Sizing Up the Situation - Women's Adventure Wear
Courage. Determination. Persistence. Resilience. These are all elements that contribute to our ability to climb that mountain, compete in that race, or complete that adventure. They are size-less, shape-less, simmer inside all of us and lead us to engage our limitless potential. We clearly visualise ourselves at that summit or crossing that finish line, sensing what it will feel like to achieve our goal. Yet for many of us, the ability to execute those dreams is limited, if not completely thwarted by an inability to source the required technical clothing in our size.
When you delve into the technical performance clothing environment (and in this context, I am also talking about hiking, climbing, wet weather gear, wetsuits), it would appear that the general consensus is that anyone over a size 18 or so can’t be too adventurous, nor athletic. And if we indeed wanted to be, we could borrow our Dads’ or husbands’ gear.
I loathed snow skiing for this exact reason which is sad because I love the snow, the mountains and the actual RUSH of skiing. However, the trauma of finding and being fitted for gear is all too fresh in my memories. Crowded gear rental stalls teaming and steaming with people sliding effortlessly into their gear and me, all hot and bothered in the corner trying to inhale my men’s XL bib and brace so tight that I couldn’t bend down to try on the larger boot desperately willing these ones to FINALLY fit my calves. Then cue the walk of shame back to the counter to inform the exasperated counter person that they still didn’t fit. The last time I went skiing was in 2004. Things have surely changed since then but I must be honest, there is something stopping me from really testing the theory.
So why is it that in 2017, there is still some size qualification to adventure and performance? Why am I, a hardened triathlete and runner, still hesitant to place myself in a situation where I may still be told ‘sorry we don’t have your size’?
If any of you follow my work or listened to my recent podcast with Emma Chalmers of Rebelology, you will be well aware that I have campaigned in this space for a number of years, working to create an awareness that there is this amazing segment of the athletic market which is not being catered for. It really does seem to bend people’s minds that there would be a person over a size 16 who needs to wear compression tights because it is part of their recovery plan or that they need an all-weather jacket because they are undertaking a five-day hike across Tasmania. Or they need specific pants to wear whilst climbing Mount-bloody Kilimanjaro. There is a segment of us who require specific, technical performance garments in support of our athletic pursuits and we are no longer happy making do with our Dads’ jackets!
My frustration in this area becomes even more evident when it comes to performance swimwear. Depending on which event I am training for, at peak training load periods, I can be covering anywhere up to 7-8km in the pool a week. Some athletes I know, do a hell of a lot more than this as part of their weekly training loads. Spending that much time in the pool means that you become aware of the sort of garment you feel serves you best for the purpose. Low, plunging necklines are not in our interests (hello, drag!), nor are flimsy straps that don’t stay in place or are not literally glued to our collarbones. You want something that is going to be low drag, durable and fast. Google performance swimwear in size 20 and you will hear the internet equivalent of crickets or me rolling my eyes at the items people are assuming is performance swimwear for ‘us’.
When I had a meeting recently with a manufacturer about designing and producing performance swimwear in larger sizes, I learnt that sizing up in women’s gear is apparently more complex than men’s. Because our physical bodies may be wider but our limbs not necessarily longer, this means that basic upsizing in a manufacturing sense would result in us having something that fits us around the middle but is about a foot too long in the arms or the legs. Let's face it, we’ve all had a rash vest that doubled as a dress. To cut a long story short, too much extra design and patternmaking work translates to extra time and extra money. Now, this is only one conversation, so you can imagine I would be ecstatic if someone quashed this theory.
But just because it's harder and more labour intensive, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, right? RIGHT. The landscape of fitness, health, and wellness in Australia is changing, particularly when it comes to women. It is a landscape that is being filled with the rich tapestry of women who have realised that physical fitness is a means of exploring our potential rather than punishing ourselves. We are doing activities that serve us as humans, with many of us returning to our feminine energies and bonding with nature, the Earth and each other. The pictures and stories coming out of all distances of the recent Ultra Trail Australia events are a brilliant demonstration of this shift. And in order to do what serves us, we need specific, technical, performance wear – in ALL sizes.
We are now collectively turning to manufacturers and their brands and saying “you know what? I’m not settling anymore. I am an athlete who undertakes X activities and I require technical garments that support me. And no, Dad’s old XXL rain jacket is not good enough.” Some will come to the party and realise the value of the market segment they are missing. Some won’t. My instincts tell me that their snoozing is their losing on this one. I can sense an influx of trailblazing, fearless females coming forward with their own products specifically tailored to our needs. And their message will be clear: “We got tired of waiting for you, so we did it ourselves.”