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Sustainable fashion might be trending, but let's not forget about fatphobia

Fast fashion brand SHEIN is a prime example of the harms of unsustainable business, but as we move along in the sustainability movement, it's important for fashion brands to cater to people of all sizes.  – Photo by Shein / Twitter

There’s not a bigger rallying cry among socially conscious young women on social media right now than shopping sustainably. The TikTok comments are plentiful under fast fashion hauls, and many women’s "For You" pages are filled with people ragging on Amazon, SHEIN, Forever 21, ROMWE, AliExpress, you name it.

Despite what seems to be an overconsumption habit if you look at the new outfits every week of whoever on Instagram you envy the most, Generation Z might lead to the death of fast fashion.

One group not included? Fat people.

In addition to being desexualized (or fetishized!), disrespected, dissected, criticized and politicized, plus-size people are now being excluded entirely from the debate surrounding sustainable fashion, and what level of responsibility lies on the consumer. 

There are generally two schools of thought in the sustainable fashion debate, and though points exist between them, people primarily reside in one of two extremes. There’s the anticapitalist at best, complacent at worst take of there being no ethical consumption under capitalism, so anyone other than the richest of the rich should feel no guilt shopping on Amazon, or, more commonly in the fashion debate, sites like ROMWE and SHEIN

Then there’s the non-inclusive of outliers (read: only outliers to the thin and financially stable) and ultra-responsible take of avoiding all fast fashion brands and shopping entirely sustainably — whether through sustainable stores and thrifting or at least focusing on shopping small businesses rather than the mass-produced. 

Neither of these takes makes any room for context, or for nuance. There might be common sense alarms going off in your head right now: Shouldn’t rich people buy the expensive, sustainable clothing and people who aren’t wealthy enough to afford expensive clothing be able to buy what they want? What does all this have to do with fat people?

Even if you shirk, for a moment, the very important debate surrounding members of what financial groups are partaking in buying fast fashion (which, incase you haven’t caught on, is terrible for the environment), my personal experience lies with that of the size of my body. And the truth is: almost every brand that offers sustainable fashion doesn’t cater to a size above a 2XL, at best. 

For example, the first list that pops up when you Google "best sustainable fashion brands" is this list from Harper’s Bazaar. Most brands on this list cap out at an L or an XL despite many offering XXS (which, for the record, should also be included under the importance of size inclusion!). If you ever want a wool skirt that costs more than $1,300 from #14 on the list, working title, it’s only available in sizes small, medium and large, despite the fact that all of their clothing is made after you order it to avoid overproduction. 

While there are some sustainable brands, like Universal Standard, that offer plus sizes, most brands that do are plus-size specific, which due to fatphobia in the fashion world, are years behind on fashion trends or aren’t as size inclusive as they think. If you want stylish, age-appropriate, affordable and well-fitting clothes, for many fat women, the only option is fast fashion brands that are terrible environmentally and ethically. 

And, to the aforementioned point of affordability: Overweight and obese people make less money than their thin peers, meaning even if these brands did expand and size bias in the workplace could still make it difficult for larger people to obtain these products.

Even as someone who wears an XXL/2XL and a size 20, it can be difficult for me to find cute clothing other than specific plus size brands or fast fashion sites and stores that are more inclusive. I can’t imagine the struggle of those bigger than me, or those who can afford less than me.

The moral of the story isn’t that we should completely absolve ourselves of responsibility when it comes to shopping sustainably, but that we should add nuance to the conversation we hadn’t thought of before. Accessibility and affordability are barriers to access that are well understood, but the idea of size exclusion often flies under the radar. 

While these brands should offer more size inclusivity as a start, it’s also a long and difficult road to affordable sustainable fashion, and one we should have patience with others on. 

So the next time you see someone have a full Amazon cart, or are checking out Forever 21, remember that things aren’t just as cookie-cutter as making the best choice for the environment. Sometimes, there’s not even a choice at all.

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