This Size-Inclusive Brand Is Changing The Activewear Market

"Our ethos is around making people feel a sense of belonging, where they’ve been historically excluded.”

The number on your clothing tag doesn't determine whether you like to exercise or enjoy the great outdoors. And yet, many activewear brands fail to offer sizing that's truly inclusive. Alder hopes to fill that void. The Canada-based apparel company that produces items specifically designed for outdoor recreation — think hiking shorts and cropped tank tops perfect for layering — carries sizes ranging from XS to 4X.

“The idea of Alder first came to me when I was traveling abroad as a National Geographic Explorer doing marine conservation research,” co-founder Mikayla Wujec tells Bustle. “While working outside and traveling, I was constantly frustrated with the lack of functional and fashionable outdoor clothing options available to women. It seemed like we had to choose between leggings — which are fine but a girl needs options — or hyper technical gear that was ill-fitting and bland.”

When Wujec returned to Canada, she shared her frustrations with Naomi Blackman, who eventually became the brand's co-founder. They realized that the dearth of products was just the tip of the iceberg, and that retailers had left a clear gap in the market.

“It went beyond the clothes,” Wujec says. “Outdoor brands were just missing the mark with most women. A lot of women we spoke with felt a sense of imposter syndrome identifying as ‘outdoorsy’ because outdoor brands were just leaving them out of the conversation. The narrow depiction of who ‘belongs’ in the outdoors — white, thin, hyper-performance driven — is totally BS.”

There’s a whole legacy system in place that makes it difficult for brands to be size inclusive, from the design process to cost negotiation.

Clearly, they were onto something. Earlier this year, Alder debuted its line of shorts, tanks, and pants, and although it’s a young brand, it’s already loved by adventurist Sarah Herron, Cuban-American outdoor advocate Katie Boue, and founder of Big Girls Climb Too, Samantha Ortiz.

Blackman, a former brand strategist and marketer, says that being size-inclusive “wasn’t even a question” when they were building Alder.

“I’ve been working in fashion and retail for the last ten years, and it’s been a glaringly ridiculous point that most women are intentionally excluded because of size,” Blackman shares. “There’s a whole legacy system in place where everyone follows the same process that makes it difficult for brands to be size inclusive, from the design process to cost negotiation to the sizes that equipment used can accommodate. When we started Alder, we knew our ethos would be around making people feel a sense of belonging in the outdoors, where they’ve been historically excluded.”

While Alder’s current product offering is small compared to competitors, the co-founders chose that model on purpose because it’s a more sustainable approach to production.

“We intentionally decided to launch styles one to two at a time instead of a full seasonal collection so we could continually work with our customers to find what they’re looking for,” Blackman explains. “We want to make sure we love what we’re making too, so our designs are typically a combination of our vision mixed with customer input. Our designers also have a blend of experience in both the active and outdoor markets alongside fashion brands, so we’re lucky to be able to blend both a technical and a fashion mindset when we’re designing.”

They plan to drop a raincoat in Spring 2021, which has been a top-requested item from customers. They’re also thinking about how to improve sustainability practices by working with ethical factories and using eco-friendly fabrics. Right now, the brand is in the beta phase of a repair program, which will hopefully become “a pre-loved marketplace” to give new life to old pieces.

“We’re so excited about all these plans we have for Alder, but the thing that excites me the most is that on Sunday evenings, I feel great — if not excited — to get up Monday morning to work on Alder,” Blackman says. “There are no Sunday scaries. I will be forever thrilled if we’re able to maintain that sense of pleasure in our work, not just for ourselves, but eventually for a whole community of Alder employees.”