Many apparel companies have started selling larger sizes in recent years, but some people who wear plus-size clothes say makers of technical athletic gear and apparel have failed to keep pace.
While ordinary shorts and T-shirts above a U.S. size 16 are sold many places, specialized items are more elusive. Archers and fencers say sufficiently large chest guards are hard to find. Horseback and bike riders have to hunt for well-fitting breeches and padded pants. Skiers and snowboarders have trouble getting snow pants and boots, which have to fit around the calf.
“We’ve talked for years about how painfully ironic it is that it is somehow more profitable in capitalism to exclude fat bodies than it is to take our money,” said author and activist Marianne Kirby, who encourages bigger-bodied people to reclaim the term “fat.”
thread written by Ms. Kirby on the lack of specialized activewear for fat people elicited hundreds of responses from people who said they struggle to take part in certain activities without pain or discomfort because they can’t find gear that fits.
It is a chicken-and-egg scenario, said Ms. Kirby, who writes about body politics. She said larger people often don’t take up new activities because they don’t feel welcome, but those who overcome the social hurdle then find themselves locked out due to a dearth of equipment. Manufacturers don’t produce equipment in larger sizes, meanwhile, because they don’t see that group participating, she said.
Some clothing brands in the past overtly wrote off fat people as customers on the grounds of brand aesthetics. Chanel’s late creative director Karl Lagerfeld in 2009 proclaimed that “no one wants to see curvy women” on the runway; Mike Jeffries, a former chief executive of
Abercrombie & Fitch Co.
, said in 2006: “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes].” Until 2014, the company’s largest size for women was a 10.
Since then, bigger sizes have become more mainstream.
A crop of companies including Abercrombie & Fitch,
Urban Outfitters Inc.’s
& Co. and J.Crew Group Inc. began catering to larger customers in response to the fat-acceptance and body-positivity movements—as well as the arrival of more-inclusive competitors.
That has extended to some degree into activewear. In recent years, companies including
Under Armour Inc.
have added bigger sizes.
But these ranges are often limited. Some plus-size clothing is sold online only, not in stores, and sizes usually top out at 3X, equivalent to a size 24. In contrast, the brand Universal Standard, founded in 2015, runs to a size 40, and the coming Yitty shapewear line from Fabletics Inc. and the singer Lizzo will run to 6X.
Technical gear for sports is particularly hard to find.
“You can find jerseys, but when it comes to knee pads, elbow pads, rain pants and race kits, [it] is really challenging,” said
a Seattle-based cyclist who identifies as fat. “It’s the assumption that people in larger bodies aren’t doing the technical stuff, or aren’t in need of the higher end equipment.”
Some startups see a business opportunity.
a mechanical and software engineer, in 2019 started Alpine Parrot, a company that designs hiking pants in women’s sizes 14-24 and sells them online.
Ms. Vélez said she went beyond enlarging the pattern for a pair of smaller pants. She chose an abrasion-resistant fabric to strengthen durability where a wearer’s thighs might rub, and designed a curved waistband for comfort when bending over.
Alpine Parrot’s Kickstarter campaign raised just over $60,000—exceeding a goal of $10,000—and the company began shipping its wares last week. Ms. Vélez said the startup is working to add sizes through 30 and will produce sizes above that if demand warrants.
Ms. Blonsky, meanwhile, last year left her job as an environmental manager to work full-time at All Bodies on Bikes, a consulting and advocacy group she founded to push the cycling industry to make apparel and gear for bigger riders.
Cycling-apparel brand Pearl Izumi in November hired Ms. Blonsky to help improve its plus-size range and consult on other matters of inclusivity.
And Recreational Equipment Inc., known as REI, has signed up for All Bodies on Bikes’ “plus size wear testing base,” which collates measurements to help brands better design items for cyclists, climbers, skiers and runners who wear plus sizes.
“If [companies] don’t see bigger people on bikes, they don’t think that we’re doing it,” Ms. Blonsky added. “But I tell them, ‘Give them the equipment and they will come.’”
Write to Katie Deighton at [email protected]
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