Fed up of ordering the wrong size, Ruth Rosselson looks at the different sizing of the ethical fashion labels to make online shopping easier.
Over the past decade, there’s been a profusion of TV shows celebrating women’s bodies and encouraging us to dress for, and to celebrate, our shape. We are more aware than ever that women’s bodies are not homogenous, not just in terms of what size we are, but where we carry our fat – or if we have any fat at all.
When it comes to buying clothes, our experience of shopping and trying on clothes mean that most women are aware of what sizes we take in which high street shop and which labels are more likely to flatter our shape. Where we might take fit a 14 with one label, we know that we’re a 12 elsewhere, and might even be a 16 somewhere else. This is because there is still no standard when it comes to dress sizes.
When it comes to ethical fashion, things become a little trickier because many of the ethical fashion companies do most of their business online. Trying on a top in three different sizes is not an option unless you don’t mind ordering (and paying for) more clothes than you’re going to end up owning, and sending most of them back, often at your own expense. Unfortunately, just like the high street, the ethical fashion labels also have different measurements to each other for their sizing. No two labels that I looked at had the same sizing as each other, and all had slightly different waist to hip and waist to breast ratios.
Speaking to the designers themselves, it’s clear that there are a number of issues at play. Firstly, many designers seem to be designing for themselves in terms of the shape they’re designing for. Katie from Miksani confesses that she starts her collections by designing a size 10 to fit herself. “I’m a size ten, but I’m six foot with no real chest to speak of” she says. Likewise, Bibico’s founder and designer Snow says “You design a little bit in the image of yourself. In my mind, I’m designing for someone who’s relatively slim; a more athletic shape”.
Zoe Robinson runs Thinkstyle (http://www.think-style.co.uk/), a personal style and image consultancy specialising in ethical fashion. She explains that most of the ethical clothing designers are designing for their peers and so are aiming their ranges at women in their twenties and thirties. Yet, most of the ethical clothing market actually comes from women in their 40s and older. “But nobody’s really designing for that age range” says Zoe.
When it comes to making clothes in a multitude of sizes, because the ethical labels are much smaller businesses than their cousins on the high street, they are at a huge disadvantage. As Anya at Frank and Faith explains, “it’s tricky because you can’t do small orders. In fact, we had to reduce our sizes by making our clothes in dual sizes”. Katie at Miksani agrees. “It’s just not cost effective for us to introduce bigger sizes if we’re not selling enough”. Bibico sell their clothes across Europe and admit that the different shapes of women’s bodies across the continent does pose a problem for the label. “It definitely makes our life more complicated”, says Snow. “But we can’t make different patterns for all the different markets. My suppliers would go crazy.”
However, the labels are all still evolving. “They want to sell their clothes” says Zoe, “and so they’re listening to customer feedback”. Antony Waller from People Tree admits that that sizing and fit was a real issue when the label was establishing itself. “We spent time and money getting sizes closer to the ones that our clients wanted and this evolved over the space of about two years.” Snow agrees that there’s still work to be done with Bibico. “I think there’s room to work on sizes” she says “and that’ll be the evolution of our label.” Looking ahead, Miksani will also be aiming its range at a slightly older age group, and as a result, sleeve and skirt/dress lengths will be longer. Katie also hopes the label can afford to expand into bigger sizes in the future.
When it comes to dressing for your shape, Zoe advises you not to rule out a label just because of its statistics. “Instead, look at the kind of fabric and cut of the garment as well. Think about what you want the garment for and what you want it to do. Look at how fitted a garment is supposed to be worn – if it’s jersey or a floaty fabric, it’s much less of an issue than if it’s fitted with no leeway.” Anya at Faith & Faith also advises against looking too hard at sizing and looking instead at different shapes of clothing. “Swing-shapes are ideal for bottom heavy women” she advises “and ruched tops great for bingo wings”.
For those who want to know more about the sizing of the different labels, Ethicsgirls looked at the different measurements (displayed on brand websites) and the waist to breast, and waist to hip ratios of ethical fashion ranges.
Across the ranges here’s a summary of our exclusive research:
• Every single brand differed in terms of the exact measurements of its sizing.
• The ratios differed between brands, and between the sizes.
• None of the brands had the same sizing or ratios as the high street brands looked at.
• The waist to breast/hip ratio show that People Tree and Outsider are best for hourglass figures; their sizing has a narrower waist, but generally larger hip and breast measurements than the other brands.
• Asquith is also good for hourglass figures, with the largest hip to waist ratios of the lot.
• Frank & Faith and Urban Buzz are best for flatter/tube shapes; they both have the smallest bust/hip to waist ratios. Uban Buzz sizing is slightly bigger than Frank & Faith.
• Gossypium has the smallest sizing and is good for pear shapes; busts are flatter and hips wider.
• Bibico is also good for pear shapes and have slightly bigger sizing than Gossypium.
• Eva Grant could be good for apple shaped women and top heavy women. The brand has the largest bust sizes of all the brands looked at and also the widest waists.
We are posting some of our archived blog posts, partly to see how ethical fashion has grown and changed since 2007. Since writing this post Frank & Faith has ceased trading as a brand of clothing.