Welcome to the third and final installment in the Toronto Vintage Fashion series. So far, we’ve talked about the essentials of online vintage fashion hunting and spotlighted Victoria Baker, founder of Very Cherry Vintage.
Now, let’s talk about size-inclusive vintage fashion in the Toronto vintage fashion scene.
I sat down with Rochelle Latinsky, owner and founder of My Clementine Vintage, one of the few plus-sized identifying vintage fashion shops in Toronto.
The mission of My Clementine Vintage is to dress people in clothes they can feel good in, regardless of size and gender presentation. For Rochelle, the priority has always been in size accessibility and inclusivity while fostering a safe space for customers to feel valued and seen. My Clementine Vintage specializes in wearable basics, vibrant colours and patterns and silhouettes that can be associated with a feminine dress. When asked about which era the vintage of My Clementine comes from, Rochelle expressed that it is mostly from the 1980s. She explains “that’s what’s available. It’s harder to find the stuff that’s older because plus-sized clothing has always been a marginalized area of the industry.”
In various corners of the fashion industry where plus-sized fashion exists, Rochelle informs that above a certain size, people are forced to pay a fat tax, an additional monetary amount added to plus-size clothing for the extra inches of fabric needed to create bigger sized clothing. As a plus-size woman herself, Rochelle declares, “I’m never going to mark up anything. I’m never going to charge a premium because we already pay a premium for being a certain shape and a certain size.”
Rochelle explains that there is work that needs to be done in the fashion industry to bring plus-size fashion in from the margins, and it starts with education. What exactly is plus size? To the broader public, anyone that is larger than a 32-inch waist can be considered plus size. For some context, a 30-inch waist is about a size 10, and the average-sized woman will fall anywhere between a size 8-12. So, we are taking average-sized people and labelling them as plus-sized. Where does that leave the significant population of people that wear sizes larger than a 10?
Rochelle urges, “When you label your size 10 clothing as plus-sized, that’s misleading. A size 10 is not plus-size. Being a plus-sized vendor, you’re not just providing plus-sized clothing, you’re providing honesty.” This honesty comes in the form of accurate sizing, providing more than one silhouette for plus size bodies, and fostering a space of size accessibility and acceptance.
Rochelle explains further why she can’t seem to find plus-size clothing earlier than the 1980s, “if you look through the roots of plus-sized humans, they wore their clothes completely, like full circle until they couldn’t wear them anymore. Often they made their own clothes because their sizes were not being offered anywhere.” Through our conversation, Rochelle and I identified that although there is a larger selection of plus size fashion in the current fashion industry, this reality for plus size clothing has not changed completely. Rochelle describes that as My Clementine Vintage developed, she learned how to sew to alter and mend garments to modernize and fashionize vintage pieces for plus-size people. She explains “it’s about making these vintage pieces fit seamlessly into your current wardrobe” rather than buying and disseminating plus-size silhouettes purely because they are the right sizing. Plus-size fashion has a legacy of providing the bare minimum. Maybe the clothing being sold fits a bigger body but being able to fit in a piece of clothing does not equate to the availability of fashionable choices.
What about the pandemic?
When it comes down to it, Rochelle reveals that the biggest impact the pandemic has had on her business relates to money and human connection. With having larger upfront costs for scarcer plus size clothing, her usual hotspots for vintage collection being cut off from travel restrictions, payment for shipping materials, reduced revenue, show cancellations being major sources of revenue, Rochelle has been able to sit on past inventory and survive as a business through this time, luckily. But, it is the purpose of her work and business that has been stripped away and reduced. With all of the previously mentioned burdens from the pandemic, Rochelle battles with the whole concept of online listing. She explains that the heaviest loss is in the lack of face-to-face interaction, conversations, fittings, stories, being able to supply people with jobs, and the human connection.
In the context of the wider Toronto vintage fashion industry, Rochelle has observed the scene becoming oversaturated during the time of the pandemic. People are flooding the market, not necessarily knowing what they’re buying and selling, to make a quick dollar. They are sourcing from local thrift stores which takes away cheaper second-hand clothing from the communities that rely on those resources. But, Rochelle reveals that this is where the ethical conundrum of the Toronto vintage scene becomes present. For Rochelle, it still feels like “a win that second hand is now trendy, especially when it comes to bigger ticket items, like couches and bedroom furniture. I appreciate the fact that that stuff is not ending up in the landfill.” She asserts, “It’s a good thing that these things are being rescued. I just object to the fact that they’re being charged a premium.”
As a seasoned vintage vendor, being in the industry for close to seven years, Rochelle advises that newcomers to the industry need to be wary not to “start treating vintage and second hand as throwaway pieces. Then, it’s no longer special.” She continues, “I think that in the beginning days of my shopping, of me buying, I would just buy a bunch of things. These days, I’m much more strategic about what I buy. It’s also because I don’t want to get stuck with it. I want to make sure that I’m buying things that are going to be pieces you reach for ongoing. You should feel good about the fact that you didn’t buy that from an H&M, you know.”
These recently emerging vintage vendors have also pushed Rochelle to re-evaluate her role within the community. Rochelle explains that her core ethos has always been community over competition, which is the radiated culture throughout the Toronto vintage scene. Rochelle has worked to make sure that her reputation is for quality goods that are going to last forever. If a new vendor is entering the scene looking to make certain connections, Rochelle can be that connection for them or point them in the direction of another member of the community that can satisfy those roles. Rochelle demonstrates, “I’ve worked really hard to build a reputation as a community builder. So, if someone comes to me saying, look, I want to start my own thing, I’m going to do my best to point them in the right direction within reason. It’s because when you do someone a solid, they’re going to vouch for you. I’m not being a part of a community for the sake of getting ahead of someone. I’m being part of a community because I want to foster good vibes and benefit from being a good human.” That is where the business opportunities arise within this community. It is building community and relationships to foster word of mouth marketing across the vintage scene.
Rochelle and I have worked together in the past for another media feature I did of her business through a photo essay. She reflects “that’s why I always have time for someone like you, because it’s not about the payment, and it’s not about the recognition. It’s about the fact that I know how much you’ve gotten out of our conversations because I can see it in your work. I’ll get joy out of that. You’re part of my extended community and part of my shopper community.” It’s about the exchange. I was able to learn more about the plus-size sector of the vintage scene while capturing dynamic photos of the My Clementine product offering. As a result, my photos were featured alongside a spotlight article of Rochelle and my Clementine on The Kit.
It all comes back to the My Clementine vision about community and making people feel comfortable in their own bodies when shopping vintage fashion. The broader purpose of community building informs how Rochelle moves through this space. Community over competition forever. It makes me question: what would happen if the entire fashion industry adopted the same ethos?
Thank you so much to Rochelle for taking the time to speak to me about the relevant and pressing realities of the Toronto vintage fashion industry and the positioning of plus-sized fashion today. Shop local, shop ethical, and let’s all continue to question what it means to prioritize community moving forward in our world.