We Want Plus Size Sportswear, Too
Leggings and yoga pants are a part of this country’s cultural fabric. Especially once the pandemic hit, our jeans definitely gathered some serious dust. Access to these workout wonders were not always easy to find especially for plus size women. A 2016 study found that 37% of plus size women wore men’s clothing to work out in because of a lack of options. Size shouldn’t limit personal style and it certainly shouldn’t limit one’s ability to find the clothes most comfortable to live their lives in.
Let’s look back on the journey of plus size activewear into the mainstream. Indie designer Jen Wilder made fun plus size leggings for her now-defunct brand, Cult of California back in 2013. Two years later, dedicated plus size retailer Lane Bryant launched their plus size activewear line, Livi Active, in sizes 14-28.
As recent as 2016, plus size activewear was tough to find. If you wanted plus size compression leggings, you’d be hard pressed to find them at any major retailer that wasn’t dedicated to plus sizes. In 2017, we saw the release of plus size activewear in sizes 1X-3X from heavy-hitter, Nike.
Nike made the mainstream take notice of this size expansion when they went viral in 2019 for the use of their first plus size mannequins in their London store. In that same year, Adidas entered the plus size activewear game through a collaboration with Universal Standard. While Universal Standard makes a size inclusive range of 00-40, this capsule collection was available in XS-4XL. Unfortunately this size range expansion didn’t make it across all lines. Most notably, Beyonce’s first launch in January 2020 with adidas x IVY Park did not include plus sizes.
Sustainable fashion brands such as Girlfriend Collective expanded their leggings size range up to 6XL in 2019. Athleta joined the conversation in March 2021 with offerings up to 3X. Even brands like Lululemon whose founder famously stated that the brand was not for “larger women” has select styles up to a size 20.
So brands finally understand that plus size women do in fact work out and need clothes that they can wear to move their bodies. The range of styles, sizes, and price points now seen in plus size activewear is a win but is it enough? Looking at the offerings available in plus sizes from these brands, many of the styles lean functional over fashion. This all begs the question - where is the plus size sportswear?
Sportswear has a long evolving history in fashion. According to WWD, sportswear refers to separates that can be easily mixed and matched. Think skirts with tops and shorts with blouses. These styles are also made from comfortable fabrics that are easy to wash. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, sportswear evolved to reflect women’s changing lifestyles.
California-living transformed sportswear again showing the need for relaxed and laid-back styles. Sportswear took on a more gender neutral look in the 1960s as jeans became more and more popular for all genders.
These days, casual separates are more often referred to as ready to wear fashion while sportswear often evokes casual streetwear. It’s this kind of sportswear that’s challenging to find in plus sizes. Let’s take Nike as an example. When you look at the Women’s Sportswear category, there are nearly 300 listings. Narrow that down to just plus size clothing only and the number drops under 75.
If you want streetwear trends in plus sizes, good luck finding those styles above a XXL. To access some of these styles, men’s sizing is still the only option. This sounds a lot like activewear options for plus size women in 2016. Sportswear is often marked by bold colors and bright patterns while many plus size activewear can lean neutral. While there’s nothing wrong with neutrals, plus size women should have the ability to choose what fits their aesthetic best.
Plus size women want the same options as their straight size counterparts. One brand that listened to this demand and show the results - adidas x IVY PARK. When the first collection notably excluded plus sizes, Drip 2 offered pieces up to a size 4X modeled by plus size model Precious Lee. The collection quickly sold out, plus sizes included.
With more than 70% of the women in the US being a size 14 or above, there’s a huge market for plus size fashion but as recently as 2020, Vogue reported that only 20% of clothing was made in plus sizes. The growth of plus size activewear over the past four years shows the demand is there.
During 2020, plus size sales by SKU grew by 15% from the previous year proving that even in a tough year, making plus size items is still a good bet. As plus size fashion sales continue to soar and casual Y2K fashion makes a comeback, plus size sportswear should be an easy expansion choice for brands. Will we see more plus size sportswear and streetwear? The plus size community is used to being underserved so cater to us with something that few others are doing and you are likely to gain a loyal customer.
Which brands would you like to see make more plus size sportswear?
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