Ever since I wrote my piece on how Montec is fast fashion, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about another “Instagram brand.” What’s the deal with Halfdays?
I wish I could say for sure.
Halfdays really attempts to combine values that don’t normally sit together. Fashion and inclusivity. Fashion and sustainability. Snowsports and approachability. Snowsports and inclusion.
The best brands and products come from tension. Visionaries wade into customer pain points and frustrations and see a way to re-draw the lines so that disparate needs come together harmoniously. Halfdays attempt to do so is unsatisfying. It reminds me a lot of the reviews for the film Don’t Worry Darling: it lacks new ideas of its own and is mostly muddled rehash of overly familiar themes.
And it’s a shame because the women who have messaged me want to like it, as it’s women owned, but there’s not a lot to fall in love with.
Is it fashion?
As I was browsing Halfdays’s site, one image stood out to me. It was a customer generated email from the reviews. The reviewer stood smiling in a primary blue ski coat and black pants and she reminded me of my brother. Eight years ago, he picked up a primary blue jacket and black pants from L.L. Bean. It’s a classic, timeless combo, and even though he’s an occasional skier, the aesthetics will outlive the fabric. He looks great. But it’d be a stretch to call his kit “fashionable.”
That’s when it dawned on me that the vast majority of Halfdays’s items were core basics, often in core, basic colors, that already existed in mainstream outdoor brands – the same brands Halfdays accuses of being dull and making non-functional apparel for women. And to make their assortment less impressive, their products tend to cost much more money for the same or less expensive materials. Here’s a little smattering of the haute couture:
It’s *fAsHiOn FoRwArD* – and you could get any of these five alternative merino beanies for half the price or more.
Here’s the Halfdays Tabei Parka vs. the Outdoor Research Coze Jacket. Both use recycled nylon face fabric. The Halfdays jacket uses the cheapest of 3 recycled synthetic insulations from Primaloft (Black Eco). The OR Coze uses 700-fill down, I’d say medium-high on the quality & cost spectrum. But despite using cheaper components, the Halfdays jacket somehow costs $95 and 30%+ more than Outdoor Research’s jacket. And where is the fashion aesthetic to justify this?
This is the Halfdays Lawrence ($365) vs. the L.L. Bean Primaloft Packaway Jacket ($249). The Packaway uses the highest quality of PrimaLoft’s three synthetic insulations with Primaloft Gold. The Lawrence uses the budget material with PrimaLoft Black. Halfdays uses polyester (albeit recycled), while Bean uses nylon, which has a higher strength-to-weight ratio and higher cost.
Halfdays Emma Softshell ($275) vs. Helly Hansen Bellissimo 2 ($200). Both similar nylon / spandex blends.
Halfdays Georgie Puffer ($495) vs. Marmot Slingshot ($325). The Georgie uses a recycled nylon fabric and recycled polyfill insulation. The Slingshot uses a lower cost recycled polyester face fabric but traceable 700 fill power down. Responsible down will always be a much bigger upcharge.
There are two silhouettes that I think serve *some* fashion: the Astin Jacket and Isabel Softshell Bib. Otherwise, the fashion vibes seem to be coming from other brands’ accessories that were brought in for shoots, like this purple fuzzy bucket hat or these oversized earmuffs. The goods they’re actually selling lack that same level of creativity. The styles lack the visual interest and artistry of Goldbergh, Free People Movement, Perfect Moment, Sweaty Betty, and Bogner. And while I personally believe snow gear doesn’t get enough wear to justify the consumption impacts of infusing fashion and trend, there’s a market for it, and I think they’re going to gravitate towards brands that make them look less like my brother.
Is the brand inclusive?
In a way, yes. They make up to a size 2X and their studio models cover a wide variety of sizes and shapes. But then their Instagram doesn’t match the vibe. There are 867 posts and I counted 12 posts with women that I’d estimate wear a Large or larger. Most were repeated shots of the same woman in avocado green base layers. If they were part of a post carousel, they were usually positioned towards the end. Thinness dominates the page, as do European features and hair textures. The Black women with protective styles on their website don’t carry over into organic social, where they’re doing their brand storytelling and creating first impressions with potential customers.
