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

The average size of women in the UK is a 16, but many sustainable brands still fail to offer plus sizes.
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Sustainable fashion might have grown exponentially over the past few years, but plus size women are still being left out.

For the majority of fashion-conscious women, shopping sustainably can be a minefield. While eco-friendly brands are popping up all the time, cute vintage clothing is readily available and charity shops offer some great options, fast fashion makes shopping for trends impossibly easy.

Not only are they affordable for most of the population, but with influencers constantly posting a slew of new outfits to pore over, fast fashion also gives people the ability to keep up without having to shell out too much money. Best of all, fast fashion brands such as ASOS, Boohoo and H&M are size inclusive.

READ MORE: 6 sustainable and plus size clothing brands to know now

Aja Barber in an Anyango Mpinga black and white dress
Credit: Instagram/ajabarber

Unfortunately sustainable fashion is yet to catch up. Many ethical brands fail to cater to plus size people, which makes shopping consciously unfeasible for many plus size women.

Polly Jean Harrison, a 24-year-old from London, told Wear Next that she’d love to be more shop consciously – but as a UK-size 24, it’s impossible.

She says, ‘I’ve only ever seen one piece of clothing in a size 24 in a charity shop and it was really ugly. That’s generally what happens – when there is clothing available, there are usually very limited options and often what is available is not very stylish.

‘I’d really love to buy made-to-order clothes too, but unfortunately not all of them offer larger sizes. If they do, often it comes with a higher price tag because it’s custom made and I simply can’t afford that. It’s just not an option for me to pay £100 for a pair of slow fashion trousers.’

Polly Jean Harrison, a 24-year-old journalist from London
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

Polly, who works as a journalist, also identified renting clothes as a way to shop more ethically, but on closer inspection realised that – yet again – they don’t have anything available that would fit her.

‘They just don’t offer plus sizes,’ she adds. ‘I’m yet to find one that does, which is a shame because it’s something that I would be interested in doing.’

You’re probably wondering why sustainable fashion brands are so behind. After all, the average UK woman is a size 16. Adding a few extra sizes to a collection doesn’t sound hard – and surely, it could pay off in the long run, right?

However, as sustainable fashion costs much more to produce than fast fashion, any additional expenses for a sustainable brand need to be kept low – particularly those on the smaller scale.

Sustainable brands are often privately-owned small businesses, meaning they’re much less able to take risks – unlike huge brands such as H&M and Zara. Often one collection will pay for the next, so if they’re testing out additional sizes and they don’t sell, it can have a hugely detrimental effect on their business.

READ MORE: Lizzo’s greatest ever fashion moments

Polly Jean Harrison, a 24-year-old journalist from London
Credit: Polly Jean Harrison

To bring about real change, we need to look to bigger businesses rather than placing pressure and guilt on individuals to shop more sustainably.

Polly explains, ‘When I see influencers pushing anti-fast fashion, I feel so bad about myself but there’s nothing I can do.

‘I still need clothes, so if I have to go onto ASOS or Boohoo and buy myself a new pair of jeans, I’m gonna have to do it. There’s no other option for me.’

Plus-size women have the right to express themselves through fashion without feeling guilty, so unless sustainable brands include their sizes or fast fashion slows down, they don’t have the tools to do that sustainably.

Aja Barber in Lora Gene
Credit: Instagram/loragene

So what can you do?

Whether you’re a plus size woman or not, you can remind brands that different body shapes exist and that all need sustainable clothing.

Send brands an email or a DM telling them you’d like to see garments over a size 16, or Cosmopolitan suggests asking a smaller brand if they’d be willing to custom make a garment for you. This will help them to see that there is a demand for sustainable plus size clothing and work towards bringing about meaningful change.

Brands have started to listen, but we still have a long way to go.

Wear Next Opinion

At Wear Next, we strongly believe that every body should be able to express themselves through the clothes they wear.

While we highlight the truth behind fast fashion and demand change, we continue to share outfit inspiration and style tips featuring a range of brands, both fast and slow fashion.

We believe discussing sustainability is important, but we are aware that sustainable fashion is not accessible to everyone. We encourage our readers to enjoy fashion, whatever their body shape, budget and background.

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

READ MORE: 17 plus-size influencers to follow now

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