of pink is perfect.

The Process

I have moderate success buying second hand clothing as a plus size woman. Apps like Depop and Vinted have a good amount of choice, and eBay and Facebook can be treasure troves.

Credit: Polly Jean Harrison
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

One pet peeve I do have is that when you filter for a size 26 or 28 in bottoms on these apps, 26″ and 28″ waists are included in the results. Because of this I’ve given up looking for bottoms on apps, as it takes so long to trawl through and figure out what’s plus size and what isn’t, but tops and dresses are fine.

I’ve never had any luck buying second hand clothing in person. My partner and I love charity shops and have spent many hours perusing for treasures together, but in all the stores I’ve been to I’ve never found anything in my size. The biggest item I’ve ever seen was a size 22 and even then it wasn’t anything I’d wear.

The Verdict

There are plenty of second hand options available for plus size women, but I’d struggle to find very specific items. It’s definitely not as easy when you’re plus size, but I love finding a bargain – I just wish second-hand shops were as inclusive as resale apps.

READ MORE: Where to buy custom made corsets

Shopping your wardrobe

Credit: Polly Jean Harrison
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

The Outfit

Remember what I said about those outfits you buy for formal events and never wear again? This dress absolutely falls into that category. I bought it from SimplyBe for a formal ball at university five years ago, and never found another occasion to wear it again. This time, I tried to style it in a way that I’d be comfortable wearing to dinner or for drinks.

I teamed it with this SimplyBe blazer, which I bought for job interviews when I finished my masters last year, but didn’t end up wearing as I was offered a job straight away.

Together I think the pieces work well. They’re just the right mix of formal but fun that could work for a night at my favourite cocktail bar (COVID permitting).

The Process

Wearing clothes you already own is always going to be the most sustainable way to enjoy fashion.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have mountains of clothes but still wear the same five outfits on repeat. I have more clothes than I know what to do with, so I could definitely benefit from shopping my own wardrobe. Nelly from @lucid.seams explained in a recent post that not everything you own needs to be 100% sustainable and actually, it’s okay to own fast fashion items as long as you use them sustainably. For example, buy clothes that you need and will wear and repair them or reuse them in some way when they become damaged.

That was a real eye-opener for me and has erased a lot of the guilt I feel about having to buy fast fashion.

The Verdict

It’s a no brainer that I will be doing this again. I have a lot of clothes that I want to start wearing more, and I‘m really looking forward to trying out some upcycling too. I’ve got a white dress I’m just itching to tie dye.

READ MORE: How to repeat outfits and still feel brand new

Summary

As you can see, I’ve had a fair amount of success when it came to finding and loving plus size sustainable fashion. I successfully built four outfits that don’t break the bank, fit well and that I’m really excited to wear.

In terms of inclusivity, the eco-friendly fashion market is similar to high street fashion in that larger sizes are available, but generally harder to find. I’m used to having fewer options when it comes to clothes and was pleasantly surprised at what was available for me to wear – but I still think there’s a way to go to be a fully inclusive market. I also believe the price of sustainable fashion excludes a lot of people.

There’s a misconception that sustainable fashion means exclusively handmade slow fashion, when actually there are a lot of budget-friendly options like shopping second hand or working with what you already have.

There’s a lot of pressure, and in my case a lot of guilt, surrounding being sustainable, with social media, influencers and everyday society putting a lot of emphasis on living environmentally friendly. In my opinion, as long as we’re doing our best that has to count for something.

We’re never going to be completely 100% sustainable in our every day lives – at least the average person isn’t – and in the case of clothes, you definitely get points for trying.

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