Katie loves bushwalking but struggles to shop for plus size hiking clothes in Australia

When Katie Parrot walks into a store, her first assumption is that there will be nothing for her.

“Normally I’m right,” says the Hobart-based social media influencer.

“I’m a size 24. If I can find something that’s great. But I don’t suppose that will happen.”

As she explains to ABC Radio Hobart, it’s an all-too-familiar story for people who wear clothes outside the straight sizing ranges.

A shocking reality

Katie also happens to be an avid bushwalker, which is not uncommon in her home state of Tasmania.

What is common for Katie though is the fact that she has not been able to source good quality, well-fitting hiking clothes in her size in Australia, especially in stores.

Instead, says she was forced to “get creative” with her online shopping.

After struggling to find hiking pants to her liking in Australia, she turned to US-based online stores.

When she managed to find a pair that suited her, she ran into another hurdle: they weren’t shipped to Australia.

“I actually had to get creative and send them to my friend in Canada, who then sent them to me in Tasmania,” she says.

It’s an issue that Katie says isn’t limited to clothing.

Outdoor camping gear like sleeping bags and backpacks aren’t designed for large bodies either.

“I recently tried to find a backpack and the strap in the front didn’t close properly, and there were no other options,” Katie says.

“The outdoors is supposed to be for everyone, but if you’re my height, I guess not.”

“It’s a matter of social justice”

Sam Van Zweden is co-organizer of Melbourne-based A Plus Market, an initiative designed to help plus-size people access fashion and shop second-hand.

She says Katie’s struggle to access suitable outdoor clothing for bushwalking is part of a larger problem.

“It’s not something unique to outdoor retailers, it’s pretty deplorable in Australia,” Sam says.

Sam Van Zweden (left) is the co-organizer of A Plus Market, which she runs with Chloe Papas (right). (Provided: Chloé Van Zweden)

Sam explains that creating a service that only caters to a portion of the population and knowingly excluding tall people is, well, “frankly not good enough.”

“It’s a matter of social justice,” she says.

Sam says clothing size limitations across outdoor clothing brands and wider fashion brands in Australia reflect ignorance.

“The fat guys want to go bushwalking and they have money to spend…it would be really smart for brands to get on board.”

Katie recalls a recent experience where she forgot to pack a thermal while hiking in the bush at Cradle Mountain.

“I did not find a replacement in the neighboring town [Launceston] that would suit me. I found a vest — but it wasn’t practical. My arms and legs got wet from it,” she recalls.

Katie says she and her partner had to cut their bushwalk short, which was “a really upsetting situation”.

Clinging to an aesthetic

Katie says there are Australian outdoor brands that have released larger sizes, and she’s been included in “focus groups” with a few of those companies.

However, the choices are limited and most of her shopping has to be done online. Often larger sizes sell out quite quickly.

Katie believes Australians who wear above a size 16 are not what many outdoor clothing brands consider their target customer.

Katie Parrot regularly shares her bushwalking adventures with her social media followers. (Provided: Katie Parrot)

“It’s a very ambitious lifestyle and I think there’s still a very big stigma for taller people,” she says.

The problem lies in the perception that people above a size 16 are considered a “niche market” in Australia, a perception that is wrong and harmful, Sam says.

“Not being able to see yourself in marketing is another barrier to participation,” says Sam.

“Taller people think, ‘I can’t be a hiker, because I’m not what a hiker looks like’.”

Limited or no access to appropriate clothing can add to an already exhausting mental toll.

“It’s not just an individual issue, it’s a broader issue that has had real, tangible health and mental effects,” says Sam.

A climb uphill

At Australian Fashion Week‘s first-ever inclusive size show, Sam says Australia still lags far behind other countries when it comes to size inclusiveness.

She says she hopes brands will start paying attention to customer feedback.

“Brands seem to act like plus-size customers are a different species and they’re too scared to go for it,” she says.

“There are a lot of people out there who want to chat with you and tell you how you can improve your brand.”

Katie says she finds it frustrating that brands ignore an obvious gap in the market.

“The reality is there’s a large audience that wants to shop, and there will be brands being left behind,” she says.

Tips for Finding Plus Size Outerwear Options

  • Find your community: “Facebook groups and online community groups are great for helping you find what you need and get it,” says Sam.
  • Shop online and follow plus size influencers who, like Katie, will share their thoughts on the brands and how they really fit: “This is a resource I do for my social followers so they know before they buy online themselves.”
  • Write to brands and share your feedback with them: “I think the wheels are turning and there are brands taking notice and wanting to be on the safe side,” Katie says.

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