Through Force of Nature, our public effort to level the playing field for women outdoors, we’ve made a commitment to provide quality gear that fits women of all sizes. It’s been a journey to change the shrink-it-and-pink-it mentality among the outdoor industry over the past few years. “After we launched Force of Nature, we had more and more feedback. We heard loud and clear that we aren’t servicing everyone,” said Michele Orr, general merchandising manager of apparel at REI.
We’ve seen significant progress—among our brand partners and here at the co-op—but we’re certainly not done.
This month, we’ve added 10 new products across all our categories: hiking, fitness, yoga, lifestyle and outerwear. We expanded our extended sizes into three more additional stores, for 17 total (Seattle, Portland, Bloomington, Anchorage, Tustin, Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Atlanta, Boulder, Washington, D.C., Plano, Alderwood and Roseville, with stock on hand at our three distribution centers in Sumner, Bedford and Goodyear). Now, more women can go into a selected store in their market and try on styles, and find a size that actually fits. Of course, you’ll find the widest selection online, which continues to expand each season.
“Our mission [at REI] is to get everyone outside, regardless of your size. Since that is our mission, we should stand behind that in our assortment,” said Trina Fornerette-Ballard, senior category merchandising manager.
Matching our assortment with our values turned out to be trickier than one might think. Unfortunately, we couldn’t just say we wanted to serve people of all sizes and then write orders for plus, tall and petite sizes for the next season. Frankly, the options didn’t exist. Making a wide variety of sizes doesn’t mean scaling up or down a regular size. For a style to look the same on women of all sizes, designers need to create four completely separate patterns, one each for petite, standard, tall and plus. We had to work with our brand partners to make the dream a reality—and we’re still working with our partners to create more options for more women.
Studies show the average American woman wears a size 16 or larger. However, historically only 3 percent of our annual sales have come from extended sizes.
“If we go off of history, it’s not profitable. We can’t look at history—we have to do this now,” Trina said. Michele agreed, noting that “being a co-op allowed us to move into this market more aggressively than if we were making decisions solely based on business performance,” since we’re accountable to our members, not to shareholders.
It’s not always as simple for our partner brands. “There’s a chicken-and-egg thing happening with brands. They wonder, ‘If we make it, will someone buy or sell it?’ Our commitment to more sizes is important for other brands—they know they have a market in us,” said Laura Swapp, director of experience marketing and “for all” strategy.
Trina has been on a mission to help brands offer women who wear plus sizes the same styles as women who wear traditional sizes. She not only puts the orders in for apparel, but pushes brands to offer more of what she wants to buy for upcoming seasons—and she’s been working to get women more stylish plus-size options, instead of the basics that are normally provided. Today, as more and more extended sizes become available at REI, you’re seeing her hard work. “We really do give a damn. That’s why I’m here. It aligns with my values and who I am at my core. We are walking that talk,” Trina said.
We have taken this to heart, and you’ll see the largest number of new extended sizing options from the REI Co-op brand. “One of the things we are most excited about in our own brand are technical jackets. You can’t find that many for plus women, especially made of GORE-TEX,” Michele said.
Trina is “excited about all of it—this has been my baby and it’s coming to life. The REI Co-op Screeline Hike Tights [are cool tights] with style. The KUHL Spire is a cleaned up, modern take on a hiking pant. And our plus-size styles in the REI Co-op Fitness collection are amazing.”
Beyond the apparel, our commitment to offering less labels and more sizes is also about representation. Those who don’t fit into “traditional” perceptions of outdoors women don’t often see themselves in the narrative of women outside. We are helping change that. “Bringing this conversation to the forefront acknowledges the challenges and the hope, the pain and the frustration for women who just want a pair of hiking pants. The hoops women are jumping through are a testament to how much they want to be outside,” Laura said.
You should expect (and hold us to) an evolving selection of apparel and gear for all women. In our storytelling, you should expect more representation of women of all sizes. And you should expect more brands to join us.
The work is far from over. Keep speaking up by commenting on this blog, social media and writing to your favorite companies. Your voice is making change happen.