Confession: I've never been the biggest fan of activewear. Or of going to the gym. It's not that I don't enjoy a hot and sweaty session on the elliptical machine or some good, old-fashioned jumping jacks. Rather, it's that the entire fitness industry has always seemed so negative. From the "how to get your perfect beach body" ads (as though there were just one type of perfect beach body) to the miracle ointments and crash diet-inducing, 500-calorie-a-day meal plans, the world of dieting has, to me, always seemed to do more harm than good (I repeat, to me). And the gym has always been the hub of it all — the place where men and women gather to sweat off their excess pounds and discuss the latest fad in building muscle and dropping belly fat, whilst simultaneously ensuring that everyone around them knows how passionately they feel about fat being the worst thing a human can be.
As someone who has suffered through anorexia nervosa and attempted umpteen-several of those aforementioned meal plans, I've learned to keep my distance from certain gyms and fitness corporations. As a teenager, visits to my hometown's sporting goods store would often result in a condescending, "Sorry, we don't stock that in your size." And a big part of why the gym became such a source of emotional distress wasn't that I was inherently against fitness, or that I myself didn't exercise (a misconception, of course, when it comes to the "overweight"). It was undoubtedly the sheer lack of actual gym clothes afforded to me. I didn't want to work out in my jeans or tights — after all, that would only make me more visible and obvious to the people already looking at me for my size. But I had no other options.
Come adulthood, the same dilemma still plagued me. I wanted to go to the gym, in theory. But I didn't want to wear a garbage bag (pretty sure only Bradley Cooper can pull that one off — see Silver Linings Playbook). And thus why I was drawn to Katie Kozloff, founder of both Taffy Activewear and Katie K. The former is an activewear brand geared exclusively at the plus-size market, whilst the latter is — if you can believe it — a size-inclusive activewear brand that stocks sizes small through 3XL. But... what? Isn't that a total paradox? Will the world explode now?
Me, wearing Taffy Activewear in Manchester, UK last fall.
Kozloff has been working in apparel since 2008, when she first began a novelty line of underwear called Lolly. Around the same time, she began working as a personal trainer in Philadelphia. "I would hear clients complaining about the lack of great workout-wear options," she tells Bustle. "There was nothing cute, attractive or functional for women over a size 12." So come 2010, she took matters into her own hands, launching Taffy with a collection of seven affordable items designed exclusively for the plus-size woman. Despite Taffy's success, however, Kozloff was still aware of the lack of premium brand activewear for plus women. "Why should women over a size 12 only get to shop the cheaper brands that don't have the performance fabrics or lifestyle fashion pieces that have become so popular," she asked herself. "And then it hit me: why do the two size groups need to be separated? If everyone wants to same items, styles and fashions, why isn't someone providing a line of activewear for the whole size range?"
So, it may come as a shock to some that Kozloff herself isn't a plus-size woman. When one hears about the size-inclusivity movement, the proponents, most often, seem to fit into the plus category. Kozloff does not. "As any woman, I have felt insecure about my body and weight," she notes. "But I've seen firsthand how being active can change your confidence level. And it's amazing how something like a great outfit can change your attitude and motivation." The beauty of that statement, when said by Kozloff, if that it doesn't possess any body shaming undertones to it. She's not saying that all women need to (or should) lose weight to feel or look good — she's relaying her own experiences, and pointing out that being active often correlates to feeling happier. Without shaming. Without judging.
You may wonder whether as a personal trainer, and the head of an activewear line, Kozloff could possibly be a proponent of health at every size. But she is. And that makes her work all the more remarkable. "I know and have seen many people of various sizes/weights who are fit and healthy," she says. "They may not be the size or weight that is 'acceptable' or what society would label 'fit,' but they are active and living healthy lives." In almost pure contrast to so much of the fitness industry, Kozloff's perceptions are, perhaps, what make Katie K. so special. She goes on to add, "Size-inclusivity is important to me because it doesn’t single someone out for no real reason." And that's kind of the beauty of it. Women who want to look good whilst working out should be able to do so, regardless of size.
As though all of this weren't enough to grant Kozloff some serious hero status, she also uses double fit technology to ensure perfect fit across the sizes. Most brands, when designing a plus version of their apparel, will simply take the same design and stretch it out, if you will. Double fit technology is about replicating the garment in a way that ensures it fits the variation of body types far better. "Certain measurements don't change by the same amount or in the same way, and in order to have correctly-fitting items, we needed to take that into account," says Kozloff. "The best way to explain it is with a bra! Just because you are in he plus-size range doesn't mean your cup size increases by as much as the back strap measurement does!"
Last month, plus-size model Tara Lynn told Elle , "It is hard to make clothes look great on big women. The more fat there is on a body, the more variation there is in the shape of that body." A lot of people were outraged by this comment, but what I think she meant is simply that many designers don't take into account the different proportions and curvature of a larger body. The fact that Kozloff does will undoubtedly make Katie K. stand out in the rankings of "top activewear" out there. She doesn't just care about making nice clothes. She cares about providing those nice clothes to everyone.
Images: Katie K; Giphy