My favourite style blogs have the occasional round of ‘Ethical fashion’ – usually a mixture of small, independent labels and Etsy sellers and the better known brands like People Tree. Today I read Lori's post on ethical dresses. As per usual, I found the selection frustrating. As I clicked through to the gorgeous frocks, every single beautiful printed cotton skirt and draped silk dress comes in a tiny range of sizes from super skinny to just about average, i.e. UK8 – UK16, maybe a UK18 if you’re very very lucky. This frustrates me.
I am a UK size 22. I have been thinner. I have been fatter. I’m currently working on reducing that number, but as I’m also trying to get pregnant, I suspect it’s going to be a little while before I can hope to be in what most clothing manufacturers consider 'normal' sizes*. I'm not going to go naked or clothed in sackcloth and ashes until I'm 'normal sized'. I would prefer to wear clothes, ones that fit me and that I enjoy. And I would like to have the chance to think and make choices about the ethics of the processes and practices behind the clothing I buy.
When I'm slimmer, I shop mostly in charity shops and vintage stores. I always buy underwear and shoes new, but for everything else, second hand is fine. Buying pre-owned is one way to shop ethically. Reuse prevents useable items from being thrown away, saves on energy used in manufacturing and transporting goods and in the case of charity shops, provides useful income for charities. But, if you're a larger than average size, your options are reduced. There are fewer things to find in second hand shops and you can forget buying vintage!
So, what does that leave me if I want to be ethical about buying clothes? Well, ethical can mean different things. To me it means that I would like the people who made the clothes to be paid a living wage and to work in safe and fair conditions. It means that I would like to minimise the amount of pollution and waste produced in the process of making and transporting clothes. That might mean organically produced fibres, but I'm not completely convinced that organic is synonymous with ethical. I'd like not to contribute more than necessary to carbon emissions and global warming. There are different aspects to consider. Is it more ethical to minimise transport miles by buying from solely UK-based manufacturers, where the whole process from plant or sheep to garment is carried out with as little travel as possible? Or is it better to support garment workers in Bangladesh or another developing country by buying from a company who ensure that they are properly paid and work in safe conditions? And how do I find out the processes involved in making that awesome dress or fantastic pair of shoes?
I don't know the answers yet, but I want to find out. I have moaned to others for too long. Let's see what I can discover and do. What do you think? Where do you shop?
* I don’t like the phrase ‘plus-sized’ but it’s widely understood to mean anything above a size 16, so I’ll continue to use it. (I like zaftig, but it’s not a common word).