Episode 4 – Plus Size Sustainable Fashion (on a Budget)

plus size sustainable fashion on a budget
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Let’s face it – shopping for sustainable fashion on a budget can be really hard! Budget + clothing typically = fast fashion and unethical labor practices.

Add in the complexities of being plus size or having a changing body and you’re in even more of a bind.

In this episode, I’m breaking down I dress in plus-size clothing on a budget and what I’m doing (and will start doing!) to minimize my carbon footprint.

Listen to Episode 4 – Plus Size Sustainable Fashion on a Budget

Jump ahead to read the episode transcript

Episode 4 show notes:

0:00 Intro
0:44 Why sustainable fashion on a budget is hard
2:23 Roadmap to Sustainable Living
4:44 Issues with buying high-quality clothes
6:45 Plus-size shopping
8:40 The real reason why I’m not shopping sustainable fashion brands
9:05 Investment pieces
10:25 Affordable sustainable clothing
11:15 Can I buy fast fashion?
12:25 Where I find exactly what I want for less
13:58 Why you need my newsletter
15:01 Microplastics from secondhand items?
23:52 What’s our game plan?

roadmap to sustainable living

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I mentioned so many posts, tips, and resources in this episode! I’ve linked to the references in order of appearance. If I missed anything you were looking for, let me know!

cora ball
Cora Ball – EarthHero
guppy bag
Guppyfriend – EarthHero
nontoxic laundry bundle
Non-Toxic Laundry Bundle – EarthHero

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Episode Transcription

Podcast Intro

Welcome to Simple Sustainable Home. I’m Rachel, the blogger behind Milk Glass Home. My focus is all about making sustainable living easy and beautiful. We’re going to slow down and learn about cooking from scratch, gardening and preserving the harvest, setting up a low waste lifestyle, and keeping a nontoxic home. We have new episodes every Saturday to help you find new tips and strategies to make simple living easy. Let’s get started.

Episode Intro: Plus Size Sustainable Fashion

Welcome back to Simple Sustainable Home. We are in episode four today, and we’re talking about something that is not my strong suit at all. But I think it’s really important, and I’m hopeful that this conversation will help you as well. So today I’m talking about fashion, specifically sustainable fashion on a budget.

These are not things that necessarily go hand in hand because most sustainable fashion brands are kind of expensive and for a good purpose. They are trying to pay the workers a livable wage or make sure that they’re not working in unsafe slave labor conditions. They’re being thoughtful about how fabrics are harvested. So are they using conventional cotton, which has a really high carbon footprint, or is it using more sustainable, organic cotton?

Sustainable fashion products and sustainable fashion brands are usually beyond the budget of most people. And a lot of people will say to save up to invest in these higher-quality pieces that you’re going to come back to again and again. And I hear that, and I’m going to explain to you today why that doesn’t work for me right now or a lot of people that I know and what we can do instead, to still try to opt-out of fast fashion, but to do it on a budget and in a way that works for us. So that’s our focus. I really hope this is helpful. And let’s dive in.

Considering sustainable fashion out of necessity

Because the fashion world is not my strong suit… When I think about sustainable living, the parts of it that I’m the most drawn into are cooking from scratch, nontoxic and DIY cleaning, growing your own food. I’m really interested in that.

So how we can integrate sustainable living into our everyday lives so that we’re not having a lot of harmful chemicals around us and to make the most of the food that we have on hand, that’s really my focus. It’s what I’m passionate about and what I have the most knowledge about. But there’s one thing that is always kind of a funky, messy issue, and I don’t know if I adore or love my solution to it, but I know that if this is an issue for me, it’s an issue for so many other people and it really is fashion.

How do I, knowing that there are problems with fast fashion, figure out what I can wear that will fit my body, look good and not hurt the environment? And I need to be able to afford it. I don’t mind investing in high-quality pieces around my home that will last a long time, but I’m really reluctant to do that with clothing for two reasons.

One, I have a dog and a cat. I have seen them destroy all kinds of things. I do believe that if I was purchasing really high-quality products, they’d likely have things like long-staple cotton, which is harder to snag and that could help in the long run. But knowing that I have creatures in my life that are really good at climbing on me or walking on me or kneading on this sweater because it’s such a soft spot, I don’t want to have to replace all of my clothing because my animals destroyed it. That is not the number one reason though. That’s just one thing that I also think about is this going to be able to withstand my actual life.

The reality of plus size sustainable fashion

The main issue that I have is that I wear plus-size clothing, and if you are in a plus-size body as well. You’ve probably found clothing shopping to be pretty awful most of your life. Like my mom used to dread taking me to the mall because I could never find anything that I was comfortable in. I always had to buy clothes that were for adults and not for kids or young adults. And that made trying to feel fashionable or stylish or comfortable in my body really, really hard.

