Australian model Jennifer Atilemile on sustainable fashion’s aversion to size inclusivity.
Last year I attended several panel discussions, both in the United States and Australia, about the future of inclusivity and sustainability in the fashion industry.
One thing was made clear: currently, the two are mutually exclusive.
On my journey to be a better consumer, I’ve found that sustainable fashion generally excludes women over a size 12, especially in Australia. As a woman and a model that wears an Australian size 14 to 16, I am what the industry considers ‘plus-size’. So when it came time for me to attend another of these industry events, I thought, ‘Why not choose an Australian designer to wear and celebrate local talent rather than a US-based designer?’
I found it extremely disheartening. Even when we have supposedly made leaps and bounds when it comes to inclusive sizing, I still struggled to find a good quality Australian designer outfit to wear.
It left me puzzled, because if I’m struggling to find something as a size 14 to 16, what about all the other women out there? The average Australian woman is a size 16, yet most of the iconic Australian designers stop at a size 12, maybe a 14 if you’re lucky. Then there’s an even smaller handful that makes up to a size 16.
At this event, I raised the issue. I want to be able to shop sustainably, but I can’t. Sadly, sustainable fashion is closely interrelated with size, with a clear lack of size diversity when it comes to sustainable options.
So, what exactly is sustainable fashion? It’s a buzzword that has gained popularity over the past few years (rightly so), but sustainable fashion isn’t just about using a few natural or organic fibres in your new range and issuing a press release about how your brand has pivoted to meet the demands of consumers that are purchasing more consciously than ever before.
Indeed, there isn’t one universally agreed-upon definition of what sustainable fashion actually is. Therefore, for the purpose of this piece, sustainable fashion can be defined as ‘clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects’.
In recent years the discussion around fashion has generally been one about diversity, with consumers wanting to see themselves represented in advertising campaigns and people with any shape or sized body having the option to shop anywhere they please.
As a result, we saw the rise of fast-fashion houses creating on-trend fashion pieces that mimicked designs worn by celebrities and influencers on the red carpet. They were suddenly made available en-masse almost immediately to a demographic of consumers that had never usually been able to access that kind of ‘trend piece’.