October 5 2017
Mirna "The Mirnavator" Valerio shares an excerpt from her first book.
Sure, some larger brands and companies jumped on the wagon and responded to the actual needs of their customers by offering sizes that went beyond XL—Target, Lane Bryant, Juno, Old Navy, Danskin and a handful of others. Unfortunately, and with the exception of a few, many (but not all) of these products were not designed with real athletic endeavor in mind and could not handle the demands of running or, well, anything beyond yoga, slow walking and stationary cycling. There were lots of cotton blends, flimsy waistbands and rough seams. Athenas who loved high-impact activities were out of luck unless they resorted to mens’ apparel, since at least those items went up to XXL (and in some cases 3XL). Were they a perfect fit? No, but at least it was something that allowed the desired kind of fitness to happen.
Enter smaller, more grassroots efforts like Katie K Active and Lineage, companies that have created lines for a broader swath of folks. They focus on actual needs and take consumer psychology into consideration. Lineage, for example, prides itself on not separating straight sizes from plus-sizes: “We’re all used to plus-sizes being in separate sections. Not the case here at Lineage! Each product contains its full-size range in one place.” Katie K Active proves that they are the size-inclusive brand they say they are “by fitting [their] line on a straight size fit model and a plus-size fit model, we make sure we adjust the line to create a flawless yet comfortable fit.” The efforts of companies like this are helping to bring relief and a sense of belonging to scores of women who have always been athletes but have been traditionally ignored as such by big athletic companies who preferred to maintain the aspirational status quo.
CJ Riggins is another visionary. As the capstone project of her MBA program, Riggins, who has worked in the apparel industry since she was a teenager, decided to form her own company designing and creating technical apparel for Athena athletes.
Her desire was to lead a company that would be the “premier creator and retailer of Athena athletic apparel.” The goal was to empower plus size athletes to do what they loved without having to worry about the fit, form and function of their exercise clothing. As a seventeen-year veteran designer of technical apparel, Riggins wanted to bring her expertise to a world that was too often left to the dregs of the clearance bin or completely forgotten.
“I wanted to respect the athlete at her level, wherever she was. Why shouldn’t she get the same respect [as other athletes]?”
Riggins saw the opportunity to improve the industry she was in by making it more size inclusive. She took a hard look at the messages it had been sending and set out to reset those messages to include a whole segment of the population that had been previously cut off from its wares. There was still a little of this “mean girl” attitude marauding as the “aspirational” look and Riggins was determined to chip away at that idea; that well-designed sports apparel was only for women who fit a certain demographic and look. She took the huge project on herself, knowing that she would encounter criticism and comments like “Athenas don’t really work out…,” for example.
Fast forward to a year after the initial conception of the idea, and Riggins is now the CEO and founder of RSport and it is exactly as she envisioned: a small batch, customer-focused company backed by many years of experience and research into the needs of the specific population she serves, people like me.