I still am not a huge clothing fan. I do not consider myself fashionable. I’ve done a couple of things to try to help out, but one of the issues that I have is that I need to invest in these long-standing pieces that are made to stand the test of time. As a plus-size person, I noticed that my size will change over the years. So this year I’m this size, next year I’m that size, and then I go back down to the other size, where I’m hopping kind of back and forth between two sizes pretty often.

I don’t think that that is unique to plus size women. I think that women, in general, have this issue because our bodies just change. And especially if you’ve been going through starting a family and you have kids and you’ve gone through childbirth and you’re trying to fit back in old clothes, you’re going to notice that you kind of have to have some flex in your wardrobe.

Shopping for clothes with changing bodies

How on Earth are you supposed to set up a sustainable closet that has these high-quality pieces when your size is fluctuating? Plus, a lot of these high-quality pieces are made with real cotton, real linen. These are things that don’t have a lot of give. They don’t have a lot of flex, but we need products that can flex because our bodies are changing.

This is really why I have not been investing my money in these higher-quality pieces. And it’s the reason why I’m not ready to do that yet, because I don’t want to throw $100 or $200 down on a product that’s going to last me 20 years when I don’t really know what my body size is going to be next year or the year after that.

If it was only as simple as my body is changing, and I’m not sure if I can wear this size every year, I’d still probably find some things to fit within that. But there is this price side of things, too, and I’m not afraid to drop a lot of money on my home.

Am I ready to invest in myself?

But for some reason, I feel uncomfortable spending hundreds of dollars on new products for myself. I’m just not at that point, I think I’m still uncomfortable with how I like to dress. I’m still figuring out what sort of clothes I like to wear and what sort of look I want to have.

I’ve done some things to try to develop a capsule wardrobe, especially last year. I decided I want to find some basic pieces that I can wear every day that are always going to look good and that I can feel comfortable in, and that was a good start, but I still feel that there are a lot of areas there where I’m trying to figure it out. But in that process, if I’m still figuring this out, I’m very reluctant to spend a lot of money.

Sustainable clothing on a budget

Plus, if you’re on a budget, you might not feel like you really can invest in these pieces. So if you’re really shopping on a limited budget, how on Earth are you supposed to dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable shopping away that’s going to work for your budget and also do this with sustainability in mind?

Shopping secondhand for sustainable clothing

I feel like the only fair solution here is really to source clothes: shopping secondhand.

This can look like shopping at a thrift shop, going to a consignment store, or doing a clothing swap with your friends. If you can find ways to simply trade or purchase these gently used items, then hey, you’re going to be able to find new things to wear without giving your money directly to those companies that are using practices that aren’t very safe environmentally or for the workers. So that’s what I like to do.

I know that for my body, I try to find brands that I feel really comfortable in. And there’s one brand that I always like, but it’s a fast-fashion brand, so I feel uncomfortable buying it new.

This is how I buy exactly what I’m looking for secondhand & at a discounted price to make sure that I’m not supporting the primary brand, but I’m still getting a product that is going to work for me.

Shopping secondhand online

I shop online with Poshmark. My favorite brand for plus size clothing is Torrid. It has been for years. If you’re a plus sized lady, you’re probably nodding like yes. Honestly, I wish Torrid was around when I was a kid because I needed clothing that made me feel comfortable in my body and not like I was dressed like my grandma and that just wasn’t available to me.

But now I find that Torrid products are typically made very well. They last a long time for me and they just fit my body really well. However, this is fast fashion. This is not a sustainable brand. These are not organic cotton. There’s a lot of elastic. I don’t even know what sort of processing or manufacturing practices they use. And I try not to buy new items from Torrid when I can.

Shopping Secondhand on Poshmark

Instead, I look for the exact items I already own or a similar version of them on Poshmark. Often I can find people who are selling sometimes even new, with Tags, Torrid items for less money. So I can go on there. And it might not be three or $4 like I’d get at Goodwill, but I might pay 20 or $30, but I can get the exact pair of pants that I know that I like, that I know is going to fit, and it’s going to come directly to my house without me shopping directly from the company that has these fast fashion practices.

I really recommend finding which brands you love. And then if there’s something that they make, like…For example, I can wear shirts and sweaters from everywhere or anywhere. But the issue is pants, finding pants that are really comfortable. I will usually only buy pants from Torrid and I try to buy them only on Poshmark.

Sometimes I luck out and I have them at my thrift store, but usually, I don’t. So then I’m on Poshmark looking for oh, I’m looking for this exact size, this exact cut. There we go.

