Where’s all the Plus-Sized Eco Fashion?

73 Flares 73 Flares ×

I have always been a lover of great style. This has usually manifested itself in my efforts to make my home as beautiful as possible. Then a little more than 5 years ago, I turned my attention not just to making my home more beautiful, but also making it greener. Because after all, truly great design should aim to be as easy on the environment as possible. So we started buying greener cleaning products, started shopping for vintage and sustainably made furniture, changed out personal care products, started carrying reusable shopping bags, etc. But there is one area of my life in which I am often forced to compromise: Fashion.

When I started blogging about all things green and beautiful five years ago, I was hopeful about where green design was headed. For the most part, I haven’t been disappointed. There are so many more eco-friendly products and designers on the market now than there were when I started, and even brands that aren’t exclusively green are adding green products and principles to their collections. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have carried over to plus-sized fashion.

While I am on a journey to reclaim my health and lose a significant amount of weight, I recognize that it will take a while for me to reach my goal. So dammit, I still want to look good in the meantime. And I’d prefer to look good in eco-friendly threads. Alas, there are still very few designers out there who are making sustainable clothing for women of my size. And there are almost none who are making said clothing at an affordable price point. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not above paying for quality, and for the right piece, I’m more than willing to pay what it’s worth. But the fact is that I, like most women, can’t afford to spend $100+ for every item in my closet.

It seems that plus-sized fashion in general has exploded in the past 5 years or so, with many more retailers and designers finally accepting that the average American woman is not going to fit in a size 6, or even a size 10. So there are a lot more options for curvy fashionistas these days. Given my renewed interest in fashion in recent years, I sincerely appreciate that.

So what the heck is up with eco-friendly designers? And for the record, offering an XL at the back end of your straight sizes does NOT constitute a plus-sized collection. The fact is that organic or otherwise sustainable clothing in XXL, or (gasp!) actually designed for curvy women and not just sized up from smaller sizes, is scarce.

I will give credit where credit is due. There are a few designers out there who are doing justice to plus-sized ladies with a sense of environmental responsibility:


Mewv Sustainables by Saffrona: $$$. Available in sizes up to 4x/26-28.


Diane Kennedy: $$$. Available in sizes up to 3x.


Eileen Fisher: $$$. Also available at Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue in sizes up to 3x.


Gaia Conceptions: $$$. Available in XL-XXXL. Also on Etsy.


Rawganique: $$-$$$. Hemp and organic cotton clothing in sizes up to 3x.

There are also some designers on Etsy who make eco-friendly items to order, based on your measurements, like Sandmaiden. Otherwise, these are the only ones I could find who make truly plus sized clothing. And ALL of these are brands who’ve been doing this for years, as published on this list by Green Grechen years ago. But do you notice something? All of these brands are pretty pricey. As in $68 for a basic camisole and $100+ for a basic pair of black leggings. Which means that the dressier items cost even more. I hate to say it, but this is just out of reach for the average shopper. So when I want a new outfit, I have only three options:

  1. Spend more than I can often afford
  2. Shop consignment and thrift stores in hopes that I’ll find my size
  3. Buy traditional cotton or freaking polyester (can you tell I’m not a fan of polyester?)

I hate to admit it, but I’ve gone for the third option quite a bit over the last few years, particularly after spending too much time searching secondhand racks for pieces that were stylish and could actually fit. The polyester I bought was cute, to be sure, but I would’ve much preferred other fabrics. Or RECYCLED polyester, at the very least.

So what would I like to see happen, ideally? Simple:

  • Plus-sized fashion designers, brands and retailers, I am begging you, please start offering eco-friendly options. Give us some organic cotton, viscose, linen, cruelty-free silk, hemp, etc. I’m happy to consult with you to help you make more sustainable choices as you’re building your collections.
  • Eco-friendly fashion designers and retailers, please start making clothing for plus-sized women. Remember that the average woman these days is larger than she used to be, and a LOT larger than the stick-thin models most fashion houses choose to represent their brands.
  • In both cases, try to keep them as affordable as possible. Because while many of us would pay a premium for eco fashion, the truth is that most of the time, we just can’t afford to pay that premium.

Trust me when I say that these choices would not be a bad investment. There are women out here who are starving for options like this. And if you make it, we will come.

73 Flares Facebook 15 Twitter 4 Pin It Share 54 Google+ 0 73 Flares ×
10 responses
  • Jahlicia August 7, 2012, 7:27 pm

    Amen! I must say I completely agree with your frustrations as finding plus sized clothing in general is hard, now here we go making more requests for eco-friendly huh…lmao.

    I am def willing to also pay a lil extra as well but the problem lies in ppl up charging a REGULAR tshirt from $10 to $45 due to “eco-friendly” materials! I am like chile boo, especially when walmart can sell me the same eco-friendly shirt for a decent price. For me, the bottom line is, it does not cost THAT much more for sustainable material.

    Hey, lets put our heads together and start designing em ourselves……MESSAGE 🙂

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 9:26 pm

      Exactly! It’s like the fashion industry is saying, “How dare plus-sized women want more options?” In general, I understand the logistics of SOME of the higher price of sustainability. Because I know it’s a chain reaction from the cost of getting certified organic, the fact that there is more demand for sustainable fabrics than there are people to supply it, etc. But higher cost doesn’t mean $50-100+ for BASIC items. That’s just too much for most people to bear. So you’re right, it costs more to be green, in general, but not THAT much more 🙂

      And I’m gonna get out my sketch book and start getting some designs together, because I am really sick of the lack of options.

