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Activewear plus: Why sports brands are rushing to embrace larger sizes

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Most Australian women, and a lot of men, will tell you that Australian sizing can be a minefield, no matter which end of the spectrum they happen to belong.

The same person can wear a size 10 at one store, a 12 at another and an 8 at yet another. Add the built-in unknowns of online shopping and it’s even more confusing.

Nike has introduced a dedicated plus-size range up to a 3X. Nike has introduced a dedicated plus-size range up to a 3X. Photo: Supplied

When it comes to activewear, many brands have simply ignored (or excluded) larger sizes, or pretended that women who wear a size 16 or above don’t like to move.

Some women I know have been forced to trawl the menswear department to find breathable tops and shorts that fit. And don’t get started on leggings.

Kate Hudson (centre) with models in her Fabletics active wear, which has recently expanded its size range. Kate Hudson (centre) with models in her Fabletics active wear, which has recently expanded its size range. Photo: Supplied

But finally it appears some mainstream sports brands are listening.

In the past couple of months, two companies – Nike and Fabletics – have launched plus-size ranges with the aim of providing wearers with more clarity and comfort.

In March, Nike introduced its expanded Plus Size range, which runs to a 3X.

Not to be confused with an XXXL, the new range is specifically designed for the proportions most common to larger women, hence the exclusion of the “L” in the sizing.

Nike's new plus-size gear is one of the first dedicated ranges for women who wear size 18 or above. Nike’s new plus-size gear is one of the first dedicated ranges for women who wear size 18 or above. Photo: Nike

In explaining its approach to larger sizes, a statement from Nike said after designing for women for 40 years, with only limited products in plus-sizes, this was its “most robust range of sizes and colours in more colours and styles than before”.

Still, looking through the range, there is a distinct bias towards greys and blacks, colours that are hardly considered “robust” in most people’s opinions.

American hammer thrower Amanda Bingson in Nike's Plus Size campaign. American hammer thrower Amanda Bingson in Nike’s Plus Size campaign. Photo: Supplied

Nike says it’s just the start and kudos to the brand for acknowledging that not every woman is a size-4 pilates-toned stick-insect.

In comparison, Lululemon and Lorna Jane offer its bottoms in sizes 6-16, the equivalent of Nike’s XL in its regular range, while Target offers leggings up to a size 20.

In measurement terms, Nike’s 3X accommodates up to a 118cm-128cm range waist, compared to 85cm in Lululemon and Lorna Jane.

Nike also claims that unlike other brands, which simply increase the proportions of its larger sizes, its plus-size range is specially designed for curvy women.

“When we design for plus size, we aren’t just proportionately making our products larger. That doesn’t work because as we know, everyone’s weight distribution is different. We fit every garment on everyday athletes since elite athletes may have different muscle mass,” a spokesperson said.

While many stores, including in Australia, hide its plus-size departments out of sight, Nike has recruited high-profile athletes including US hammer throw champion Amanda Bingson.

Fabletics, which was co-founded by actress Kate Hudson, has also recently introduced an “extended” size range, from XXS to 3X, acknowledging that there is also increased demand at the smaller end of the size, especially for younger women wanting fashionable workout wear.

Unlike Nike’s dedicated range, Fabletics has expanded the sizes of its existing range.

Hudson said: “We don’t see this as the introduction of a separate line but an extension of our brand … to embrace all the amazing women who are, or want to be, part of our community.”

With the activewear market in Australia now worth $2 billion, expect to see more companies looking at how they can capture greater market share in the coming 12 months.

Fabletics came under fire in 2016 after over its monthly subscription model, which was accused of not disclosing the full cost to members.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ordered the company to improve its disclosure methods regarding ongoing fees after a string of complaints.

Australia has not had standardised sizing since 2008, when the government abandoned the system after lobbying from retailers.

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