This has been the most sustainable workaround for me, where I’m saving some money. I mean, sometimes on Poshmark, it’s not nearly as cheap as finding whatever in the thrift store. But then I can buy things that I know are going to fit, are going to have the type of style that I’m looking for, and it’s just going to fit with everything else in my wardrobe because it’s all kind of built around these staple pieces.

Are secondhand clothes sustainable?

If you’re thinking awesome, we figured it out. We know what brands we want to use. We’re going to buy them secondhand, that’s going to be cheaper. It’s going to fit our style. It’s going to be more environmentally friendly, good. We can wipe our hands clean, Right? This problem is solved. We know what we’re going to do.

But there’s one more issue here that I struggle with, and I’m wondering if this is going on with you, too. I know that when I shop at Torrid or if I’m picking up any sort of secondhand item at Goodwill for clothing, it’s often going to have a synthetic fiber. So we’re talking about polyester, nylon, rayon, all kinds of synthetic fibers.

How to avoid microplastics in clothing

When we wash these, they release microplastics into the water. So I have a couple of numbers for you to help you understand how important this is.

  • Microplastics make up about 35% of all ocean pollution.
  • When you do a load of laundry with synthetic fibers, about 9 million fibers per wash go out of your house and into your local waterway or processing facility.
  • A lot of processing facilities cannot adequately filter microplastics, so then they’re going to head out of the processing facility into your waterway.

I’m here in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t really want microplastics going into the Puget Sound or into the Pacific Ocean. So I’m concerned about this. And the microplastics aren’t just a problem for the oceans. They are also a problem for people.

Effect of microplastics on the human body

Researcher have been trying to understand how prevalent are microplastics in our environment. So they did a test on human blood. I believe they took 22 samples, and in 17 of those samples, they found microplastics, meaning these tiny plastics are in your blood, which means they’re in every organ in your body. That is very concerning.

They’re finding that microplastics can build up in your liver and your kidney and in your gut. And we don’t really know what the long term impact of that is because if you think about what sort of fabrics, what sort of plastics could be broken down enough to cause these tiny microplastics that we’ve now internalized in our bodies, chances are these microplastics have been in our environment for decades now before we had restrictions on BPA. So you could have microplastics that have BPA, phthalates, all kinds of who knows what inside of them from early plastic production. But those are inside of your body. That’s really concerning to me. This could be carcinogenic. I have no clue what the long-term impact of it will be to have plastic inside of your bloodstream. But many of us do.

How to minimize microplastics from synthetic clothing

If we are continuing to support fast fashion or if we’re using synthetic fibers in our house, think about your sheets and your bed linens. Think about kitchen towels. Think about microfiber cleaning towels. These are all things that are going to send those microplastics out of your house and into the water.

I don’t want to contribute to that, but for my personal style and budget, I need to shop using secondhand fabrics and clothing. So then what do we do? Have you been thinking about this? Are you wondering about this same thing? Are you like, yes, I’ve been hitting my head against this, against the wall, trying to figure out how can I shop secondhand, but minimize the impact of those microplastics.

Laundry Microfiber Filter

There are a few things you can do. There are some filters that you can make, but typically I see most people using one of two products to help catch the microplastics in their washing machine directly. They’re called the Cora Ball or a Guppy bag.

Cora Ball

And the Cora ball you simply put into your washer to wash with your clothing. And as it’s in there, it’s supposed to catch all of these microplastics that you can then throw away into your trash can.

Guppy Bag

The Guppy bag. You put your clothing inside of this bag and it’s going to catch the microplastics, and again, you can dispose of them. These are two options.

Cora Ball vs Guppy Bag

I am still deciding which one I want to have, but when I was researching this podcast to think, okay, how does this really work? Are these products actually effective at all?

How to reduce microplastics from laundry

I was hitting up the Guppy Friend website and they had some tips on how to minimize the amount of microplastics that come off of your synthetic fibers. They were saying that if you can wash using colder water for a shorter amount of time and with a slower rotation speed, those can really help minimize the amount of microfibers that come off of the fabrics.

They have some other tips on there too, like using plastic free laundry detergent, buying less clothing, but trying to get those better quality ones. They say don’t wash shoes, don’t tumble dry, especially if you have things like yoga pants or polyester shirts. Those ones are really easy to air dry. So if you can simply be cautious with your washing practices and then air dry them, that can be a really good first step.

Air Drying Laundry Inside

I will often air dry things simply by hanging them over a door. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’ll put clothes on a hanger on a doorknob. Whatever you can do, it doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated. You don’t need to hang a drying line inside of your house or in the backyard. You can just try to dry things in your laundry room, in your bathroom or wherever.

