We’re Still Not Done Advocating For Inclusive Sizing

Last week, plus size social media influencer Marielle Williams penned a piece for The Cut, “Apparently, I’m Too Fat to Ski.” My response was, “homegirl, preach” since my work experience in women’s apparel has made it painfully obvious when brands are biased against plus size potential customers. (If you haven’t read the low down of the differences and slight challenges between straight sizes and plus sizes, hit it up here first). But the ski community’s take on the piece was a little less supportive – not outright mean, but served with a heavy-handed dismissiveness.

The most common comments centered around 3 narratives:

  1. What about (short people or tall people)? Poster proceeds to speak to the struggles of shopping as a 5’8” man.
  2. Poster notes that they know one plus size woman who was satisfied with one of the 4-5 options of snow pants on the market for larger women, makes do with something from the men’s department, or (my personal favorite) she doesn’t need anything more than a pair of jeans coated with Scotchgard.
  3. If it really made sense for the business financially, brands would do it. The fact that they’re not offering those products means it’s very likely that it would be a poor choice for their bottom line.

And all of those statements have made me realize that it’s time to share a little story with the outdoor community, who has blissfully been living under a rock for the past decade about what’s going on in the apparel world.

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, plus size apparel was treated as a completely separate product group from “women’s,” with a design aesthetic centered on boring, high coverage basics that were hidden in the far corners of department stores. Then we were blessed with the internet, which did 2 things. First, it freed us from department store layouts that were built in the 1960s and were no longer optimized for the American woman. With an endless aisle, brands were able to test styles in ways that were less committing than filling racks across hundreds or thousands of stores. But more importantly, it created a platform to connect plus size women. Fat women were yearning for options that were more interesting options and were quick to build blogs and start Instagram pages dedicated to unique finds and creative pairings. Influencers racked up hundreds of thousands of followers, the plus size hashtags had hits in the millions and retailers suddenly had easily accessed data points that informed them exactly who their plus size customer was and what she wanted. (Spoiler, it lined up perfectly with what these women had been asking for for years).

Plus is growing at three times the rate of the rest of the apparel market and almost every corner of the apparel industry is trying to make a buck in the plus size market these days. Influencer Gabi Gregg kicked off the #fatkini movement, the swim industry jumped at the chance to make sexier swimwear in plus. Plus is rapidly growing in the wedding market. It’s driving growth in wide width shoes. It’s impacting Walmart & Target mass market pricing, and it’s impacting luxury. Even the most devoted champions of the skinny aesthetic, like J. Crew, Nike, Barbie, and NY Fashion Week are all adjusting to acknowledge that women, and more specifically, aspirational women, come in all shapes and sizes. And even when brands don’t carry extended sizing, they’re still buying into the trend by dressing out some size 12-14 models and pretending that that they’re inclusive. (It’s a move I like to call Pulling an Aerie).

Technical apparel is truly the last frontier, which is somewhat forgivable given the cost of garments and intricacy of the technical design process. But the apathy or downright resistance from brands and the overall outdoor community is not. And with that, I have a few thoughts for all the plus size resisters out there:

 

  1. What about (short people or tall people)? Poster proceeds to speak to the struggles of shopping as a 5’8” man.

I’m hoping that, as the US diversifies, the outdoor industry will as well. It needs to in order to maintain public lands funding and protection. And that diversity is going to bring with it a diversity of sizes and body types, increasing the need for plus, big & tall, petite, and longer sizes, as well as adaptive clothing options. Short men need more choices.

But when you only advocate for better options (1) for yourself and (2) only whenever the conversation centers on plus sizing for women, it reads more like this: “not until the outdoor industry serves me better first.” In that case, let me remind you that plus size women wrote the fashion blogs, documented and shared their outfits (on platforms with little protection from bullying or harassment), came through with the follows and likes, built the direct-to-customer startups, and paid over market value to buy from newer brands that didn’t have economies of scale but were dedicated to providing options for larger women. So until you’ve amassed a significant following on your fashion Tumblr dedicated to hot looks with your 28” inseam pleated khakis, you’re much better off joining forces with the rest of the inclusive apparel movement.

  1. Poster notes that they know one plus size woman who was satisfied with one of the 4-5 options of snow pants on the market for larger women, makes do with something from the men’s department, or (my personal favorite) she doesn’t need anything more than a pair of jeans coated with Scotchgard.

I have seen some wildly specific requests from straight-sized skiers, particularly men. They’re along the lines of “removable hood, pit zips, ultra-breathable membrane but more waterproof than Neoshell, bright color options, not a freestyle/park rat fit, soft and stretchy fabric.” Yet we’re saying that plus size women are much too picky because they’re not satisfied with a pair of heavily insulated, barely water resistant $40 snow pants by Arctix. Or jeans.

  1. If it really made sense for the business financially, brands would do it. The fact that they’re not offering those products means it’s very likely that it would be a poor choice for their bottom line.

Apparently people haven’t kept up with Victoria’s Secret. Working in women’s intimates, I love VS. They’re hemorrhaging market share, the solution is blatantly obvious, but they’re zealously dedicated to rejecting customers. Financial coverage sensed trouble brewing for the brand as early as 2015, when L Brands stock was at its peak. Yet 5 years later, the brand is doubling down on thin, cis, white models, justified with quips like “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy” or “Nobody goes to a plastic surgeon and says, ‘Make me fat.’”

But sure, keep positing that the only reason brands reject plus size extensions is because it’s good for the bottom line.

However, one silver lining coming out of the VS debacle is a wonderful example of how to handle bullshit for customers and industry insiders. After their executive’s comment declining to hire plus size or trans models because the show is “a fantasy,” everyone told them to fuck off: LGBTQ+ activists, body positive activists, major fashion magazines, their own models, competing brands. The exec apologized, later stepped down, and within a few months, VS hired both a plus size and trans model as faces of the brand.

In comparison, it reflects pretty poorly on the outdoor community and gear journalism that we’ve been rather apathetic to the issues of inclusive sizing. We got over a thousand articles regurgitating The North Face’s PR packet with the launch of Futurelight. The membrane doesn’t differ that much from Polartec NeoShell or Outdoor Research Ascentshell, shouldn’t come with price increases over outgoing GoreTex models (due to high licensing fees for GTX), and the brand prohibited any sort of lab-based, data-backed testing to give any sort of credence to the hype. Meanwhile, Kari Traa has increased their sizes to 4X to absolutely zero media coverage. Marmot prompted only a single article of coverage with the announcement that their Spring/Summer 2020 collection will feature a small capsule of plus styles with more (and men’s Big & Tall) in the works for Fall. Mountain Hardwear’s confirmed size extensions have only been announced in my Instagram DMs. And beyond plus sizing, The North Face added short & tall inseams for all but two models of pants – in all colors, not just a limited supply of black (so for our short friend asking “What about me?” I think you’re a terrible person, but I’m glad you have more options). The customer never gets the chance to buy these items if they don’t know that they’re there. So I’m going to leave you with a little press release of my own:

Today, a brand added a small collection of technical garments for women. This single innovation of building clothes in more sizes more than doubles accessibility of the (ski slopes, hiking trails, climbing crags) for women in the US, as the majority wear a size 14 or larger. The announcement comes after a decade-long endeavor by the company to acknowledge that plus size women are active, need appropriate gear, and give a shit enough about it to hire a plus size fit model and qualified tech designer. The advancement brings the total technical ski jacket count for plus size women to 6, narrowing the gap between the 197 styles of varying cuts, membranes, and fabrics available to straight sizes women. Investors expect sales in Scotchgard to take a dramatic decline following today’s announcement.

 

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