Friday, September 18, 2009

Shrinking and Pinking

I learned a new sports retail term yesterday--"shrinking & pinking." It's how creating sports clothing and gear for women used to be done. Pause, a beat...or at least it took me a second to get it. I was interviewing Kim Walker, the fab founder of Outdoor Divas, a women-only clothing and gear store with bricks and mortar in Boulder and Denver, and, of course, online at After studying English Lit at college, she moved to Vail with her then-boyfriend to be a ski bum. She couldn't actually ski that well, but what the hell. Her boyfriend though knew how to ski, so he took it upon himself to teach her. Thus began a lot of years of Kim arriving at the top of mountains on long, straight skis she couldn't maneuver with her smaller frame, following a bunch of men down too-steep terrain. It was frustrating having to muscle her way through every learning experience. Rewind and repeat the same pattern for kayaking, climbing, mountain biking and so on. She learned by being thrown in out of her depth, with the added bonus of bad equipment that took no account of the physical differences between men and women.

And Kim's experience is hardly unusual. Raise your hands if you've been taken out by your (often well-meaning) boyfriend/partner/husband/significant other and ended up in a situation that was above your head, where the motto was "do as I do, dress as I do, use the gear I do; oh, and also, watch me kick your butt." No wonder so many women abandon sports. They have no idea that what seemed to be outside their capacity is only temporarily so. They don't stick around long enough to find out.

Kim did--stick around that is. She's an extraordinary skier now (not to mention kayaker, mountain biker, climber etc...). Amazingly, she stuck with the boyfriend too (now her husband and father of their son, but definitely no longer her ski instructor), and together they recognized that there was a niche that needed to be filled; that is, sports clothing and gear specifically designed for women. Until the last five years or so, most companies have taken the approach of (here comes my new retail term, in a context) "shrinking & pinking," in other words, taking men's clothing and gear and just making it in smaller sizes and, yes, offering it in pink. [Full disclosure: I have nothing against pink. It's just a really really bad colour for me.]

Kim and Mike decided to open a women-only store. Everyone told them they were crazy (people seem to love to tell other people that their dreams are crazy--why is that?--are they threatened perchance?). People said that women didn't want their own place to shop (if such a store existed in NYC, I guess I'd shop there only 95% of the time, that's true). People said it was folly to split the market. Sigh. Whatever. As Kim says, "If you have a really great idea, run with it. Take advice and constructive criticism from experts, but never let them quash your dream." I'm taking that advice to heart as I send out my book proposal.

Outdoor Divas slogan?--Women are not small men.

Final thought--those English Lit degrees are a great preparation for life, contrary to popular belief. Maybe reading all those books keeps the world nice and open.