The camping trip where I had nothing to wear.
On a recent camping trip the unimaginable happened. No, we didn’t have a close bear encounter, I somehow managed to forget all my clothes at home. Let me repeat that, I forgot ALL my clothes at home. My carefully packed bag for our four night camping trip was left sitting on our kitchen floor at home. All I had was the clothes I was wearing, a tank and pair of shorts, plus a hat and a few pairs of shoes. Not ideal. Of course I was able to borrow a fleece, some socks and a t-shirt from my Husband for that first night, but then I needed stuff. A swimsuit, a pair of sweatpants, and undies were top of my list. So off my Husband and I went in search of garments to sustain me for the next few days while my Sister and Brother-In-Law took the kids to the beach. The options were limited in the small close by towns. I was able to score socks, sweats and a tee at the first town’s General Store, but I still needed a swimsuit, underwear and a couple other things. We had no choice but to head to Whistler for my shopping needs.
As a slow fashion, ethical shopper, this was anything but. I did my best to stick with natural fabrics at least but options were limited. I also wanted to choose things I would actually wear again. But why was the shopping so limited in a major tourist destination? The plus size factor. As a size14/16, I am apparently not who Whistler wants to sell clothes to. I went to the one lingerie store in town to buy underwear where they quite literally had 2 pairs of XL underwear in the entire store. I bought one pair and continued my search. Shop after shop saying the words, “sorry, we don’t have any larger sizes.” The shops were all mega chains, not little boutiques (other than the lingerie store). Mega house hold, fast fashion stores, that seemingly carry only up to a Large in most cases. I kept having flashes of the movie Mean Girls where the character Regina George can’t zip up a dress and the sales associate tells her they don’t have bigger sizes as they are called 1 3 5 and only carry those sizes. Apparently, fat people can not shop in Whistler, despite when walking around the village, there were folks of all shapes and sizes walking around.
As someone who hasn’t shopped fast fashion for some time now (5+ years), I felt completely baffled. I so often hear people say they don’t shop sustainable brands because they have better luck with the sizing from major retailers. As someone who is on the small end of plus size and still has some size privilege when shopping, I have found the opposite to be true. The brands I wear and shop with are much more size inclusive and designed with larger bodies in mind. Their size range often go up to a 4X, 6X, or higher, but that day I went to at least a dozen shops and pieced together only a handful of items in my size.
The movie Mean Girls came out in 2004, ahead of the social media we know and use today. It perfectly parodies the immense influence the “popular” girls have on those just trying to fit in. Queen Bee Regina George is who the whole high school wants to be. “I saw Cady Heron wearing army pants and flip flops so I bought army pants and flip flops.” Mega Influencers have the Mean Girls affect on their followers who adore them and the lifestyle they portray on social media. No I’m not saying all these influencers are themselves Mean Girls, it’s more the institution of capitalism that they promote that is the Mean Girl. Micro-influencers, like myself, will champion small, sustainable brands all day, putting in lots of free labor and a genuine love (and often even a relationship with the owners), in hopes of helping introduce folks to a more mindful, slower, and sustainable way to shop. A mega influencer gets paid thousands to say, “Hey here’s me in this shirt by ____.” and they will influence an incredible influx in that brands sales within seconds. Does this help the brand long term? Usually not, but it does give that brand a hit of cash quickly. It also means that a whole herd of followers have all just bought something, they same thing, they likely don’t need, because their fave mega influencer has it. It helps them feel like they are fitting in. It’s a strange culture to me and I’ve been in this whole blogging/influencer world for the past 12 years and continue to be amazed by everyone’s desire to look the same. Even I have got caught up in those purchase frenzies in the past.
