Plus-size fitness fans are calling for more inclusive sports equipment and gear


Many apparel companies have started selling larger sizes in recent years, but some people who wear plus-size clothing say manufacturers of technical sportswear and equipment have failed to keep up.

While regular shorts and t-shirts above a US size 16 are sold in many places, specialty items are more elusive. Archers and fencers say it’s hard to find chest protectors that are large enough. Riders and cyclists should look for well-fitting padded breeches and pants. Skiers and snowboarders find it difficult to afford snow pants and boots, which must fit around the calf.

“We’ve been talking for years about the painful irony that somehow it’s more profitable in capitalism to shut out fat bodies than to take our money,” said author and activist Marianne Kirby, who encourages more corpulent people to recover the term “fat”.

A Twitter thread written by Ms Kirby about the lack of specialized sportswear for fat people drew hundreds of responses from people who said they found it difficult to participate in certain activities without pain or discomfort because they couldn’t find appropriate clothing.

It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario, said Ms Kirby, who writes about body politics. She said taller people often don’t get into new activities because they don’t feel welcome, but those who overcome the social barrier then find themselves locked out due to a lack of of equipment. Manufacturers don’t produce larger equipment because they don’t see this group participating, she said.

In the past, some clothing brands openly excluded fat people as customers due to brand aesthetics. Chanel’s late creative director Karl Lagerfeld proclaimed in 2009 that “nobody wants to see curvy women” on the catwalk; Mike Jeffries, former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

said in 2006: “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes].” Until 2014, the largest company size for women was a 10.

Since then, larger sizes have become more common.

A group of companies including Abercrombie & Fitch, Urban Outfitters Inc.

Anthropologie, Victoria’s Secret & Co., and J.Crew Group Inc. began catering to larger customers in response to movements in fat acceptance and body positivity, as well as the arrival of more inclusive competitors .

This has extended to some extent to sportswear. In recent years, companies such as Nike Inc.,

Adidas HER

and Under Armor Inc.

have added larger sizes.

But these ranges are often limited. Some plus size clothing is sold online only, not in stores, and sizes are typically over 3X, which is equivalent to a size 24. In contrast, the Universal Standard brand, founded in 2015, goes up to a size 40, and Fabletics Inc.’s upcoming shapewear line Yitty and singer Lizzo will run at 6X.

Technical equipment for sports is particularly difficult to find.

“You can find jerseys, but when it comes to knee pads, elbow pads, rain pants and race kits, [it] is really tough,” said Marley Blonsky, a Seattle-based cyclist who identifies as fat. “It’s the assumption that people in big bodies don’t do the technical stuff, or don’t need the high-end equipment.”

Some startups see it as a business opportunity.

Mechanical and software engineer Raquel Vélez launched Alpine Parrot in 2019, a company that designs hiking pants in women’s sizes 14-24 and sells them online.

Alpine Parrot sells hiking pants in women’s sizes 14-24 and is working to add sizes up to 30.


Photo:

alpine parrot

Ms Vélez said she had gone beyond making the boss bigger for a smaller pair of pants. She chose an abrasion-resistant fabric to add durability where the wearer’s thighs might rub, and designed a curved waistband for added comfort when bending over.

Alpine Parrot’s Kickstarter campaign raised just over $60,000, surpassing a goal of $10,000, and the company began shipping its wares last week. Ms. Vélez said the startup is working to add sizes up to 30 and will produce larger sizes if demand warrants.

Ms Blonsky, meanwhile, left her job as environmental manager last year to work full-time at All Bodies on Bikes, an advisory and advocacy group she founded to push the bike industry. cycling to manufacture clothing and equipment for the biggest cyclists.

Cycling clothing brand Pearl Izumi hired Ms Blonsky in November to help improve its plus-size range and consult on other issues of inclusivity.

And Recreational Equipment Inc., known as REI, signed up for All Bodies on Bikes’ “Plus Size Wear Test Base,” which collects metrics to help brands better design items for cyclists, climbers, skiers and runners who wear plus sizes.

“Yes [companies] don’t see fatter people on bikes, they don’t think we do,” Ms Blonsky added. “But I tell them, ‘Give them the equipment and they will come. “”

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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