At a recent panel co-hosted by Bustle on body positivity, writer and blogger Ushshi Rahman reminded the audience that their dollars matter, and that this applies to supporting indie plus size retailers. When discussing the co-opting of body positivity by big-name brands, Rahman noted the importance of backing the companies and designers which are truly involved in the movement. The ones which listen to customers and create accordingly. The ones which participate in the conversation actively ― often with the personal and the political in mind, rather than a desire to be "on trend." So as we go into a new year — which follows a year that turned "body positivity" into more of a household term than ever before — I think it's important that we continue to consider where we spend our cash.
Shopping for plus size fashion is undoubtedly an emotional whirlwind. We've reached a point where a lot of retailers have expanded their size ranges, but sartorial equality for all remains a pretty mythical concept. You'll very (very) rarely walk into a store and find every size. It's all but impossible to feel catered to when you are above a 3X. If you do find clothes that fit your plus size bod, you may have to pay a little extra, thanks to a fat tax.
The reality is that outside of fast fashion brands, paying for plus size clothing likely means paying more. However, when you invest those hard-earned dollars into supporting indie designers who are working to achieve inclusivity with very little in the way of budgets or advertisers or press, you contribute to an effort you care about. So here are seven indie fatshion brands to consider supporting in 2016. Because when you wear their clothes, you'll be wearing your politics on your sleeve.
1. Chubby Cartwheels
Sluts With Guts Tee, $25, chubbycartwheels.com
With slogans like "Diet Industry Dropout" and "Sluts With Guts," designer Shawna Farmer's work is irrevocably political. Through a simple T-shirt, she is able to tackle everything from diet culture to slut-shaming. And with most designs ranging from a 1X to a 5X, it's clear that she is aware that "size inclusivity" should extend beyond a 3X.
From mermaid leggings to mesh bodysuits to cannabis and French fry printed tops, the designs at Chubby Cartwheels are kitschy and loud. For a fat person to wear such unapologetic garments suggests that said fat person is a radical — a rule breaker. And that's precisely what you're bound to feel like when sporting any one of these items.
2. Ready To Stare
The Silver Truth Body Chain, $35, readytostare.com
Alysse Dalessandro of Ready To Stare focuses on crafting body chains for the plus size customer (although her designs are available in sizes S to 5XL). Before taking a stroll through Ready To Stare's arsenal, I'd never actually seen a fat woman rocking this sort of accessory. After all, a fat woman's main goal when it comes to fashion should be to minimize her body and not take up any space, right? Wrong. As Dalessandro's designs prove, "making them stare" is a far more important. Her work is clearly rooted in redefining norms.
But body chains aren't all that's available here. From luxe velvet crop tops which incorporate her signature chains to T-shirts that challenge health concern trolling, everything is a little gaudy and a whole lot of bold.
3. Zelie For She
Zelie For She's "About" page houses one of the most accurate descriptions of a brand and designer that I've come across to date: "Designer Elann Zelie brings a sense of freedom back to the plus size community by providing an array of styles, fabrics, and trends to match each person’s individual personality and style." A sense of freedom is exactly the vibe that radiates from Zelie's work. Utilizing draping fabrics, oversized cuts, and bold prints, Zelie breaks every so-called fashion rule there is.
Her designs not only demand to be seen and to take up space, but they also call to mind the equality that so many fat activists are fighting for. Throwing notions about "unflattering" versus "flattering" out the window, Zelie proves that the right to dress unapologetically has no size limit.
4. Re/Dress NYC
No Frills Tutu Skirt, $39.99, redressnyc.com
Owner Rachel Kacenjar of Re/Dress NYC has a talent for bringing together independent plus designers into one hub of sartorial awesomeness. Re/Dress is a go-to destination for any alternative fatshion babes, gents, and everyone in between who want to wear their fattitude on their sleeves. I also love how many of the designs focus on foodie prints, proving that fatties need not hold onto any lingering shame about eating which our culture has tried to ingrain in us. Do you love cotton candy or hot dogs? Well, regardless of your size, you're definitely allowed to say so.
Knowing that the human running this brand is a vocal feminist and size acceptance advocate only further encourages one to stop by Re/Dress. Kacenjar's perfectly curated, perfectly kitsch, perfectly loud selection of garments is one to be reckoned with.
5. Smart Glamour
The Toni Wrap Sweater, $45, smartglamour.com
From acknowledging her privileges as a "thin, white, and socially attractive" woman, to working with predominantly plus size models on a holiday collection, to launching campaigns like #MiracleMomBods, Mallorie Dunn of Smart Glamour has proven herself a total ally to the body positive cause. Not to mention how her brand caters to sizes XXS to 6X and beyond, even offering customizable options so that humans of (actually!) every size can feel catered to. Smart Glamour is probably the most size-inclusive brand you'll come across, and it's a one-woman show.
Supporting a designer like Dunn means supporting the belief that fashion is something every person of every size deserves. Her aesthetic is something of a hybrid between old-Hollywood glam and "working girl in New York," and it's quite unique.
Rochelle Long Sleeve Ponte Bodysuit, $88, rue107.com
Nude bodysuit? Check. A dress plastered with cupcakes? Check. Flared pants in a sparkly design? Check. Every garment fat women are told is off-limits because it'll "show off their rolls" or "create unnecessary bulges"? Definitely check. For fatshionistas who favor showing off their fat pride through bodycons and curve-flaunting silhouettes, Rue107 is a must.
A self-described "celebration of the fashion vagabonds, those of us who celebrate the spirit of innovative self-expressive moments," these clothes will tell the world that you refuse to apologize for your body. Although there is a "Curve" section on site, most items come in sizes S through 3X. So whether you dream of sporting a leopard-print jumpsuit to house a 50-inch bottom or a maxi skirt that Stevie Knicks would be proud of, Rue107 will remind you that there's nothing to fear when it comes living out loud.
7. Courtney Noelle
Olivia Dress, $180, shopcourtneynoelle.com
Formerly known as Rum+Coke, designer Courtney Noelle's now-namesake brand gained traction earlier this year when Noelle announced that she planned on using only plus size women of color to model her collections. When you consider the lack of visibility women of color and fat women still have in contemporary culture, it's a decision that makes absolute sense, and it's one that has made Noelle's brand stand out amongst the sea of e-retailers out there.
Courtney Noelle's designs are all incredibly glamorous. "Red-carpet-worthy" doesn't even begin to describe the lush nature of her dresses, in particular. To give such high quality and almost couture-esque fashions to women who are often told they can't possibly deserve such outfits until they lose a few is nothing short of groundbreaking in this industry. And even though Noelle works with only plus size models, her designs are available in sizes S through 4X.
Considering most of us live on a budget, it can sometimes be difficult to choose between supporting an indie retailer whose politics align with your own but whose prices reflect the nature of their business and a fast fashion brand with fast fashion prices. But when finances allow, making the extra effort is so, so worth it. Not only are you helping keep indie businesses alive, but you're also helping to keep a message you care about going strong. And that's the power of fashion, right?
Images: Courtesy Brands