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The outdoor industry has, to date, done a terrible job of catering to bigger bodies. It’s extremely disappointing when 68% of American women wear sizes 14+ but less than 20% of outdoor apparel is made in plus sizes. 

This is the second in a two-part series about the lack of sufficient supply of plus size outdoor apparel in stores, and what’s being done to correct this deficiency. Read Part One here, where I break down the current state of affairs.

For today, some real talk: we can fix this problem, but it will cost far more than folks have been willing to spend so far.

Making outdoor apparel for bigger bodies is expensive - and risky

Between brands, retailers, and customers, it takes time, money, and emotional labor to get outdoor apparel for bigger bodies right. Brands have to develop the skill to create great products that actually fit properly. Retailers have to carry those products in stores to build trust with the customer, because if it’s not there in the first place, the customer will never buy it from them. And the customer needs to go into stores not only to ask for what they want, but also to follow up and try the products that come in (if and when they do).

No one’s going to get it right on the first go - and as an ecosystem we need to be patient for it to work out. On average it takes one to two years to develop products and get them into the hands of customers. Even a relatively simple change to an existing product takes 6-12 months to develop when done in a sustainable fashion.

The financial risk for everyone involved is no joke, either: brands have to spend the money to fix their mistakes, retailers have to take the hit when new products don’t sell through, and customers have to invest in the companies that are trying, even when it’s not perfect.

And finally, changing hearts and minds in an environment that would rather pretend everything is fine takes an emotional toll on all of us. Making products to invite more folks to enjoy nature is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t always align with immediate improvements to the top line. Even amongst our own community, it can be brutally difficult to push back against folks who see the beginning of change but still want even more (especially when you agree there’s more to do, but there isn’t time/money/effort available to get to it yet). 

If there was a way to do this cheaply, it would have been done by now. Until then, we are all on the hook to make the investment toward creating the solution.

The gnarly cycle stops when folks are willing to risk their money until the problem is truly fixed

I’m well aware that not everyone has the money to spend on fixing this problem. Brands, retailers, and customers will spend what they can until they can’t anymore - there are forces outside of this little ecosystem that affect the problem in unexpected ways (see also: pandemics, economic downturns, wars, etc).
There are a lot of reasons to feel like this is a losing battle, and we should just burn it all down and start over. Fire, unfortunately, is rather painful and hard to control, so I recommend finding ways to slowly but surely fix the problem from within the cycle itself.

This is what hope looks like

When Alpine Parrot started in 2019, I didn’t know any other outdoor apparel brands that were trying to tackle this space. Today, in 2024, it’s clear that lots of brands are stepping up! In addition to Alpine Parrot, we’ve got brands ranging from Outdoor Research and The North Face to Thicket Adventure and CurvedWear. Outdoor enthusiasts in bigger bodies are getting OPTIONS, y’all! Are any of them perfect for everyone? No, but they’re not supposed to be.

All of this to say: it doesn’t always seem like it, but customers’ voices are being heard. Change is happening. It might be slower than we like, but progress has always taken time. And when we support the brands and retailers that listen, we get closer to the cycle that we’re supposed to be in, not the gnarly one that currently surrounds us.

What brands have you noticed really stepping up to the plate?