For the outdoor industry to claim we’re inclusive, we need to outfit all women.
“It is so hard to find hiking pants that fit in the rear end and thigh areas … not all women hikers are tiny and fit! … We need clothes for all shapes/sizes.” –Allie Elder
“It seems like such a simple solution: Offer clothes in a larger size. For me, it’s a matter of whether or not brands want people in their clothes. The fact that it hasn’t been done in the past is angering. It makes me wonder about the intentions for the entire industry. Be forthright. Admit to your implicit or explicit bias, and then move on. The outdoors is for everybody and no one should be excluded.” –Mirna Valerio
These are just a few of the comments we’ve received from our community over the last five months.
We hear you.
“We are not serving a large number of our customers. We want everyone to get outside, and when we say that, we need to be true to that,” said Trina Fornerette-Ballard, senior merchandising manager at REI.
Earlier this year, through our Force of Nature effort, we made a commitment to provide world-class gear that fits women of all sizes. We went right to the source, our merchandising team, to find where we are in the process and what you can expect in the coming months.
What’s changed so far?
Since Force of Nature launched in May, we have added new styles from Columbia and KUHL. We’ve also been working extensively with our own REI brand and prAna to offer more plus size options in spring of 2018.
“Not only is it the right thing to do for our business, more importantly, it is the right thing to do for our customer. To do it, we have to bring the industry along,” said Helen Stauffer, senior merchandising manager at REI.
In 2015 we reached out to our brand partners to encourage them to offer more sizing options. We explained why it was a good business opportunity. The market data show that the entire outdoor industry is making product for a minority of American consumers, because the majority of Americans wear plus, tall or petite sizes. KUHL and prAna jumped at the opportunity.
“We want more sizes to be a normal part of the assortment. We don’t want to treat extended sizes as though this customer is different. She’s the same customer, she’s doing the same things and she wants to have the same options. She’s not an afterthought,” said Trina.
Our REI Co-op brand designers have also been working on a broader breadth and continuum of sizes for all our activities, in particular: hiking, fitness, travel and lifestyle. Next year we’ll debut one of the most robust assortments available, featuring everything from yoga and fitness pants to casual tees and hiking shirts. Bucking industry trends, REI will offer one price for all sizes. If you don’t wear an extended size, you might not know that it’s common to be charged more. That’s simply not right.
But once we have buy-in from our partners and our internal designers, a host of other issues pop up. “We’re asking our partners to expand their offerings in a time where businesses are shrinking,” Helen explained.
What challenges arise when making clothing for all women?
Making a wide variety of sizes is not simply taking a regular size and making it larger, taller or smaller. For a pair of pants to look the same on a petite-, standard-, tall- and plus-size woman, designers need to create four completely different patterns. For the hem to hit at the same place on the leg, the waist to sit at the right height, the pockets to be big enough and in the correct place, designers are forced to consider different processes and timelines to deliver the same quality enjoyed for years by “standard” sizes.
“It does add SKUs [Stock Keeping Unit, or individual style], which is more for them to manage internally. It requires a whole other block [unique pattern], a whole other set of models. They have to put all the pieces in place to make sure they are executing the products appropriately. And they need to make sure they can invest—there is a large capital investment,” Trina said.
Happily, thanks to a push from consumers, we are seeing brands shift into more sizing options, gender neutral color pallets and design aesthetics that are shifting toward a more nuanced view of the marketplace. “I think now there is a push within the marketplace in general—not just in the outdoors—for an acceptance of others who don’t look like you. You don’t have to be one size, one color, one gender. We are accepting everyone for who they are. The customers’ expectations are changing, and we have to get the assortment to match that if we want broad appeal,” Trina said.
Why does the process take so long?
For technical apparel like outdoor wear, timelines are typically 18 to 20 months so sometimes change feels slow. This is not fast fashion. We also care about quality and our carbon footprint. That means we take extra steps with the fit process and make improvements at the source of manufacturing. “You have to come up with a design, then materials that work for the design, then test it to make sure the design and materials are according to your standards, and then the factories need to line up so they have time to create the quantities you need,” Trina said.
That’s not all. There is a fit process, with two rounds of prototypes to check on a model—along with the changes that need to be made at the factory. And then there are the six to eight weeks of shipping from factory to stores, which is how we ensure the smallest carbon footprint possible. And this entire process is only on time if there are no major issues along the way.
What can you expect in 2018?
The challenges are no excuse not to move faster. That’s why next year there are going to be even more options for all women—plus, tall and petite. In spring, you’ll find plus-sized options in at least one store in each of our major markets (Seattle, Portland, Bloomington, Anchorage, Tustin, Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Atlanta, Boulder, Washington, D.C., with stock on hand at our three distribution centers in Sumner, Bedford and Goodyear), so you don’t have to travel too far to find inventory at a store near you. We know this isn’t enough, but this is a start we are committed to. We’ll continue to expand sizing options for Columbia, KUHL, SheBeast and Terry while adding REI brand clothing and prAna extended sizing options into the mix.
“The future looks like being able to outfit for all in our outdoor activities—not only be comfortable but also have the technical attributes that our customers need. To have the best assortment—not the biggest—so we can fully outfit him and her regardless of their size,” said Helen.
In fall of 2018, more petite and tall sizes will hit markets, too. As always, all of our clothing and gear can be bought online and returned if it doesn’t fit—either online or your closest store.
Next year, when we launch more extended-sizing options, our work isn’t finished. We know there is still lots to be done.
“This is an evolution for us. We are working with our brand partners to evolve with us, and sometimes that takes a little time,” said Trina.
We want you to keep speaking up—louder than ever. Reach out to the brands you care about—let them know what you want. The more the brands hear from customers, the more they hear from us, the faster they’ll make this a priority. Your opinion has already made a big difference.