Why I Opened a Plus Size Vintage Clothing Store

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In this op-ed, Berriez vintage shop owner Emma Zack details her experience shopping for second-hand clothes as a plus-size woman, and why she created an Instagram account that sells vintage clothes to plus-size people. ‘we often say not to wear.

I was 12 when I cried on the floor of a Macy’s dressing room, one of those carpeted dressing rooms with fluorescent overhead lighting and three full-length mirrors that make you cringe under all angles. My mother came in and found me bawling in the corner. Her arm was weighed down by the pile of potential bat mitzvah robes that we both knew weren’t going to close completely. I still remember that day, 15 years later.

I’ve had curves since I was 10, when I was already wearing adult bras to match my adult hips, arms, and legs. Back then, shopping was usually a traumatic experience: hours spent looking through clothes that I knew wouldn’t fit, but has been will fit my slim mom or any friend I was with.

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Over the years, I have come to realize that my story is far from unique. Even though 67% of women in the United States are size 14+, “plus size” women only make up 1-2% of bodies portrayed in mainstream media. Certainly there has been a noticeable increase in the representation of tall people in the fashion industry, including models Paloma Elsesser, Ashley Graham, Precious Lee and Tess Holliday gracing magazine covers and posing in campaigns. world. Yet, in the world of vintage and second-hand fashion, the representation and options for size eight and plus bodies aren’t quite there yet. Like the fashion industry in general, the vintage market tends to favor a smaller body type.

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As I got older, I learned to love my body and the fashions that show it off. I discovered vintage clothing through my grandmother, who would have been a modern size 12 or 14. When my mom gave me a few of her pieces to try on, I remember loving their fit, their uniqueness, and knowing that I would channel my grandmother’s energy every time I was wearing one. Wearing her clothes was the gateway to my savings obsession, which started when I moved to Los Angeles for college. I realized that I was more likely to find something at a thrift store than at most retail stores.

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A few years ago I discovered that I could buy vintage clothes directly on Instagram. That is, until I start scrolling. I remember sitting in my apartment for hours browsing what looked like hundreds of Instagram shops and never found anything that fit my size. For the most part, the models looked smaller than I did during my bat mitzvah when I was 13. Once in a while, I’d find a store selling something “oversized” on their page (always showing on a thin model), and I’d buy it immediately. While I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the piece, I was just excited that there was something in my size. Or so I thought. Garments generally did not fit and none of them were returnable.

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After accumulating piles of ill-fitting vintage clothes in dozens of online vintage stores, I decided to start reselling the pieces that didn’t work for my body. My friend Vanessa and I set up a clothes rack in my living room, inventoried everything, came up with a name for my potential shop, and took pictures of me modeling the clothes in my backyard. I sent the pictures to friends and asked their opinion. Their genuine interest and enthusiasm led to the creation of my online vintage store, Berriez (formerly known as Fruity Looms). In November, I started doing small photo shoots with several of my friends in my garden. It was a time when we could hang out, dress up, be creative and have fun. And within a few months, people I didn’t know started contacting me asking if they could model, or if I could lend them my clothes for their own shoots.

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It didn’t take me long to notice the demand for plus-size vintage, and the data exists to prove it: According to Bloomberg, “the plus-size apparel market represents a $20 billion opportunity, with growth exceeding to that of the global market. 17 to 7% in 2016, and a hungry clientele for quality clothing. But in an article explaining why “fashion disruptors” like Everlane don’t offer options above a size XL, a reporter from Voice wrote, “For fat women in the US, it’s fast fashion or next to nothing.” Lately, the fashion industry has been focusing on sustainability and inclusiveness, so why wouldn’t plus-size people have more clothing options, more specifically, vintage and second-hand?

As interest grew, I could no longer rely solely on selling pieces from my own closet, so I started sourcing more clothes from thrift stores and flea markets. While sifting through piles of clothing, mostly made up of pieces in smaller sizes, is sometimes overwhelming, finding a nice vintage piece in a size larger than 12 is always worth the effort. Whenever I’m looking for new items, I always make sure to look for clothes that are usually said to be plus size people not to wear: bold prints, bright colors and clothes that hug your figure. Oh, and the fruit patterns. Why fruit? Because humans, like fruit, are uniquely vibrant, sweet, and desirable, regardless of size, shape, or shade.

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Over the past few months, I’ve realized that I’m not the only one trying to create trendy solutions for people like me. Since starting Berriez, I’ve come across a number of other plus-size vintage Instagram shops, including Luvsick Plus, The Plus Bus, Plus BKLYN, and More Than Your Average. I’m glad to see that there are more and more options for people who don’t want to compromise on the fit or style of their clothes.

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Almost everyday I get a direct message on Instagram from someone writing to me letting me know how much they love and appreciate me selling vintage in larger sizes. One of the most recent posts read, “Love your shop! It’s so hard to find cute vintage clothes that fit my body type, and I really respect what you do. When people come to shop Berriez in real life (meaning the five racks of colorful clothes in the basement of my apartment), they always find at least three things that suit them. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone come and leave empty handed. Very often people say to me, “Wow, I’ve never found so many pieces in one place that fit me and feel beautiful in them. On days when I feel overwhelmed, feelings like these remind me to keep doing what I do, because everyone deserves a positive shopping experience. More importantly, everyone deserves to feel beautiful.

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My basement, backyard, Instagram, and everywhere I photograph are basically my version of the ideal dressing room — the one I wish I had when I was younger. I hope to make the shopping experience the opposite of demoralizing; I want it to be fun. I want people, whether they’re models, clients, or individuals browsing our Instagram feed, to feel good about themselves.

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