A recent article by Insider came out about Vancouver based, retail giant, Aritzia. (Read more here.) Former employees shared their toxic, racist work environment and how managers were told to rate their staff based on appearance on a scale of 1 to 10 in DAILY huddles. This has Mean Girl culture written all over it. When I first moved to Vancouver, Aritzia was dubbed as the place to shop. It was the Vancouver It-Girl Mother Ship. Well, there and Lululemon. My first Aritzia experience I would probably have been about 22 years old and roughly a size 8. I remember feeling so uncomfortable shopping there. Everything felt generic, overpriced, and I didn’t feel like I was the kind of shopper they had in mind as I was larger than everyone working there. My aesthetic was not there’s and I felt like I stuck out too much to shop there. I made a few other attempts over the years, but now it’s been more than a decade since stepping foot in one of their stores. I have never heard someone say “Wow, that was a great experience!” when it comes to shopping at Aritzia. Why? Because it’s awful. A sea of sales associates with one body type, racks full of small sizes and not much else (XXS anyone?), having your purse and even diaper bag taken away from you and locked up if you do manage to find something to try on, fitting rooms with no mirrors so you’re forced to go out and have to show off the item you’re trying on, which for me usually looked like sausage casing, and an overall uncomfortable experience. Despite all of this, when it comes to their annual warehouse sale, thousands will go and line up to get a crappy discount (sometimes as low as only $5 off), so they can all go buy the same thing. They seem to have marketed themselves well, because so many people have bought into it.
Aritzia Warehouse Sale Line Up in Vancouver from 2022 (Photo via Curiocity)
Lululemon is another locally grown, now international mega brand, that has proven itself to be anything but size inclusive and despite their yoga, outdoor vibe, has come under fire by sustainable fashion groups for their heavy use of synthetic fabrics and manufacturing in coal run manufacturing facilities. I can’t remember the last time I stepped foot in a Lululemon until that Whistler shopping day where I was able to find some XL undies. They had two 2 packs of undies in my size. They were basically the only underwear in town, so I bought them. I had quite literally said at a photoshoot only two weeks prior, “Lululemon is the devil.” now, here I was buying satin’s panties.
Image from EcoChicCayman.com
Mean Girls perfectly represents the toxic culture of fast fashion and capitalism. Shein, Zara, Aritzia, Lululemon, and all the rest of them, are the Regina Georges and we are all just trying to find our place to fit in. We are constantly be marketed to and told what we should wear and shouldn’t wear, what’s in and what’s out, what size is acceptable, and how if you buy the crap they are selling, you will be accepted and a part of the in crowd. It doesn’t have to be this way. My tips?
- Support your fave bloggers/influencers without buying all the things they sell. Also, try supporting more influencers who have a sustainable agenda and bring more to the table than just “buy this”. Be wary of those who boast supporting local but are also collaborating and selling you fast fashion and Amazon store fronts that makes them thousands of dollars.
- Buy less and buy better. Save up and buy one amazing, local, sustainably made piece that will last you for years, rather than a dozen trendy, crappy pieces that will only be in your closet for a season, if worn at all.
- Look for brands who showcase and champion multiple body types, sizes, ethnicities, and genders. Inclusive fashion is where it’s at.
- Ask yourself…”Who made these clothes?” Small ethical/sustainable brands will be able to answer this simple question. Those who can’t answer, are part of a supply chain so massive that their only priority is to keep prices as low as possible so they can maximize profits and keep shareholders happy.
- Think outside the box. Love skinny jeans, but you’ve been told their out of style? Wear the damn skinny jeans. Don’t be afraid to stand out and go against the grain.
- Shop your closet, thrift, swap, mend and embrace your personal style. Having your own unique vibe is way more interesting than wearing the “it girl” uniform that everyone else is wearing.
- Separate emotion from shopping. This was a big one for me. Whenever I was feeling down or insecure, new clothes were my pick-me-up. The problem was it never really made me feel better. It usually just gave me guilt for shopping for something I didn’t need and more anxiety with adding even more to my wardrobe. Ask yourself if you really like something or if it’s just that you’re being told to like something.
Me wearing: Thrifted cardigan , Dress from small ethical brand Buttercream Clothing , Shoes : 4 years old , Bag : secondhand , Earrings: Small, sustainable, Black owned brand