Outside Business Journal

Outdoor Research Is Becoming the Industry’s De Facto Leader in Technical Plus-Size Apparel

The Seattle brand has become the first to release a full ski apparel kit—including shells, pants, bibs, base layers, gloves, and more—up to size 3X

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What began as a passion project and, more simply, just the right thing to do has also benefited Outdoor Research’s bottom line, senior VP of product creation for Outdoor Research Liz Wilson told OBJ. Outdoor Research has announced its Fall 2022 Plus Size collection, following up on two previous seasons of successful plus-size collection launches. The Fall 2022 line is an outdoor industry standout in that it will be the first winter plus-size collection to have a comprehensive layering system.

“For the first time, everyone will have access to a unified layering system that keeps them warm and dry—and looks great, too,” Wilson said.

Creating a More Inclusive Product Line

Wilson said that in 2020 she read a thread on the Facebook group PNW Outdoor Women detailing the difficulties of finding properly fitting and functional outdoor clothing.

“It was an extremely passionate online discussion,” Wilson said. “Women were so frustrated that they couldn’t find clothes that fit, that also let them pursue the things they loved. I had been discussing launching a plus-size line with our director of product development, and this really stirred us to get serious. We knew it was the right thing to do, but it wouldn’t be as simple as just making bigger clothes. We took to the idea to [OR President] Roger Barton, and he said, ‘Well, we’d be on the wrong side of history if we didn’t do it.’”

New designs were created to fit different body shapes with grading that is proportionally larger through the bust and belly. The collection includes technical apparel for hiking, climbing, backpacking, and winter sports, including the bestselling Helium Rain Jacket, Aspire II Jacket and Pants, Helium Insulated Hoodie, sun-protective Echo Hoodie, and softshell Ferrosi Pants and Shorts

Bringing new products to market quickly wasn’t something OR was used to doing before the pandemic, Wilson says. It was the (hugely successful) production of OR’s face masks in 2020 that finally proved the company was capable of quickly and effectively manufacturing new designs that customers would love.

OR reached out to some of the women from the Facebook thread and worked with them to develop technical plus-size gear “that didn’t just come in black,” Wilson said. “These women are badasses. They’re climbing Rainier and Mount St. Helens; they’re skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking.”

Members of that group who now work as advisors for OR include Bennett Rahn, Sam Ortiz, Megan Banker, Kaila Walton, and Rochelle Murphy. Some of them have even become brand ambassadors.

“Before we made a single sketch, we invited these women in to discuss exactly what they’re looking for in technical clothing, to help us identify factors that we may not be considering,” Wilson said. “We incorporated their feedback and they test for us, and they even help finalize colors and prints.”

The Industry’s First Plus-Size Ski Apparel Kits

Launch of the Spring 2022 Plus collection followed a successful Fall 2021 men’s and women’s extended sizing program that included shells, insulation, base layers, winter apparel, and ski kits ranging from XXS to 3X. Combined, OR said the two collections represent the first true technical apparel and layering system in inclusive sizing for outdoor enthusiasts. 

The company will release its Fall 2022 line with two complete plus-size ski kits that include shells, pants and bib, winter insulation layers, winter fleece, technical sportswear, base layers, and gloves sized up to 3X. OR said the kits will be an industry first.

“Our group told us that they couldn’t find a combined layering system,” Wilson said. “They could maybe piece together layers from different brands, including men’s clothing, but there wasn’t a unified technical layering system designed to fit well and look good in women’s plus sizes.”

In coming seasons, OR has also promised plus-size technical pieces from other lines, including crop tops.

“When we told the group, they just erupted,” Wilson said. “They were so happy. Everyone should have access to any clothing style out there, no matter their size. That’s what makes me so passionate about this collection, that it includes everyone and allows everyone to enjoy the outdoors dressed how they want for the sport.”

And of course, Wilson said the release of plus-sized technical clothing has been good for business, too.

“We’re seeing increased sales from retailers who stock our range of sizes,” Wilson said. “We’ve seen that including plus sizes has increased sales of our other sizes as well. It makes it easy for the retailer and the customer. It’s one-stop shopping for families.”

OR is currently working on its 2024 collections, which will continue this new, inclusive chapter in the brand’s history.

“I’ve been in the outdoor industry most of my career, and plus sizes weren’t the norm,” Wilson said. “Things have changed and the consumer is much more vocal now, and people who are larger are saying, ‘Hey, we love the outdoors, too.’ I think brands are finally listening. I’m proud of Outdoor Research for being at the forefront of that, but I’m excited to see the whole industry working hard to become more inclusive, helping everyone feel good about getting outside.”

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