(Photo: Mon Balon)
Getting gear would be a lot easier if all of us wore the same size. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — that’s not the case. For those of us on the larger end of the spectrum — and I’ve heard this time and time again on TheSkiDiva forum — finding ski wear that fits can be a real challenge. Which is pretty amazing: A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education found that the average American woman is between a size 16 and 18.
Enter Mon Balon of Melbourne, Australia. In 2015, Mon took matters into her own hands and founded Plus Snow, an on-line retailer that specializes in selling plus-sized ski gear all over the world. Recently I asked her some questions about the challenges active women face when they’re on the larger side of the size chart.
SD: Why is plus-sized gear so hard to find?
MB: I think it comes down to a number of things. First, in my opinion, most people have some level of fat phobia. This causes us to falsely believe that plus-size people are unfit, unhealthy, and unwilling to participate in sports. It’s particularly present in the fashion industry, where being outdoorsy has always been marketed to people with super-thin or athletic body types. effectively excluding ‘normal sized’ people who don’t see their own bodies represented in the outdoors. Without the gear, anyone who is plus-sized can’t safely participate, so it’s had a self-perpetuating negative impact on the demand for these sizes. Without the economic proof of demand, brands believe plus-size bodies don’t want to participate. Social media proof is starting to change that in a significant way.
The real problem is the lack of data about the numbers of plus-sized women who are actively participating in outdoor sports. Fortunately, brands are beginning to realize that plus-size people are active and want well fitting apparel, and that clothing can’t just be sized up to a plus-size range. Brands that’ve tried this in the past haven’t managed to succeed, which has led them to falsely believe that there’s no demand for plus-sized gear. The reality is that larger people don’t want gear that doesn’t fit. Nobody has stopped and thought about plus-size body shapes, because plus size is not a single shape. Anyone who doesn’t realize that is bound to fail.
It’s crazy, really, because the market is so obvious. I think the whole industry is about to crack wide open and over the next four or five years we’re going to see some major players enter and take hold of the market in a very significant way.
SD: What’s the biggest misconception people have about plus-sized women and plus-sized gear?
MB: There are two: First, that plus-size people don’t want to participate in winter sports. And when they do, they don’t want to spend money on good gear. And second, that plus-size people are plus size because they’re lazy and inactive so they don’t need the gear. Both of these are false.
SD: What special challenges do plus-sized women have, in terms of fit?
MB: Most women — not just ones who are plus-sized — have bigger bums and thighs, so we need our clothing to reflect that. But an even bigger challenge is that plus-sized women can’t go into most stores and try on clothing. So finding a variety of clothing to try on and compare is pretty non-existent.
SD: What would you like manufacturers to know about plus-sized gear? Is there something they’re overlooking or failing to provide?
MB: If you’re going to create a plus-size range, you need to cater to at least two to three different plus-size body shapes, just as you would when creating a straight-sized range. This is in addition to offering different leg lengths for both short and long legs. Also, plus-size women are bored of black and navy. They want color! They all don’t want to blend in or play it safe. They want quality fabrics, options, and technical features that are appropriate for their bodies; for example, inner leg zips for women with big thighs should be moved to the outer leg. They also want to see themselves in the company’s marketing as someone they can relate to. And they want to try on clothing in a store!
SD: Can you name some brands that are especially accommodating to plus-sized women?
MB: Sure! Here are ones that come to mind:
Cartel (Australian brand)
XTM (Australian brand)
Ottomatic Threads (thermal underwear)
Outdoor Research (new plus size range launching next August)
DSG (snowmobiling brand)
SD: Do you have any tips for women looking for plus-sized gear?
MB: Definitely! First, be sure to measure yourself. Don’t go based on your usual size. Use the size charts. Your body measurements or clothing size is nothing to be ashamed of. Reach out and ask for help if you need it. And second, make noise in the industry. We all want gear in stores, so create that demand with brands and shops. Ask to speak with the buyer and/or manager. Email them. Ask them about plus-size clothing, make them aware of brands who are doing it well. And finally, find support in your community, either in person or online. Groups and support for plus size people are popping up all over the place. Find your people, and use their references and support.
SD: Why did you decide to start your business?
MB: My mum had a second hand ski shop when I was a little girl and I loved helping people find gear that could help them ski or get started in the sport. All people should experience the joy that skiing can bring, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to skiing at age two. Mum and I ran the shop together for many years, and when mum passed, I decided to start an online only ski shop. During that first winter one of my customers suggested I start a website selling only plus-size ski gear, and I thought it was a fabulous idea. The next buying season, I took the idea to my Australian suppliers who agreed to create some plus-size clothing for me, which I had to preorder for the following season. That was seven years ago, and I’ve never looked back.
SD: How has your business changed? And what’s been customers’ reactions?
MB: The first year I bought everything in color. I presumed most plus-size people could get black clothing, and how wrong I was! Plus-size people couldn’t find anything at all in Australia at that time. So since then I’ve added a lot more black to my range. Next season, however, I’m bringing back lots of color options. Covid has certainly slowed down my range development, but that’s started to get moving again and I’m hoping it will continue to grow.
I think it’s very important to work closely with customers so I know what they want and need in clothing styles, fit, and shapes, and we can advocate on their behalf to brands highlighting this demand. We offer a Shop Your Shape service, which is a personalized fitting service where customers can interact with our sizing specialists to get exactly what they need. It’s our intention to take the worry out of buying plus-sized gear. Our business core values have also developed very strongly over these past two Covid soul-searching years into: Represent, Support, Supply and Advocate.
I’d also like to add that our international online site has been getting tremendous attention all over the world. My Instagram account has also been a really fun and rewarding community. Showcasing plus-size bodies in winter sports in one place is something that hasn’t been done before. All those smiling faces and supportive messages really drive my passion to support all bodies getting outdoors in winter. We also use the hashtag #curvystoke to encourage people globally to share their snowstoke while curvy too.
These reactions really spur me on. Back in the early days, when I was shushing the kids in the back of the car while chatting to customers on speaker phone, customer love was very supportive. Now I have a small team who share this love and excitement when we get emails, reviews, or thank-you calls when people get their gear. It’s very rewarding. It’s really given me a lot of job satisfaction and helped me realize that this isn’t just a business. It’s a passion project for me.