A long time in the works, this list has been repeatedly requested and I’m so delighted to share it - ethically made brands that dared expand past a size 14. Who knew the trials and tribulations, the energy I’d expend in my adult life merely trying to dress myself.
I bought my first ethically made garment when I was eighteen. It was a Preloved sweater from Nokomis; firetruck red with pockets big enough to hide a flask in them (a real selling factor as I recall). It was $125, an unfathomable amount to spend on a single garment - at the Gap I could have replaced half my wardrobe for that. But I laboured over how much I loved it and the shop it came from, that maybe I could be the sort of woman to own garments and not just clothes, to dress like a grownup. So I bought it -I mean it could fit a flask in the pockets after all.
I'd love to say shopping ethically from that point on was a simple choice, one that came effortless, but it isn't and it hasn't. Money prohibited me for a long time and as my body changed after years of competitive sport I felt let down that my body failed me, holding me back from dressing the way I wanted too. I have cried hot tears of frustration wishing for nothing more than to have a typical body, normal, average, unremarkable. But this is me, this is my body for better or worse.
So here is it, distilled down, all the best advice I’ve got for adorning that beautiful, swoon-worthy body of yours.
Pictured Above: Pyne & Smith Dress | Block Shop Textiles Scarf | Boutonne Purse
Know your measurements. There are a lot of reason I love my hometown, but the clothing boutiques, isn't one of them. They tend not to fit me, whether aesthetic or a question of ethics, so years ago I started shopping primarily online.Yes, the majority of my closet was and is purchased online and yes that is scary. Of course there are garments that didn’t fit quite how I wanted or look the way I imagined, but on the whole I've had at least an 80% success rate in purchasing online. The number one tool is knowing your measurements and following up with a company or customer service email with the garment you want and your measurements. This email is a great way to best understand if the garment you’re coveting has give, if it runs a tad small or is oversized, how stretchy the fabric truly is, will it give out with wear, and on the largest parts of your body how will it fit. This brings me to my second (and equally important tip)...
Start a conversation. Kelsey McIntyre, formerly of Serendipity now creating for Kathryn Bass Bridal, was the very first designer I ever reached out to. It was for a strapless rust silk boned dress I saw once and immediately fell in love with. I reached out to see if the XL would fit me and although it was too small, she said she'd be happy to make one for me. These three emails in retrospect were seismic. It shifted the way I approached buying clothing. It shifted the way I thought about clothing and the process in which garments are made. It was the first time it really clicked that a person makes the things I wear - so why wouldn’t I want to talk to that person?! It was freeing the way a light bulb turning on the dark frees you from the blissful ignorance of what hides amongst the shadows. So I implore and encourage you to talk to the people that make your clothes. If the designer says each garment is made by hand then follow up, ask if they can tailor a piece to you, ask if they can add or omit pockets, don’t be afraid to inquire about expanded sizing, the very worst thing that can happen is they say it isn’t possible. And even then, in those cases I’ve noticed over time a lot of those designers start increasing their sizes. Both Pyne and Smith and Jamie + the Jones have expanded their sizing, both of which were companies I directly emailed to request as much. Do I think I alone emailed them - oh gosh of course not, but I am willing to bet after a lot of requests they were made aware of the demand and could justify increasing their sizes. Outside of emailing, ask the people you see on Instagram in a top you want how it fits, DM the company through social media or find a shop that carries the garment and ask them. And finally share the clothing and brands you love, advocate and champion them. It means that more people will invest in those brands, save up for garments and make making clothes ethically financially viable. Clothing has this wonderful possibility where it can be so much more than a mere transaction, it can be a sustained rich conversation.
Take a good hard look at what you have and truly take stock of your closet. What pieces are you constantly wishing you had? Are there occasions wherein you always end up standing atop your clothes mountain insisting you have nothing to wear? And what pieces have you worn out? Are there seasonal pieces you keep procrastinating on buying every year? Asking these questions helps me determine what to spend money on, when I feel the tug of want and have to balance it with the sound reason of need. Secondly take stock of your bank account. I know, I know the less glamorous statement, but it’s important. What is your budget, what garments are you hoping to add, and how integral are they?
Let go of what isn’t worn. Another tough piece of advice that I’ve really started embracing. The truth is I am now owning clothes of such quality, six years in and they haven’t fallen apart. But it’s okay to let go of the pieces you loved six years ago, it’s okay to change. I mitigate the guilt from giving up wearable clothes in favour of something new by giving them away to people in my life who I know will love them. Or donating them to people I know truly need them.
Dress in garments that make you happy. Dress for the person you are and who you want to be, dress in ways that inspire you, don’t be afraid to wear something out of the ordinary, or even more simply - don’t be afraid. I have spent far more time than I care to admit reading all the things I should / shouldn’t wear for my body and the only thing it’s ever done was paint lines and rules that don't exist written by a person that has never clapped eyes on me. So say it with me - dress in whatever makes you happy.
Within a decade since that first purchase, I’d say 75% of my wardrobe is ethically made sourced from makers I trust and whom can be found on this living breathing ongoing list. Additionally you’ll find a handful of suggestions that have served me well as my wardrobe, style and size has changed over the years.
Pyne & Smith Clothiers
Jamie and the Jones
Hackwith Design House
State the Label
Brick & Mortars