Show me the money!: Do I have an obligation to buy clothes from size inclusive brands?

I’m not teaching an applied ethics this term but if I were this might be a good topic for discussion. I am teaching a course on feminism and fashion next year so maybe I’ll work this question in there.

In a recent blog post on super fit hero tights, which among their other virtues come in sizes XS to 2XL–I raised the issue of whether as a consumer I have an ethical obligation to buy clothing from manufacturers that sell a full range of sizes. I have some choices. I’m big but I fit within the usual size range of most clothing manufacturers. So sometimes I do buy clothes from companies for whom I’m their largest size.

Indeed, that was a criticism blog readers raised about my love of Oiselle bras.

A commentator wrote, “Sam, I’m happy that you found bras at Oiselle that you love. For me, however, I can’t get past the very limited selection they offer: SML. While this is common with so many sports bra manufacturers, Oiselle is the company that put actual athletes on the runway at NY Fasion Week, but then had one of those athletes worry that “she looked like a man.”
If it’s okay for women athletes to be less curvaceous than historical standards of beauty or feminity, than it should also be okay for them to more curvaceous. Until Oiselle starts carrying sports bras that fit women with larger breasts, which usually requires underwire with cup sizes, they remain part of the mainstream problem that fails to recognize that women athletes really do come in all shapes and sizes.”

That’s a strong claim that they’re part of the problem, in failing to recognize that runners and other athletes come in all shapes and sizes. But I get it.

Does that mean though that I ought not to buy their clothes? I am ethically obligated to shop for bras from a company that includes the full range of sizes and skin tones. In my padded bra post I note that it can be hard to find brown bras too. Beige isn’t every woman’s skin tone.

A friend who works in television suggested a reality tv show, Bra Hunter. They could help me and help the women looking for brown bras, since ‘flesh’ colored bras are decidedly beige. You can read about the Brown Bra Scavenger Hunt here, Not MY Nude — Why I Started the Brown Bra Scavenger Hunt.

Leah Gilbert makes the argument for body positive ethical consumerism in The Day My Purse Stood Up for Body Positivity

Ethical buying and consumerism. Its a concept that has grown rapidly and something we have probably been doing unconsciously for most of our lives as customers. I’m sure so many people out there already subscribe to an ethos when they purchase their clothing, but I must admit that whilst I do it with my grocery items, I’ve never done it with clothing – until now. Today I have decided that I am going to buy ethically for Body Positivity….

So now I believe it is time my consumer dollar does the talking for me. I understand that celebrating body diversity is relatively unchartered territory for many brands, and that it seems you also get smashed for whatever effort you make to do so, but until then I believe I must withhold my money from your purses. Not out of spite, but because I would rather direct my money toward a brand who WAS celebrating the physical diversity of athleticism that we so desperately keep asking for. Its time we reward the brands who are paving the way to make it easier for you once you decide to jump on the diversity bandwagon. Which means I must run as I need to go and find myself a new pair of swimmers.

What do you think? Am I ethically obligated to buy only from size inclusive brands?

And that’s not just a ‘university professor rhetorical class discussion’ question. I’m actually thinking this one through for myself. What do you think?

I’m also wondering what criteria a brand needs to meet before it calls itself “feminist.” That’s a different but related question. Neon Moon bills itself as “Britain’s finest feminist lingerie” but best as I can tell–while the models have arm pit hair, so there’s that–they only have the usual small, medium, and large in sizes. There’s a blog post in the drafts folder called, “What makes a bra feminist? What makes a bathing suit body positive?” so I’m coming back to that another time.


10 thoughts on “Show me the money!: Do I have an obligation to buy clothes from size inclusive brands?

  1. Frankly, it is so hard to buy a bra that is comfortable and fits properly that I would ever tell another woman she shouldn’t buy the ones that work for her. The other issue is, are you then not supposed to buy until they not only include large sizes but sizes that would work for someone with issues on the other end of the spectrum – like a 40A? We exist too. No manufacturer can comfortably address all sizing and maintain a business, let’s be real.

    1. I agree that bras are a special case. Non padded sports bras are hard to find and so when find one that fits and works, I buy it. But what about athletic wear more generally?

    2. Lori, this is exactly what I was thinking. Jogbra, I would love to be able to think about things like that, but real talk, it needs to be functional before all others.

  2. If we only purchased sports wear from companies that had all sizes in the spectrum, than wouldn’t we be limiting ourselves to a relatively small group of companies that can manage that range of production? And, where does the support for other people’s needs end? I don’t want sport bras with underwire – do I still have to buy from a company that has sports bras supportive enough for large breasted woman even if they don’t have the kind that I prefer?

