Hello, graduates of Indie Plus Sizes 101. Congratulations, you’ve made it to round 2. But the work DOES NOT STOP, so sit back, open your notebook, put on your tartan skirt, and let’s all listen to some ~~*Pink Floyd*~~ together as I give you some education.
So, these posts were born out of my own unexpected rant about Forever 21 a couple weeks ago where I went into their store to do a project where I tried on everything I was instinctively repelled by, with the hopes that it would broaden my fatshion horizon and I would remember that there are tons of styles out there that I’m cutting myself off from, and I would be better for it if I stopped being so narrow minded. And guess what? That definitely didn’t happen; almost everything was totally awful. And that’s because…well, a lot of Forever 21’s clothes are awful. (Not everything, obviously. I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum, and hey, I shop there from time to time). There’s a reason for that. Structurally speaking, Forever 21 produces clothes as cheaply as possible. Oddly, this ends up stealing from consumers. The clothes are priced dirt cheap, which is very enticing! But the flip side of the coin is that all the clothes are made of fabric that is structurally, well…falling apart. I recently had a conversation with a friend about how most of F21’s clothes are hand-wash only! As though they were delicates! Well, they are delicates. Because the fabric has the quality of tissue paper, they actually can’t go through a wash cycle and be the same afterward. So, yes, you can buy a shirt for $10. But, that means the shirt probably cost $0.10 to make, and guess what? You can’t wear a $0.10 piece of clothing more than 3 times.
The other reason it’s so cheap is because it’s made under criminally abusive working conditions that harm mainly poor people of color. Factories will pay their workers whereabouts $0.50 an hour to construct clothing (i.e. cutting and sewing, yes, but also creating the fibers – harvesting cotton and such) and they often face extremely violent repercussions if they vocalize their dissatisfaction. However, this is a structural issue – it is larger than any one person, it is as big as the world is big. It’s as big as white patriarchy is big. This doesn’t mean that we are off the hook thinking that nothing can be done – but this probably means that the pressure to change buying habits probably falls to those of us who have more resources from which to draw from. If you are on an extremely limited budget, it’s very possible that you’ll need to buy whatever you can afford. However, if you’re in a different position and can drop $150 on some clothes every couple months, you can probably afford to change up your habits. This doesn’t mean that you have to make your clothes yourself, or that you’re relegated to buying some weird hippie shit. You can buy……the awesome clothes I’m going to profile in these posts! And that post I did last time! Last time, I profiled Jibri, Ready to Stare, Chubby Cartwheels, and SmartGlamour. This time, we’ll start out pretty grounded and queer and modern with Re/Dress. And then we’re gonna delve into some indie high(er) fashion with Rue 114, Mei Smith, and Universal Standard. Ready to go? Let’s start.
Okay, let me take you wayyyyyy back to when I was but a wee fat little lass who didn’t know ANYTHING about ANYTHING. I had no idea there was a thing called fat community, I barely knew that all fat people didn’t hate themselves (or at least didn’t believe they were worthy of self-hatred), I had 0 fat friends. I was about 20, if I’m being very honest with myself. The one thing I did know, however, was my fat ass couldn’t really fit into a lot of things that weren’t Forever 21. So, I started that sleuthing which all fat girls are familiar with. It’s that “Oh, where the hell am I going to shop”-type sleuthing. And this sleuthing brought 2 beautiful things into my life. One of them was the Big Fat Flea, and the other one was Re/Dress. Oh jesus, Re/Dress. It’s now a brick-and-mortar/online store run in Cleveland by Rachel Kacenjar, but when I was a wee lass, it was a store/event space in downtown Brooklyn. And, oh yeah, all the hot babes worked there. ALLL the hot babes. It was so much more than a store. It was a queer fat hub of skillshare, art, community, and fatshion. I really wish I had been able to go there more often. Gah. I told you guys I might #uglycry, didn’t I? How am I going to actually talk about the clothes with all this emotion happening? Bluntly, and with very little transition, as it were, ’cause HERE GOES: So, Re/Dress is both plus size vintage and indie plus size. They mainly sell a collection of other indie brands, but they do indeed have their very own stuff, most notably, teggings. Their aesthetic is big and bold, kinda femme, usually practical and comfy too… but not without sequins. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Also, oh, btw – they too have a penchant for using the hottest babes as models.
