Why Is It Easier for Fashion Brands to Be Eco-Friendly Than Size-Inclusive?

Both efforts require work and money, but one is deemed trendier than the other.

Approximately 68% of women in America are considered plus size, but there’s a clear lack of industry representation and shopping options for this majority. In Plus-Size Diaries, columnist Olivia Muenter dives into all things plus-size, from sharing her personal experiences to speaking out about plus-size culture at large.

As someone who wears clothing that can range anywhere from a 14 to an 18, I’m lucky enough to still be able to go into most stores and find clothing that works for me. It means I’m more likely than many to walk into a trendy boutique or browse a cool new eco-friendly brand thinking that, if I’m lucky, they might just have something that works for me. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. Most times, though, I’m disappointed and reminded that for every brand that expands its size range, there are a million more that would rather put their efforts elsewhere. 

This seems to be especially true for eco-friendly or sustainable brands. As a 2020 Edited article found, the majority of sustainable products available in the U.S. are between sizes 0 and 8. This is true despite the fact that, as the 2020 article also points out, the average American woman wears a size 16-18.

Interestingly, though, increased sustainability and expanded size ranges often fall into the same category for straight-size brands. Both initiatives require money, innovation, and work; the difference comes in how brands talk about these two things. Think of how often you’ve read an email subject line about a big-name brand discussing the latest sustainability plans. This clearly signals that becoming more sustainable as a brand (or seeming more sustainable) is cool now. For a brand to brush off becoming more sustainable as complicated or expensive now would be a major faux pas. Using the same excuses for why expanded sizing isn’t happening, though, is commonplace. 

plus-size fashion eco-friendly clothing shopping

You don’t see newsletters and articles about how exactly a brand plans to make its line more size-inclusive in the next three or 10 years. You don’t see breakdowns of how it’ll rework its business model to prioritize larger bodies, and this isn’t because creating more sustainable clothing is easier than expanding size ranges. As Silvia Campello, co-CEO of Italian luxury lingerie brand Cosabella (which offers sustainable pieces and extended sizing), points out, it’s far from it. 

“The most difficult part of making environmentally friendly fashion is it can be a challenge to produce the garments in an eco-friendly way…There are not that many manufacturers that can make high-quality sustainable fashion,” Campello says. “It is also a more lengthy and costly process, so typically sustainable garments are more expensive than their counterparts.”  

More sustainable practices cost money, but so does extended sizing. Both areas of the fashion market have a long way to go—and the intersection of the two? Sustainable, plus-size fashion? Well, it’s virtually nonexistent unless you know exactly where to look for it (this list from The Good Trade is a great start). There is progress to be made across the board when it comes to more inclusive and environmentally friendly fashion brands. For now, I can only wonder how much further plus-size fashion could go if it was talked about in the same way sustainability is. If there were sparkly five-year plans and company-wide initiatives about extended sizing, too. If it were as incredibly uncool to dismiss plus-sizing as it is to dismiss sustainability. I wonder what would change then.

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