    I think the sentiment is great and I certainly support and promote the idea of backing companies that are inclusive as often as possible, but I think that people still need the freedom to consider other important factors: quality, comfort, etc. Sometimes supporting a small local company may be more important than supporting an inclusive company. Sometimes people live in countries without a lot of options (as a Canadian, I can’t afford the exchange rate and shipping required to purchase from companies in the US, even though I support their mandate/practices).

    I also don’t think that supportive inclusive companies solves the real problem. Yes, I would love it if more companies sold plus sized sports gear, but does smaller sized people buying from companies that have plus sized gear really make a difference? The companies are still only going to produce as much gear as they think they can sell. A lack of choice for my 2X butt is not because skinny girls aren’t buying from inclusive companies, it’s because companies AND society AND plus sized people are still working their way out of the false idea that you can only be athletic if you’re skinny.

    This is not to say that I don’t tell companies that they need to remember us bigger girls (as me how many times I’ve made comments online, in surveys and in person to MEC about the lack of choice of useful gear for fat but outdoorsy people!) or that I don’t support the idea of supporting inclusive companies. I just think that it’s a much more complex question that just “should I buy from here or there.”

  3. Selling clothes is first and foremost a business, can we really blame a manufacturer for not carrying a size that is uncommon/not popular with their client base? I doubt Oiselle is only producing in SML because they aren’t body positive, but rather because SML is what most people who shop there buy and they are a smaller company that may not be able to stock such a wide range of sizes. When a company comes out and says “we don’t want larger women in our clothes because it hurts our brand” (cough… lululemon… cough…) that’s when I think it’s reasonable to take a stand. If lots of people beg Oiselle to make an XL (or an XS) or whatever size, and they see the demands => profit then I doubt they wouldn’t oblige. No brand can encompass all possible sizes, so they try to manage inventory with their clientele. It’s a business, not an activist group. Also that “looks like a man” comment is misleading. Oiselle didn’t do anything, some nasty commenter posted that on a runner world post on facebook. Oiselle can’t protect it’s models from internet trolls.

  4. XL or 2X doesn’t say accessible. 5-6X shows that a manufacturer is willing to commit to fitting all kinds of bodies.

    And while we’re talking about accessible workout wear, cost has to come into the equation– which raises its own set of ethical issues in manufacturing.

    Not an easy issue here…

  5. I don’t think there’s any ethical obligation to shop only from size-inclusive companies. As commenters noted above, it limits you to large corporate sellers, for one thing, and then you get into their manufacturing practices overseas. That’s a high price to pay for an “ethical position” that prevents you from buying from a tiny local operation or other specialty or small-scale maker.

    As to what makes a bra feminist, that’s a minefield that makes me lucky I just opted out of the bra thing a few years ago. (I can get away with shelf camis.)

  6. I don’t even think much about the brand, ethics….as long as it fits, hopefully not underwire (I don’t need it) and durable, at a reasonable (usually not) price.

    It DID cheese me off, the Canadian millionaire Chip Wilson (now living in Vancouver BC), who founded lululemon, yoga clothing …it’s a guy that made a ton of dough for a lot of the clothing lines initially for women. 🙁
    But then, some of the world’s richest clothing “designers” have been men.

    I only own 1 lululemon item –a skort which I can bike in. Everything else I go running off to a different clothes line, for something cheaper. Most of it is exercisewear to me.

  7. I’m in the range where – at the moment – I can usually fit into the top or second from the top size in straight size stores/lines. 5-10 years ago (when I was a bit bigger and straight size lines seemed to stop a bit smaller), I usually couldn’t.

    My major line that I draw on this is that I won’t buy non-clothing items from a clothing store that doesn’t carry my size. So no Lululemon yoga mats (not that I’d be buying those anyway), or scarves and necklaces from size-limited clothing stores. I also try to comment on sizing/availability with store staff when I’m shopping (‘It’s great that you’ve got such a large size range’, or ‘I really wish your sizes went higher’). My hope is that – if it comes up enough – the comments will filter up.

    I also think that there’s something to be said for buying the largest size available – it shows demand at the high end of the size range they do carry. A lot of stores insist that they’d make larger sizes, but they find that the larger sizes don’t sell. I think it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, where women (or others who wear similar clothes) over a certain size don’t even look at certain stores/brands because the rejection implicit in not fitting into the largest size can be too much.

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