Fashion is a means to express yourself and your creativity whilst feeling fabulous. Imagine a world where the fashion industry celebrates all types of beauty and sizes, and empowers its consumers in their diverse glory to feel great about themselves! Join us as we explore extended sizing in fashion, and give you the lowdown on the most sustainable size-inclusive fashion brands—because everyone should be able to match their clothing to their values!
As more businesses start to assess their sustainability and ethics standards, equality needs to be considered to make their consumers feel empowered and represented in the market, especially when it comes to fashion.
Size inclusivity has been gaining more and more traction in the fashion industry over the last few years. From Versace embracing curvy models on the catwalk during Milan Fashion Week, to Jameela Jamil endorsing ideas of ‘body neutrality’, to the rise of diverse models gracing our screens and fashion catalogues.
While this is all taking place when it comes to ethical fashion, size inclusivity has a way to go for it to truly be accessible to all conscious consumers. We’ve listed some of our favourite brands below that are taking both fashion movements in its stride. But before we do, let’s go through the issues and challenges of size inclusivity in the ethical fashion world.
So what is size inclusivity?
Size inclusivity is the practice of equally representing a wide variety of body shapes and sizes. Yet when it comes to clothing, most designers cap sizes from size 6-14 US (12-18 UK/AU), excluding a major market of consumers who fit outside of ‘standardised’ sizing. To make all these numbers easier to understand, here is our helpful international size conversion page, though make sure to refer to each brand’s own sizing charts for the best info if you decide to shop with them!
In a study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, results found that the average size of an American woman was between 16-18, not a size 14 as previously assumed. In America, most clothing above a size 14 is considered ‘plus’ size, yet according to another study by Plunkett Research, 68% of US women are a size 14 or above. So why is the size of the average woman being excluded from the market?
It stems from commercial standards reports which determined standardised sizing at the beginning of mass production in the apparel industry. But it’s been a long while since the 50’s, and it’s time for the fashion industry to catch up.
How are we playing catch up?
Since then, the industry has tried to catch up with sizes falling outside the “standard” paradigms. The clothing industry has extended collections to ‘plus size’, ‘petite’, and ‘tall’, and as a result an increase in the variety of sizes was up by 21% in womenswear in 2019. However, there’s still major work to be done when it comes to acknowledging all sizes in ethical fashion.
So, what are the barriers for sustainable labels when it comes to extending their sizes?
Many of these labels are still smaller, independent companies, and extending sizes where there’s uncertain customer demand, little support from retailers, and higher production costs can prove a hurdle or risk.
Further to this, when creating extended designs one of the challenges is the need to develop new patterns—it isn’t as simple as using more or less fabric to make the same clothing item.
“While many pattern-makers are proficient in most areas of pattern-making, most specialise in a particular category,” says Kathryn Hilderbrand, founder and CEO of Good Clothing Company, a US-based manufacturer.
As there is a difference in pattern rules from infants’ clothing to kids' wear, so is there a difference in rules between womenswear and women's plus sizes.Kathryn Hilderbrand
This is also the reason behind why some labels will create entirely separate collections for petite, tall, plus, or maternity, as designer Mara Hoffman explains.
‘Extending sizing’ is actually a bit of a misnomer. It actually entails developing an entirely new collection. Straight sizes are usually based on a size 4, with inches being added or subtracted from there. Pieces for extended sizing need separate fittings, patterns, and design changes.Mara Hoffman
However, investment into extending sizes is a promising move for sustainable labels, with the growth in the plus-size market expecting to reach $26 billion by 2020. Global consultancy firm Simon-Kucher & Partners found that body positivity was the fourth-most important consideration when deciding to buy from ethical labels, following fair labour standards, sustainable materials and processes, and profits being donated to charity.
So what can you do to influence the market?
If there are sustainable labels or stockists that you love, let them know you’re looking for your size in stock! If it’s a smaller label, see if they can custom design a piece for you. The more people who reach out, the more these brands will recognise that there is a real need and a gap in the market they can (and should) help to fill.
For labels who want to support their customer base, try testing a few extended sizes on one piece, or develop a limited edition collection. There are many success stories out there of designers who have extended their collections and have provided tips for successfully expanding into the market.
Where to shop
Finding extended sizes on resale
Like we’ve mentioned before, buying second hand is almost always the most sustainable option! You can research your favourite ethical size-inclusive brands (or refer to our list below), then try your hand at buying from pre-owned retail platforms such as Vestaire Collective, thredUP, Thrift+, and Depop.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite brands covering a range of sizes!