For Madyson Lee, 25, and Amanda Bergeron-Manzone, 33, it has always been a challenge to find clothes that fit them and their style. Hunting for clothing that was also affordable, sustainable and ethically-made was even harder.

The duo is working to change that.

Lee and Bergeron-Manzone recently founded Melody and Ralph, an online shop operating as one of the only vintage plus-size clothing stores in the Twin Cities. The two are serving as their own models, curators and marketing team.

Lee talked with the St. Paul Pioneer Press about fashion, sustainability and the power of social media.

Tell me about why you and Amanda wanted to create this shop.

“We both are literally obsessed with thrifting and have so much stuff. There are so many cute Instagram stores online for thrifting, but it’s really hard to find anything that is for plus-size women or fat women in general.

“It’s so great because in Minneapolis we have Cake (Plus-Size Resale), which is awesome. But it’s fun to have something that’s a little bit of a different style. They have a lot of current (on-trend clothing) so we’re focusing on more vintage things and trying to do different collections given the seasons.

“Mostly just because we wanted to shop and have a store that actually caters to people who look like us, and see clothes on women who look like us and bodies that look like ours. It makes a huge difference.”

In the past has it been hard to find clothes that fit you or your style?

“Since the pandemic I’ve definitely gained some weight, and just as I’ve gotten older it has gotten harder for me to shop in standard-size stores. It’s also gotten harder to thrift because a lot of the cute stuff does get snatched up by resellers and by thinner people who want oversized stuff, which is something that I always try to avoid.

“It’s definitely gotten more difficult to shop, but also it’s gotten more difficult to shop trying to keep in mind my carbon footprint and be mindful (of sustainable) brands, because a lot of brands that are (ethically made) don’t cater to plus-sized people. And when they do it’s just, frankly, quite out of my price range, especially as someone who is unemployed in the time of COVID.”

Tell me about the reaction you’ve gotten since you launched the shop.

“It’s been really great. We’ve gotten followers kind of from all over the place, we’ve gotten some people who are interested in us shipping them stuff to the UK — which is awesome — but we’re kind of trying to start focusing on growing like a local following, because I know how hard it is for fat girls and fat non-binary people and fat men to find cute clothes.”

How would you describe your style and where do you like to shop?

“I like to describe my style as kind of eclectic cozy. I like a lot of bright colors, I like a lot of large patterns, but my No. 1 priority is always to just be as comfortable as possible. I don’t ever want to be in anything that’s squeezing me or pinching me, I hate it. So everything flowy, everything cozy. I love to shop at the Salvation Army with the Target basement. It’s amazing, it’s everything that Target doesn’t sell. I love Unique. I do love to shop at Cake. That’s a good (place to) start.”

In fashion there’s definitely a stigma surrounding weight and size. Can you talk to me a little bit about your experience with that? Has the fashion industry supported fat people?

“I feel like we’re in kind of a renaissance for that right now with the fashion industry, I think. There are designers who care about fat people and queer people and non-binary people, and there are a lot of really amazing small indie brands that care about all of those people and care about the environment.

“I think the main thing right now is the accessibility for most people. It’s just so expensive for these well-made, well-curated brands — it’s inaccessible. So that’s why I’m such a thrifter, because like all of the stores that I love, like Girlfriend Collective and Tamara Malas, all of that, like — incredible, I love it. All over my Pinterest and all over my page on Instagram. But it’s not anything that I actually have anything up from. So I’m always trying to find something similar at the thrift store or something that I can throw together that gives off a similar vibe.”

How has social media played a role in this journey, especially your TikTok or Instagram @sweet.madyson?

A page from the Melody and Ralph Instagram

“Social media has been such a huge savior for me in the pandemic. I made a TikTok toward the beginning of it. … I was actually inspired a couple months ago on a really chilly day. I was throwing on a bunch of layers that I thought all was kind of funky and cute together, so I just made a little layering video and that’s basically where I got all of my TikTok followers. And people really seemed to like that, so I started making more of those.

“… I’ve had people send me these really, really sweet messages that literally make me cry. Especially when it’s a 16-year-old girl and she told me that she saw something I was wearing and felt like she could go buy something like that and wear it. Or she felt like she could actually just be. And those always make me cry, I love them so much. That is definitely like the coolest thing to me and I feel like that’s why I’m working on being more genuine and open with how I’m feeling about things and my mental health, because I do get messages when I share body positive content and fat positive content.”

What do you hope is the impact of your shop?

“I’m just hoping to bring more accessibility around clothing. We want to keep all of our prices really low, too, that’s really important to us. Keeping our prices low, keeping our shipping prices low — which is why we would love to get more people in Minneapolis shopping with us because (of) more dropoffs, pickups and all that stuff.

“But our goal is just to show people different ways to style stuff. … I want to show people different ways to layer, different ways to crop stuff, ways to make things work for your body, as opposed to making your body work for things.”

Interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.