The product price-points and travel guides speak strongly to privilege. The resorts that have Halfday guides are all for large, destination resorts (Aspen, Sun Valley, Zermatt). Their hotel recommendations get expensive – quotes just under $400 per night in their guides that cost up to $1,600 per night to book a few weeks in advance. “Go to this lunch spot with $125 bottles of champagne. Get dinner at this spot with $50 entrees.”
This feels like a poignant time to mention that Halfdays co-founder is Karelle Golda, wife of Christopher Golda, the founder and managing partner of Rogue Capital. Rogue invests in early-stage startups. Rogue also backs Halfdays, one of several VC firms. Before Rogue, Christopher was an entrepreneur with a software company that was acquired by Twitter in 2011, during the platform’s peak. Karelle herself is listed as an individual angel investor, putting over half a million into a flower delivery startup.
This is where I see the biggest unraveling in the Halfdays brand story. They say they’re making skiing more approachable and inclusive, but for whom? Well off, thin, able-bodied White women? A place for us already exists in skiing. It may not have equality with men, but we can count on being able to find ski partners or getting gear and service to meet most of our needs. And if anything, ski culture encourages women to adopt the casual, not-hardcore “Halfdays” approach to skiing. That’s why the term “girlfriend skiing” has meaning. That’s why the women’s market sells an insane number of ~88mm width all mountain skis. That’s why contest prize money is lower for women.
On contrast, when I think about feminism in snowsports, there are a bunch of challenges that Halfdays doesn’t address to make the sport more approachable nor more inclusive. The pain points I hear from women are: gear and opportunity for highly capable, competitive women. Participation and comeback for women who are expecting, postpartum, nursing, and parenting kids under ski-school age. Out-of-reach price points for even middle-class women. Affinity groups that create community for marginalized groups, particularly BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and women with disabilities. Cultural expectations around parenting and utilizing PTO that keeps women from having time to ski. Gear that fits women well, especially above an XL. Most men fall within the “standard” size chart. Most women do not. And more so than men, race, age, and disability status have a much bigger influence on whether a woman will need extended sizing. Halfdays offers no disruption to those norms nor offers any innovative solutions.
Are the products inclusive?
As I mentioned, Halfdays offers up to a size 2X, which is more inclusive than the average brand. But there’s a difference between these brands being done and being done well. And when you look at the models on their site, it becomes really obvious that the garments were optimized for small bodies and then enlarged willy-nilly to fit everyone else.
For example, take the Isabel Soft Shell Bib. They have two models, one in an Extra Small and the other in a Large. I’ve marked them both below with red for the bottom of the v-neck and the accentuated waist seam. In yellow, I have the silhouette of the straps and the pant traced out.
For the Extra Small model, the V bottoms out well underneath her bust. The straps angle in towards her waist and the visual lines fan out at the hips to create that 70’s slim-and-flared shape.
For the size Large model, the straps drop either straight down or flare slightly out. They’re not achieving the same aesthetic that they do in the smaller size, and it’s no fault of the model. She’s got an hourglass shape, but the patterning hides it. The bottom of the V-neck also sits a little higher than her bust line. Not only does this cut her body in an unusual spot, but it also doesn’t look very comfortable or functional. In the picture below, you can see that the high zipper and narrow bib don’t allow both titties to hang out in the bib together. And I see this in several places throughout their assortment where hourglass-emphasizing design details just don’t hit the right places. And while some of those details are just for aesthetics, 1) the brand is positioned on fashion and aesthetics, and 2) some of those details also impact comfort and functionality.
Are they sustainable?
Halfdays uses a fair number of recycled synthetics. I know, so does Old Navy and Walmart and H&M, but as a percentage of styles, Halfdays comes out ahead of the bar.
But there are also some gaffes that signal they’re trying their best to be sustainable without a sustainability expert in the room. Some of their attempts to put sustainability front and center start to become non-compliant with retail regulations.
