Espionage, International Travel, Cocktails and Italian Models

A collage of travel pictures including an airplane in a cloud-filled sky, a glass of sangria, male model walking the runway, and the Make Plus Equal logo

It’s hard to believe Make Plus Equal is already coming up on our one-year anniversary!

As many of you are new connections, I though it was time to tell you the other part of the story (aka Part 2)…. The secondary lightbulb that came on like a spotlight and drove home the need to launch my business as a Size Inclusion Consultant in the Apparel Industry.

By now, you’ve likely read the backstory (aka Part 1) on how and why Make Plus Equal was founded. If not, you can find it here. The TL; DR version is this:


  • Working for 15 years in the outdoor apparel industry
  • Being a plus sized outdoor adventurer
  • Not being able to wear the product my teams built because of my size
  • Learning from Plunkett Research that the majority of women (and men) in North America are plus-sized
  • Recognizing the gap in the market
  • and…realizing that I was in the right place at the right time to bring about change…

Make Plus Equal was born. Well, in my mind it was. But not before spending the next 8 years bringing about this change for one of the largest global outdoor apparel companies, learning more every year about how to better-serve a marginalized demographic of people.

The Plunkett Research finding was the first lightbulb that gave me the vision to see the need for change.

The second lightbulb was an entirely different kind of vision. Not a vision as an idea or concept, not a vision in an ethereal way, but a literal – saw it with my own eyes – vision.

Part 2 is the story of the most incredible, life-changing shopping experience in my life that showed me how the world could be. And should be. My destination.

As a Product Line Manager for a global apparel company, one of my responsibilities was to have my finger on the pulse of what was happening in the marketplace. One of the ways we accomplished this was to go on market shopping trips – sometimes overseas, and sometimes even in our own local city. While these may sound like glamorous, company-funded shopping sprees, I assure you, very little often went home on the company’s corporate card.

Market shopping is actually a lot more like window shopping, going from store to store seeing how things are being displayed, seeing what the competitors are offering, new color and style trends, and so on. You can learn a lot about product by where it’s displayed in the store. If it’s up front, in the windows, with visual assets to go along (posters, tech info, etc.) you know your competition has invested heavily in it. If it’s on the clearance rack, be it yours or the competition’s – there’s a reason it didn’t sell. 

Europeans shopping on the cobbled streets
Indoor retail apparel display shows clothing hanging neatly from racks and folded on tables
A collage of images featuring assorted colors of men's sports jackets

But it’s not only about what we see in the shops. It’s also about what we see on the street: the people, what they’re wearing, how they’re wearing it, regional trends, how fashion informs function, and vice-versa.

While there’s a lot of extrapolation involved, it’s a fascinating type of research. 

And while I’m not going to lie – traveling around the world on someone else’s budget is a pretty damn special privilege – it was still a lot of work. Flying coach, long flights (see future post about int’l travel while fat), jet lag, every travel flub you can imagine (from delays to lost luggage to having my corporate card locked mid-trip due to fraudulent charges made in a country I wasn’t even in), foreign foods, languages, and cultures, can throw anyone for a loop. Follow that with long days on your feet (you don’t really know how big Manhattan is until your coworkers insist “we can just walk it”), looking at jacket after jacket after jacket, all while trying to snap photos like an international spy without getting caught and being shamefully escorted out of a shop. I know, the whole thing sounds very 007, but without the tuxedos and high-speed chases.

An abstract photo of neon signs at the Schipol airport at night
Paella with prawns
Le Palais de I'Ile, Annecy. a mideieval castle in the middle of the Thiou canal at dusk

But in exchange for all the effort, I got to see parts of the world that I never would have made it to on my dime (Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, Russia, to name a few). And I got to spend those days traveling with people I thoroughly enjoyed working with. Work travel is an amazing way to bond with coworkers; traveling together forms a connection that can’t really be found amongst the cubicles. In fact, If I’m being honest, I do believe I was once sent on a 72-hour trip to Chicago with a coworker just for the sole purpose of getting the two of us to stop butting heads and find a way to work better together – all under the guise of market travel. ;D

In 2015, I found myself booked on a 6 city, 3-week European trip with a half a dozen female coworkers from the various teams I worked with. A regional director, a designer, a colorist, two fit engineers, and myself. Girls’ trip! And while it wasn’t James Bond’s Monaco, we spent a few days each in Geneva, Annecy, Chamonix, Stockholm, Madrid, and Rome. In fact, the trip culminated with an invite to our European sales meeting at a gorgeous venue in Rome, followed by bash with a black/white dress code. Dealers’ choice on what you wore, as long as it was black and/or white. One of the directors showed up in a full Stormtrooper costume, no lie.