      Reply
  • Molly September 18, 2012, 8:34 pm

    I remembered another one (after our brief conversation on Twitter): J. Jill. I’m not sure how sustainable they are these days, but they do at least offer natural fabrics most of the time, and their clothes last a long, long time, which automatically makes them more sustainable than clothes from most of the mall stores.

    The sizes are a little bizarre; back when I wore a large in most brands, I wore a small or medium in J. Jill, but they’ve standardized a little. They carry up to a 28W, but I would pay close attention to the measurements, since many of their clothes are meant to fit loosely anyway. I’ve bought my “true” size before and had to go smaller just to avoid looking like I was wearing a sack.

    It’s also ridiculously easy to find J. Jill, often NWT, on eBay. I’ve worn one particular favorite blouse in three different sizes, over about 10 years. The first one I bought new on sale for $30 in a J. Jill store; the other two I got for about $10 on eBay. I have one pair of linen pants that I’ve worn approximately once a week every summer since 2001, through weight fluctuations and even a pregnancy (all the way through the second trimester, when it got too cold to wear them anyway).

    I actually think they’ve gone downhill a little in the last few years, but sometimes I still find good deals on clearance (online, anyway; in the store it’s pretty hit-or-miss), and I usually find at least one really great item every year.

    Reply
  • Sarah January 10, 2013, 6:03 pm

    You should really check out Monif C, seriously my fave dress maker ever! Google it right now…I guarantee you’ll love her designs!!!

    Reply
  • Susan Weinman March 7, 2014, 4:02 pm

    Amen! I absolutely want AFFORDABLE eco friendly large and lovely fashion!!!!!

    Reply
  • Elizabeth August 12, 2014, 1:31 pm

    Just chiming in from an designer’s perspective so you have some more reference points on the affordability issue. Because I consider making plus often—and then, because I have been lucky enough to have enough work keeping me busy without chasing a whole new demographic (because plus is a whole. new. line.—instant larger versions of your existing stuff doesn’t just appear and sell itself), I backburner the idea for another day. Honestly, the affordability issue keeps me from diving in.

    If you want eco-mass produced things, this explanation isn’t for you. But eco from an independent, domestic thoughtfully sustainable designer is simply going to cost more. Take in to account that indies don’t manufacture in volume, and pay upwards of 7.00/yard (minimum) for eco-fabric. Also, fabric arrives 45-65″ wide (meaning, you can’t cut a front AND a back of a simple top across a roll of fabric for a plus size (you can fit most other sizes side by side on the roll). And plus consumes waaaay more fabric for a XXXL than an M. It’s a battle just trying to fit XL on the roll in the least wasteful way. Believe me, I do the cutting myself.

    And plus clothes (any clothes, for that matter) won’t look good unless you give it your all—to really think about the woman who is going to wear it. Which means you wind up with new styles that need new patterns made by, hopefully, a pattern professional who specializes in plus fit and charges what she’s worth. That is, if you want to make something worth all of the ooo and ahhhh a shopper might want to give it.

    And then you need to sell it. Like, a lot. To make anything affordable you have to sell in volume. So you need a second sales rep. One that knows the plus market. And that will double the amount of marketing and shows you are used to paying for.

    …I could go on. That was certainly enough to point out some undiscussed costs of adding a line.

    I hope I’ve been objective. Just an industry perspective on why plus can cost more.

    There are of course exceptions. Startup indies that know the plus market, especially ones that wear it themselves, have a better shot at focusing on the genre and knocking it out of the park for themselves and the wearers.

    It’s a huge business RISK to take on the challenge of designing “affordable” plus as a small independent designer. I know my plus items would cost upwards of $80 for a top and $150 for a dress. Probably more. How much time and money should I spend trying to find out what is affordable to an audience that is already warning designers they won’t pay too much—on this blog and elsewhere—when “paying too much” means something different for everyone? I suppose I could pay a focus group to steer me closer to the ideal price point. Like I said, cha-ching.

    Reply
  • Carrie October 14, 2014, 8:59 pm

    Check out Cocoricooo on Etsy.

    Send in your measurements and they’ll do a custom sizing for a very cool pair of hemp wide leg pants called “Flow” for $46 + $10 for XL and larger. All of the clothing is very reasonably priced and there is a good range of custom- or plus-sized styles offered. Ships from Thailand so it takes awhile but so worth it!

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/109067792/flowcustom-order-size-and-color?ref=shop_home_active_1

    Reply
  • Tracey B. Nelson April 7, 2016, 3:20 pm

    My biggest concern is having something fall out. If I pull my tops down enough to keep the belly covered, then the girls are going to pop out! So I move, tug, move, tuck…repeat.

    Reply
  • Kimberly Chapman March 28, 2017, 5:54 am

    I was googling around for plus size eco-clothing in the UK, and this article is the only thing that came up that actually had any relevance to the topic (ie a lot of stores came up because they’d have one hemp shirt but then everything else in polyester or viscose).

    This is definitely something that’s been needed for years. The assumption that environmentalists are all super skinny is ridiculous, and part of the whole othering of both the plus sized community and the eco-minded…it’s based on stereotypes that environmentalists are all starved vegans and fat girls are all shoving snack foods down our throats every spare minute of our lives. That’s bad for all sides, and needs to stop.

    I’m going to click your links above on the slim (heh) hope that any of them exist in the UK in a shop where I can go try stuff on, but I’m not hopeful and probably will end up going to a local store and buying viscose. 🙁

    Reply

Leave a Comment

73 Flares Facebook 15 Twitter 4 Pin It Share 54 Google+ 0 73 Flares ×