For example, take the Nellie Puffer’s fabric description:
All advertising, catalogs, and websites are instructed to keep fabric content in descending order by percentage. Customers are accustomed to this standard, so pulling recycled nylon to the front of the fabric list means that a customer is more likely to take a quick glance and mistakenly assume the majority of the fabric is recycled.
We also see this in the Fay and Hallie Merino base layers where wool is listed at the front of the line despite viscose comprising 2/3 of the fabric content. (Naming the garment “Fay Merino Top” does not violate regulations, but customers in the reviews are not particularly pleased with the choice).
So in advertising, they start calling the Fay and Hallie the “Merino Bamboo” base layers. This isn’t compliant either. Viscose and Bamboo are not the same things. “True” bamboo fabric looks and feels a lot like burlap. But it can be made into semi-synthetic fabrics (viscose, modal, lyocell, rayon) that are soft and luxurious. Wood products – bamboo, beech trees, etc. – get dissolved in sodium hydroxide and become cellulose. When wood breaks down into cellulose, there is no way to determine what species of wood the material comes from. Cellose then gets pumped into thin strings and spun into yarn. For some fabrics, like lyocell, the sodium hydroxide is captured and reused in a close-loop process. In viscose, it is hazardous waste that has to be disposed.
The FTC has fined a lot of major retailers for marketing products as bamboo instead of viscose since it misleads the customer as to how natural and sustainable those products really are.
Halfdays also markets the Fay and Hallie pieces as anti-bacterial. Both “pure” bamboo and merino wool are inhospitable places for odor-causing bacteria to grow, so they resist odors better than polyester or nylon. But in order to use the claim “antimicrobial,” it has to be a registered pesticide with the EPA with proven effectiveness. And even registered treatments like Polygiene or Silvadur that are used for aesthetic purposes need to be clear that they target odors and do not offer any sort of sanitation or hygiene benefits since they’re only tested under “nonpublic-health antimicrobial pesticide” protocols where the standards are lower.
And lastly, their Hayes Neckwarmer has 50% acrylic. Acrylic is pretty dirty as a chemical. Acrylonitrile is one of the chemical precursors to acrylic, and it has the highest rating for health hazard that exists on the NFPA 704 “safety square.” Garment workers who work regularly with acrylic and acrylonitrile have elevated cancer risk compared to general population. (Those garment workers tend to be women, so it feels disingenuous to champion women while supporting an industry that’s unsafe and unhealthy for them). And unlike polyester and nylon, it’s relatively impossible to source from recycled materials and almost impossible to recycle at end of life. And it tends to pill and fray quite easily – there’s a reason Halfdays needed an anti-pilling treatment for the Hayes. Brands that I’ve worked for generally nix acrylic as part of the first step in sustainability clean up. Other fibers hold up better, can come from a recycled materials, or biodegrade at end of life.
Overall, Halfdays has a valiant goal to make skiing better for women. We need that. There’s still work to do. But unlike Coalition Snow, Roxy, Skida, Wild Rye, and Nobody’s Princess, they’re not fixing any problems or supporting any organizations that will change women’s participation in the sport. Small, women-owned brands sometimes come with an upcharge since, at the beginning, they lack economies of scale. That’s an upcharge I’m usually willing to pay because I’m bought in to their work and their vision. With Halfdays, that upcharge is going to founders who have strong financial resources and who seem to want to make skiing a little bit more fashionable for young, pretty, well-off White women.
One thought on “Halfdays and a Half-Effort at Elevating Women in Snowsports”
I’m an advanced beginner skier and will admit, I upgraded from my Eddie Bauer ski jacket to the Halfdays Lawrence Jacket mainly on aesthetics. But you do get something for your money! I got the matte sage green color which I rarely see in other ski brands, certainly not the mainstays like LL Bean and Eddie Bauer (I first ordered/returned a similar color Helly Hansen jacket which was more expensive than Halfdays and the sleeves were ridiculously long). And at least on my straight-sized body, the Lawrence jacket was more flattering and more comfortable than my old Eddie Bauer double-layer ski jacket set.
I haven’t tried their other styles, and I’m similarly skeptical of the “merino” base layers given the low percentage of actual wool. But I’m a fan of the Lawrence Jacket.