In 2017, REI launched Force of Nature, a public effort to promote gender equity in the outdoors. As part of the initiative, the co-op committed to expanding its selection of quality apparel and gear for women of all sizes—who are already getting outside, just without the products they need. Historically, many outdoor apparel and gear manufacturers have not offered extended sizing—and, because of this, many women across the size spectrum felt they were not welcome in the outdoors. Over the past few years, REI has been working within the co-op and with brand partners to offer more sizes for more women, and this year the co-op is growing the number of its stores with extended sizing, the number styles of available and the number of events held for women of all sizes.
“We believe outside is for everybody,” said Amy Erikson, assistant category merchant for women’s apparel at REI. “It’s for all women, including those who want short, tall, plus and traditional sizes. You can’t put a label on who gets or deserves to be outside.”
Although the outdoor industry still has progress to make, companies and organizations have made headway since 2017. Last year, REI doubled its sales of apparel in extended sizes, proving to the industry that customers are excited by these offerings. At six stores across the country, the co-op also held trunk shows—events that offered women the opportunity to ask designers and brands questions, hear from influencers about their personal journeys in the outdoors, try on clothes and provide feedback—that were so popular they were standing-room only.
As the REI merchandising and experiences teams were planning for 2019, that feedback from the trunk shows, along with comments from store customers and the help center was imperative. “In general women want a better fit,” Erikson said. “And then having newness and colors and patterns that are fun and exciting, rather than taking what we have in traditional sizes and offering it in black in extended sizes.”
Not only that, but women told REI they wanted extended sizes available in a store near them, so they could make sure styles fit before purchasing. Taking that feedback to heart, this year the co-op will offer extended sizing options in 21 stores, up from 16 in 2018. If a store isn’t nearby, head to REI.com to find the co-op’s widest selection of gear and apparel for plus sizes (1X – 3X, 16W – 24W), petite sizes (XS – XL, 0 – 18), tall sizes (XS – XL, 0 – 18) and wide shoe sizes (5 – 12). These offerings will continue to grow each season. REI also offers free shipping on orders over $50, and easy in-store returns.
REI is also increasing the clothing choices for core activities like hiking, swimming, running and yoga by 50 percent this year. “We want to make sure women can find everything they need to go outside,” Erikson said. “Do women have everything there that they’d want? Do they have the technical gear they’d need?”
Expanding the assortment of clothing for all women has come with its challenges. In 2017, when Force of Nature launched, REI merchants couldn’t just write orders for plus, tall and petite sizes for the next season because at the time, very few brands were creating outdoor clothing and gear in these sizes. It takes time to balance the science and art needed to create products that truly fit every active woman; designers need to work with developers to create blocks, or patterns, that take into consideration the nuances of the human body. “A component of this is that product development is a long and thorough process that takes months from ideation to execution. We’re learning as we go, and we want to do the right thing—not the fast thing,” said Michele Orr, general merchandising manager of apparel at REI.
In addition to reaching out to brand partners to encourage them to offer more sizing options, REI Co-op brand designers have also created apparel for more women. Orr says that by harnessing members’ feedback, the co-op team has been able to implement change a lot faster than some brand partners. “Working side by side with our REI Co-op brand designers and developers, we’ve created a highly desirable extended size collection. As a team, we’ve been making huge strides and meeting the customer’s needs in multiple activities,” Orr said.
Orr and Erikson acknowledge the work is far from over but encourage the community to be a part of the solution. “Keep sending feedback, because we do listen and we want to make sure that we’re doing it right,” Erikson said.
Read more about our goal to offer more styles for more women:
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