I first came across this shop on someone’s plus size fashion listicle, and boy, am I sure glad I did. Rue 114 is an indie shop full of contemporary African fashion for all sizes (yup, they do both straight and plus!). The shop was started in 2012 by Serwah Asante with the goal to celebrate beauty at all sizes, and to create something “deeply informed by the designer’s Ghanaian roots, New York City upbringing, and eternal love of travel.” The designer utilizes Ghanaian symbols in her clothing in a variety of materials (metals, fabrics, plastics, etc). The collection is modern and edgy with a nod to tradition: “Our goal for the season is to present a versatile ready-to-wear collection that is sophisticated, daring and fresh while referencing the aesthetics of traditional design.” Mmmm, okay. Yes. In terms of price range, it’s around $70-200 for a dress, around $80 for a skirt, and similar for a top. Also, the current line is a capsule collection, which I’m VERY into. Ready for it? Feast your eyes.
So you know all that stark androgynous simplistic stuff that thin people get to wear, and then you look over the plus section and it looks like someone threw up floral and bows and animal print? Well, Mei Smith has done it. Now, we fat grrls can join that too cool for school club too! Ayanna Wu Celestin created Mei Smith for exactly that purpose – there’s pretty much nowhere you can find designer-quality pieces in subdued aesthetics in the plus size world. She wanted to “wear the same designer pieces her friends of ‘standard sizes’ wear.” Absolutely. We deserve to have the same range of aesthetics and masculinities and femininities available to us as anyone else does. To provide this, she collaborates with other plus-size designers, such as Carmakoma and Hackwith Design House, to create full looks. You ready?
And finally, it’s time for…
This is another indie plus size design shop that is seriously rethinking fat folks’ levels of access to high-quality, designer basics. Like, do you like neutrals? Do you like clean lines and basic silhouettes? Do you like cozy androgynous fashions? Do you wish you could shop at Madewell and American Apparel (bad business practices aside)? Check out Universal Standard. I really, really love what companies like Mei Smith and Universal Standard are doing because they are tapped in enough to know that these things are what we need. As much as I love leopard print (and wear it probably twice a week), in the scarce world that we live in, we don’t really need another designer putting forth a tight leopard print dress. We need to be able to shop for clean basics if we are so inclined. Again, this is another area where we deserve all the choice that thin people get – thin people get Madewell, Zara, H&M (don’t talk to me about their meager plus selections…), and Topshop, just to name a few. Thin people get to decide how they want to present on the masc/fem spectrum without a whole lot of fuss or fanfare. And I’m not even talking about huge gender feels here (although, I could certainly do a whole other post about those), I’m talking about the quotidien day-to-day variety of how we present ourselves based on the choices we have. For example, I identify as a high and hard femme. Within that, without a huge shift in identity or presentation, I want to be able to wear a hot fucking lacy dress one day, and the next day, I might like to wear a pair of black jeans with a tucked in top and a blazer. These are all choices that thin people get to make without it signaling a huge shift in identity. This is based on a lot of things, obviously (notably, the otherizing and reductive consideration of fat bodies in terms of gender) but I think some of it has to do with regular old access to that kind of clothing. And I want that too. Universal Standard was a company that saw a big gaping hole and decided to fill it. And with well-made, luxuriously-fabric-ed garments, no less. In terms of price, their tops run around $70-100, their dresses are about $100-150, and their skirts are around $100. And, heeere they are:
And wouldn’t you know, that’s the long and short (and fat) of it! Thanks for making it through Indie Plus Sizes 201. Any questions, check my office hours. Class dismissed.
How do you feel about the clothes these folks are putting out? How do you feel about access to different styles within plus fatshion? What would you personally buy from these collections? Drop me a line in the comments and we can have a conversation!