Victoria-based company strives for sustainability, body-inclusivity
Underwear: everyone wears it, but how much time do we really spend thinking about it? Less than we probably should.
The fast-fashion industry is abominable – and this should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Incredibly low wages and work conditions that violate human rights, astronomical amounts of textile waste, and environmental pollution are easily hidden by North America’s tendency to outsource our clothing production to other countries. For most of us, what we can’t see simply doesn’t happen, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to go on a fast fashion website and click add to cart without any consideration into what our few dollars really just bought.
I’m guilty of it. In fact, I’m sure we’re all guilty of it. Though it’s a point of pride for me to thrift almost exclusively (I would say I thrift 90 per cent of my clothes), the reality is, as a plus-sized person, sometimes it’s hard for me to find clothes I like that fit and are sustainable. Underwear is probably the most wasteful industry of fast fashion because you can’t thrift or recycle it when you’re done wearing it – or I suppose you can, but rather I’d really, really, encourage you not to.
This is an issue Elyse Mathes, owner/operator of Elyse on Mars,is trying to combat. With this in mind, Mathes has created a sustainable underwear company, where most of her fabrics are repurposed (see her to die for “Patchy Boy” style) and garments are priced to ensure a living wage.
Mathes has “always been really into sewing,” and now, she can’t stop. No really, I could hear the whir and rumble of her sewing machine as we chatted (“I just can’t take a break!” she passionately exclaims). Her interest started in high school fashions class. From there, she knew she wanted to have her own business at some point. She started with a “little vintage store online through Etsy” that was fun, but not quite like what she got out of sewing.
Mathes studied journalism at the University of Victoria – but unfortunately, found her program wasn’t a match. She persevered, and loved Victoria itself, saying she “came for school and never left,” but her heart was elsewhere – starting her own business. She felt she simply had to “just give it a try,” and Elyse on Mars was born!
Sometimes you just gotta lay on the ground in your underwear surrounded by cherries, right?
When asked about her mission, Mathes says she’s “torn between what is the most important,” and that “three different factors” affect her brand; what she calls “a trifecta of purpose.” First is “creating slow fashion” which, for Mathes, means “sustainable products, [using] recycled materials, creating something with my own two hands.” Additionally, she really wants to “draw attention” to these aspects of fast fashion and point out “that it’s not really the best thing for people to be doing.”
Second, she really wanted to “revolt against the conventional beauty standards.” Mathes really dislikes society driven messages that “I have to be the size of the toothpick, my boobs have to be DD, and my hair has to be blonde and curly, and my lips have to be fake.” She argues that “all those things are fine, but it’s so unfair to think that we have to have that to be photographed and feel sexy in our underwear.”
These unrealistic standards are still widely encouraged in the lingerie industry. Mathes points out that “if you go right now to LaSenza or La Vie En Rose, like if you go to their Instagram pages, nothing has changed. They still have that standard of beauty and it’s unwavering. It’s so depressing […] You just think that like; we were kind of past that maybe? That we were growing as a civilization. But it makes me remember how important it is just to be putting that message of like, your body is beautiful because it’s your body. It’s the only thing that matters, that it’s yours.”
I mentioned that her company’s size inclusivity means a lot to me as someone who can’t shop in such mainstream stores. This is a big part of her mission, and she “loves getting messages from really thick babes who just want a custom fit.” Her website encourages those who don’t see their size represented to email her so she can make them their perfect fit. As a result, Mathes has “formed some really beautiful relationships with some people because their bodies aren’t like, mainstream.” She punctuates the word mainstream with questioning and disdain, and adds that that idea of having a set body type as standard “is fucked to think about.” Moreover, she says “those relationships are so special, where people are like ‘wow, thank you for making a 9XL. Like, God forbid I have a booty!’”
Mathes’ products aren’t gendered, but I did happen to notice that as of now, she currently doesn’t include any masculine styles. She says she “gets the question of masculine styles a lot,” and it’s not that she doesn’t want to include them, but that she actually finds the “production of masculine styles [kind of] boring.” Further, she says that that’s “the third part of the trifecta”: the brand is her “creative baby” and “love language.” Honestly, she only wants to make things that are fun for her to make! It’s not out of the question, but for now, Mathes says, “I just have too many like, fun ideas in my head, that I need to [pursue first.]”
Mathes is currently doing all the work herself. “Right now, it’s a one-man band, just me and my sewing machine,” she says. She would be interested in hiring someone “soon,” but there’s a lot of logistics, and, as Mathes explains, “it’s hard to share your baby.” It’d be nice to have help, but she’s stuck with deciding if she wants someone with a similar creative vision to share her business with, “or someone that can just run a sewing machine.”
Her sales mainly happen online at her site elyseonmars.com, but she is also featured in-store in Victoria at her friend Eryn’s “beautiful local based boutique” Luna Collective. Though the company is a so-called “one man band,” Elyse has collaborated not only with Eryn at Luna Collective, but also a wide range of models and photographers to execute her fantastical artistic visions, though the photo featured with this article was snapped by Mathes herself.