Last week I was at the Outdoor Retailer Show making buying decisions for my ski shop.
For someone who owns a retail store this means sitting through appointments with representatives from the brands that I carry as they show me what’s new for next winter and what products they think will do best in my shop. It’s wheelin’ and dealin’…and trying to talk everyone into free shipping 😉
Buying for Basecamp is a combination of art (ohhhh I love that color!) and science. My buyer and I went into each appointment with our budget and two years worth of shopping data, we try to let the numbers talk and stay within our budget even when we’re in love with a particular product, style, color etc.
When my buyer and I put our heads together to buy clothing one of the most difficult things to predict isn’t color or style…it’s fit and size.
When I first opened Basecamp I was determined to carry a full size run, from petite to XXL in all products. Quickly I found that petite and XL, XXL clothing (especially women’s clothing) tended to sit on my shelves. Stale products are bad products, because that’s just my hard earned money sitting there waiting for a good home.
The numbers spoke so we evaluated our sizing and now when it comes to women’s outdoor clothing I rarely bring in a women’s petite or an XL if it’s not a special order.
I’m a hypocrite.
Here I am, the founder of a HLAW. A group where our mission is to break down barriers to entry in the outdoor community and at my own outdoor retail shop I don’t carry clothing for women if they aren’t a standard small, medium, large.
But it gets worse.
I also sell and rent skis, both downhill and cross-country skis.
If you’ve ever cross-country skied you know that skis are measured based off of the skiers weight. Not height.
Yesterday a really rad woman came into my shop.
She was short and the skis that we had rented for her weight were way too long and simply didn’t work for her. I felt terrible. My staff could have put her on a shorter pair with a different “flex” that would have worked better but we didn’t…we looked at the size chart and rented her the wrong skis.
A few minutes after that I took a phone call from a man with a size 13 shoe. He wants to rent a pair of ski boots for the weekend. Unfortunately none of my ski companies make the boots that he needs in a size larger than mens 12.
I see sizing issues in everything from ski boots to gloves, sleeping bags to backpacks.
I’m learning that sizing in the outdoor industry isn’t always a problem just for the ladies.
Just as I was having the kind of day where nothing would fit for the guests in my store I stumbled up on this article all about a women who used to be a ski racer but can no longer find ski pants to fit her body. I quickly shared on the HLAW Facebook page and then sat there and choked back tears as women shared with us their experiences about not being able to find outdoor clothing in their sizes.
Then an acquaintance sent me a personal Facebook message thanking me for sharing that article but all I could say back was, I’m a hypocrite because I don’t sell something for every body at my shop. She recommend that perhaps we do a personal shopping night where I close my shop to the public and women of all shapes and sizes can come in and try samples in a safe, comfortable and judgement free place. I LOVE that idea. Now to see if I can get my hands on products that aren’t the typical medium sample size…
Maybe women don’t want to try to squeeze into clothing that doesn’t fit at their local outdoor retail store in a tiny dressing room. Maybe women want some privacy and respect from shops like mine. Are we being sensitive to all the needs of our guests? I know that at my shop we can do better.
But here’s the truth…
I think I’m like most outdoor retail stores out there. We want to the best we can to serve everyone in our community. We’re trying. We want to carry products and sizes and brands that everyone loves. We’ll bend over backwards to serve our community even if it costs us more money than we can afford.
But we also have to look out for our bottom line. With so many people shopping online, overusing pro-deals, and scouring the internet for rock bottom prices it’s hard to keep our lights on and our employees paid. Our margins are slim, our overhead is high and when products don’t sell quickly it costs us money that we don’t have.
So…what’s a girl to do?
It’s time for solutions.
Do I become a voice for outdoor women of all shapes and sizes.
Or do I stay content with the status quo?
All night long I’ve been thinking about the problem: Women of all shapes and sizes need access to quality outdoor clothing and gear.
I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of hearing that it’s a problem and then ignoring it. I want to find solutions. I want us, the collective community of badass outdoor women to come up with solutions together.
Here are a few of my ideas, but let’s put our heads together and brainstorm more. I’d love your thoughts, opinions and suggestions.
- Outdoor retailers need to bond together to advocate for outdoor brands implement a “buy back” program so we can afford to buy sizes that are more difficult to sell on our shelves. My very favorite outdoor brand has a generous buy back program, meaning that if we make a poor buying decision and a certain style, color or size of a product doesn’t sell they take it back and issue me a credit. This protects the integrity of their brand and makes me willing to make riskier buying decisions (that often pay off). Unfortunately this brand is very specific and doesn’t make clothing. Wouldn’t it be incredible if I could stock XXS, XS, XL, XXL, XXXL clothing and gear at very little risk knowing that the brand would buy it back from me if it didn’t sell after 4-6 months? I could offer something for everyone without much financial risk. But it would mean that all of us outdoor brands and outdoor retailers would need to care more about our customers than our profits.
- Spread the word about brands that are taking care of humans (not just women) of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the voices of smaller brands that are working hard to make a wide variety of sizes are overpowered by the big brands. I want to make sure that we’re communicating to our community about the brands, big and small who are trying to make clothing inclusive to all sizes and shapes. Some of the big brands are crushing it with a design or two that they offer in many sizes and that’s great. But there is room for improvement.
- Share what’s working and what isn’t. This is where the power of community comes to play. If you have a product/brand/style that you love that’s working for you we’d love to know what it is. We’re compiling a list of clothing for all sizes and shapes on our Facebook page so that we can start a database of products that work for us, real women with real bodies. If you have a favorite pair of hiking pants or puffy jacket for your body type chime in here and help us compile this data or you can drop a comment below too.
- Personally… I’m going to spend some time this week calling, emailing and forwarding this blog post on to brands that I carry at my shop. I’m going to ask them if they’ll help me set up an exclusive night where women in my town can come and try on plus sized or petite clothing in a judgement-free place. I’m going to take the financial leap when I can afford it to bring in more diverse clothing sizes and I’m going to train my staff to be sensitive and kind with their use of language and treatment of every single person who walks through our doors.
It may not be much but I hope that our voices can be heard as we help brands understand that by ignoring this issue they are not only losing money, they are preventing humans from being able to access the outdoors in high quality and comfortable clothing and gear.
Do you want to hear more about it? Join Crystal and I tonight LIVE at 6pm (MDT) where we’ll be hosting a Q&A session about this very issue on our Facebook and YouTube channels. We’d love for you to tune in and share your experiences.