Minimizing microfiber pollution from laundry

But I feel like purchasing something like a Guppy bag or a Guppy friend or a Cora ball is a really nice step to say, okay, I know that I’m not able to purchase these organic cotton handmade whatever right now, but I’m going to try to minimize the impact of the synthetic fibers that I own by using a tool to catch the microplastics. I’m going to be cautious with how I wash them.

Best way to start switching to sustainable clothing on a budget

And then when you’re looking for things like socks or underwear, that’s a great place to say I am going to upgrade to organic because this might be one of the few clothing items that you really replace with new pretty often I don’t buy a lot of new shirts or pants, but I do buy underwear and socks, right? So if I can say I’m going to upgrade to a higher quality on these items, this is a really great way to babysit into sustainable fashion.

Plus Size Sustainable Fashion – Recap

So let’s recap here for just a second. I know that for myself and for many of my listeners, money is a top priority here. We’re not really comfortable investing in higher-quality fashion pieces yet, although we know that that’s a great place to go. I understand that that’s where I should be going. I just know that I’m not ready for that right now with my budget and with my lifestyle.

Plus size sustainable clothing options

So the compromise I’m going to make is shopping secondhand. That might include going to a thrift store, hitting a consignment store, doing a clothing swap. And I’d love to do that, but I’ve rarely had people in the same size as me to be able to do something like that. So, hey, if you’re on this and you’re a personal friend and you wear plus sizes and you want to do a clothing swap, let’s coordinate this.

Finding exactly what you want secondhand

But the other option that I really want you to keep in mind is that if you know there’s a brand out there that you love and you’re like, Well, I’d buy everything else secondhand, but I can’t. I have to have pants from wherever, or if I have to have sweaters from wherever, you can buy those items new or gently used online.

Then you’re not paying that company saying, yes, I want to give you my money. So you can keep producing these products using fast to fashion methods. No, you are diverting that system. You are not feeding that. You are simply giving money to another consumer out there who’s no longer using this product. This is how I get the exact products and brands that I like. And when I’m done with something, I will often resell it back on Poshmark and the money that I get from doing that, I reinvest into new clothing.

Poshmark alternatives:

  • ThredUp
  • Mercari
  • Vinted

I have sold old shoes and shirts and pants and then purchased high-quality shoes like Danskos. I’ve purchased Birkenstocks, I’ve purchased Torrid pants. This is a great thing to do. I’m going to share my link to Poshmark. So if you want to get started, I’m not an affiliate with that. It’s not something that I really push, it’s just something that I use in my personal life to recoup some of the money that I’ve invested in clothing while also trying to source the products and brands that I want that I know are going to work for me.

Making secondhand clothing more eco-friendly

But remember, we need to remember that there are microplastics that come off of these fashion products. So let’s think it through. Is there a way that we could build in some sort of mitigation attempt? Is there something that you could install or buy that will help you keep these microplastics from flooding into the environment?

If right now you’re like, no, I don’t have an extra $40-50 for something like this, then you might want to consider trying what those tips were from Guppy Bag.

Tips to minimize microplastics

Wash cold in a shorter time frame. Change the rotation speed to a slower speed. Pull synthetics out to air dry. This is a great baby step between using a Guppy bag or a Cora ball to still try to reduce that impact.

I really believe that by being intentional with these choices… Again, these are not ideal compromises, but this is not an ideal situation. We have to find strategies that are going to work for us, and we also deserve to be comfortable in our bodies.

Wear clothing you love

I don’t want to go through the world wearing clothes that I feel like I’m having to compromise on. I want to wear clothing that makes me feel comfortable and confident, and I want that for you too. So if you have a little extra time, I’m going to share some links in the show notes about setting up a minimalist capsule wardrobe.

Because I think if you could start working towards that, even if you’re building it right now with secondhand fast fashion items, if you could get into this habit, get into this practice, and then as things wear out, save up and replace with higher quality items. I feel like long-term speaking, that’s the best practice. Give yourself a chance to get ready to do something like that. Test it out. And I think that’s really going to be what works for a lot of us.

All right, if you have questions about these tips, wonderings, anything, you can head to my podcast page. Just type in simplesustainablehome.com. There is a comment section there where you can send me a direct message. Tell me what you want to hear. Ask me your question. Let me know what’s up. But I would love to hear from you because I came up with this podcast after I asked people in my Facebook group what they really wanted to know about and I was thankful that people were agreeing with me that this is a topic that needs to be addressed.

I really hope that this is something that’s been helpful for you and I will see you next week. Take care. Bye.

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