beth ditto: queen of the counter-culture and the size-doesn’t-matter movement
The model, muse, singer, songwriter, and LGBGTQ-rooting feminist discusses her new, ethical, plus size collection.
The omnipotent, omnipresent, outspoken, punk-rock popstar, LGBGTQ-rooting feminist, model, muse, singer, songwriter, crochet fan, and all round counter-culture dominator, Arkansas-born Beth Ditto has added another feather to her cap in the form of a capsule collection called (obviously) The Beth Ditto Collection. Made in America from ethically sourced fabric, the collection is aimed at women, who, much like Beth, have been marginalized from fashion due to their size. It's the latest step in a career that began with her fronting the era-defining Gossip -- a band whose individual brand of punk touches on disco and hip-hop as much as it does lo-fi punk attitude. But Beth is a style icon in her own right -- having walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs and featured on the cover of LOVE (she was naked, but it still counts) and has had her own line of MAC make-up (feline black flicks are ever present on her lids). It's a far cry from her beginnings -- born and raised in a small town in the Deep South, she had only two years of MTV to seep into her conscious before they stopped broadcasting it to her (dry) county. After discovering the Riot Grrrl movement, and moving to Olympia in Washington state, her career in music began with a support slot for Sleater-Kinney in 1999. And thank god for that, because frankly, the world needs her.
Why release your own collection now?
I've always wanted to start my own thing. I wanted everything on my terms and to start from the ground up. So I borrowed money here and there, pulled together what money I had, and my friend/manager pulled hers together and we just dove straight in! I had worked with Evans before doing two capsule collections. It was great for the most part. But the ethics were questionable and it weighed heavily with me, and still does. So I promised myself that when I could do it, I would do it the very best I could. That means ethical and with quality, shape, and big bodies at the forefront.
As a public figure, doing something like this can really make you connect to people. Do people message you on social media? Do you feel like you've had an impact?
I do somewhat. I try to listen to the constructive criticism, you know, opinions with substance and helpful information even if it isn't what I'd hoped to hear. I value the feedback a lot. It was more than fulfilling to see how excited people were. It makes me realize I'm a part of this big community that wasn't so easy to connect to before the internet, and that community is, for the most part, overwhelmingly supportive.
You launched it here in London.
Yes! London speaks to me and has for so long. The city brings joy to me on a level I can't convey. I feel understood here.
How did you design the clothes? Was it an easy process?
It was easy drawing them and recreating pieces for my kind of body. What's hard is the business side. Thank heavens I'm removed from that.
What can't you stop rocking right now from your own wardrobe?
I love my creepers and my Christies wool hat. I also have a denim jacket that I cannot go anywhere without. It's from Target. Cheap as hell but fits like a glove. Fleece tights this winter were a game changer. Basically put all those things together and that's been my outfit for the last four months.
Did you dig through your own wardrobe for inspiration for your collection?
I always see things that make me feel inspired. Kristin, my wife, has said to me many times, "You think everything is pretty!" And I kind of do. Having that kind of brain makes me constantly see the world in a way that is more beautiful. For the most part I don't like blanket statements because in the right context I'll only contradict myself. I love charity shops, second hand stores, and fabric shops.
Early on in the your career with Gossip, it was well known that you'd make your own clothes for videos -- not having any money drives you to be resourceful. Do you think that has affected how you live your life now?
There isn't one single day that I don't think of where I've been and that forces me to make damn sure I know where I'm going. Not that I have exact plans other than to keep going forward. It's an incredible motivator -- trailers, tornadoes, and small town, small-minded America. I embrace my past and my body the best I can. Embracing your otherness makes you create your own world. Giving you the basics you need to thrive. Creativity and craftiness, art, sense of humor, anger, empowerment. All of that come from otherness. And that combination is a recipe for movement once you accept, nurture, and embrace it.
Do you still feel like a pillar of the sub-culture community or do you feel like you've poked a toe into the mainstream?
I definitely feel part of the subculture. Basically I'm so normal it's weird. I have dipped my toe into the mainstream more than once and still it is a capitalist, man-made game that I'm not the best at playing. I'm fortunate; I enjoy people and challenges, because I don't know if all personality types could go between them. I'm an extrovert southern Pisces. It's helpful.
How important is it to you that counter-culture still exists?
The counter-culture keeps humanity afloat in the mundane cookie cutter daily grind. The underground shapes every single part of life. It gives a home to the weirdos. The awkward, the misunderstood, the outrageous, dreamers, and far-out minds. Eventually the normal world will absorb and morph into the counter-culture, but by then counter-culture has shape-shifted 1000 times already. Anything that determines the state of popular culture is oh so powerful.
Do you think people's mentality has changed towards plus sized people and do you think you've added to that?
Definitely. For the most part what I have seen is that big people have changed how they feel about being big. And that is what will ultimately force the world to open their eyes. I am living for Instagram at the moment. Seeing fat people living normal healthy lives. It's the biggest fuck you to the idea that we can't be anything but sad, lazy, self loathing, unhealthy, socially inept, sexless, members of society. It's so empowering to see 200+ pound people leading yoga classes and going to personal trainers, making their own clothes, sharing ideas and stories, and all for the name of self love and health. For no other reason than just to be healthy, happy, and a part of something. The internet is so rad because like so many other mediums, we are all becoming our own fashion/lifestyle magazines. We won't wait for you to come to us... We will just go to each other and it will be its own thing all together. I don't know how I've added to the movement so much. But I will say, there were amazing people before me, amazing people now, and more to come who share my experience. At the beginning of my accidental career it was definitely a lonely place. I'm so happy to feel like I'm not the only one anymore. We might be big and fat, but there's plenty of growing room, no matter what amount of space you claim.
Photography Clare Shilland
Styling Bojana Kozarevic
Text Hanna Hanra
Hair Lyndell Mansfield at CLM Hair & Make-up using Pureology
Make-up Andrew Gallimore at CLM Hair & Make-up using NARS Cosmentics
Nail technician Sophy Robson at Streeters
Photography assistance Rory Cole
Styling assistance Ryan Peterson
Hair assistance Benjamin David
Make-up assistance Ana Fry
Location Recession Studios
Beth wears all clothing The Beth Ditto Collection. Earrings Versace.