Because I’m plus-sized, I didn’t plan on doing any personal clothes shopping overseas (folks are typically even thinner in Western Europe than the US, so if I can barely find anything in stores here, I knew finding plus sized fashion retailers there were highly unlikely.) As such, I chose my party outfit from my closet (an off the shoulder, silk, black/white python print blouse, black slacks, heeled boot, statement jewelry) and threw them in the suitcase.

Three women, seated side by side, all with their cameras held high, comically shooting a picture of the same thing off in the distance.
Three knuckleheads in Chamonix, France
A Fit Engineer, a Regional Director, and a Product Line Manager walk into a bar…

Now, while I said our focus was purely window shopping, that was all business. But we didn’t just have our corporate cards with us. Obviously, we did a little personal shopping while we were out in the shops too. I mean…. it’s not like I can come back to Stockholm another day to pick up that scarf I was hemming/hawing over. So yes, some impulse purchases were made. And while my coworkers had also packed their party outfits from home, several of them would eventually come across something somewhere during the trip that caught their eye as a better, more exciting choice. One bought a blouse. One bought a fabulous leather dress. Me? I bought a ring. Because that’s what plus sized folks do. Shops don’t sell apparel in our sizes (especially in Europe), so we buy accessories to supplement our basics to give them a different look/feel.

I came home from the trip with a scarf, some earrings, the ring, and a few Christmas ornaments – my typical travel souvenir. I love reminiscing about some of the places I’ve been while decorating my tree every year. But as for personal shopping, that was it.

Until we got to Madrid. That’s where it all changed.

First – as for people-watching…on the heels of Switzerland, France, and Sweden, Madrid was the first place I saw women with various shapes and builds. Curves! Hips! Cleavage! I finally felt less out of place – and far less a foreigner – around not only my smaller-sized coworkers, but also among the general population.

But then it happened. El Corte Ingles. (**angels singing**)

External image of El Corte Ingles department store in downtown Madrid. A green scripted logo stands out against the grey color of the building.
El Corte Ingles, Madrid, Spain

It had been a long day. I’d been looking at men’s quilted jackets on 3 floors of this Macy’s-esque department store. Hilfiger. Ralph Lauren. Barbour. Jack & Jones. Carhartt. I even got to see some of my brand’s outerwear that I’d been building exclusively for the region for years, but had never seen (outside of prototypes) in the wild with my own eyes. My long-lost babies!

But I was beat. It was late in the afternoon, I was too warm, my feet were tired, and I was ready to head back to the hotel with the ladies for a glass of sangria.

Until one of my fit engineers decided I needed a pick-me-up, and suggested we go see if they had a plus-sized department for me to peruse for fun. It was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. 

Take beat, hot, tired, and apply it to the following: walking to the deepest darkest depths in the back corner of the store, likely in the basement next to radial tires and refrigerators. An abandoned department of frumpy outdated clothes in cheap fabrics. No sales staff to be found, deserted fitting rooms with a flickering fluorescent light overhead, that hadn’t been tended to in weeks. Getting undressed/redressed while hot/sweaty/exhausted in a changing room set so far back that no one could hear you scream if (when) you get trapped in a dress you thought was going to clear your shoulders.

A pitcher of sangria sounded way better.

A fruit-filled glass of sangria surrounded by tapas

But my coworker was persistent. 

So we found a sales associate – near the perfume counter – to ask if they had a Plus-sized department. Easy enough. Except we were in Spain. Ah. Right.

I mustered up and pieced together what I could recall from 9th grade Spanish. There were pleasantries…buenos…tardes(?) – afternoon…. Tiene…ropa…was it por or para(?) for women…(mujeres) con corpos? cuerpos?…mas grandes?? Did I butcher it? Did I pull it off?? She smiled, understood, and pointed us to the corner of the store. Of course. Here we go. To the hallows….

But when my coworker and I found the department, it was nothing like I expected. When I tell you it was a vision…it was truly a vision. I’d never seen anything like this before. Not only was the square footage of the department more generous than I’d ever seen, the sheer size of it allowed for a vast and diverse product offering. There was so much to choose from! I stood, gobsmacked, as I took it all in. Mother-of-the-Bride dresses. Bedazzled denim. Plaid. Sequined miniskirts, graphic crop tops, work dresses, little black dresses…

Not everything was my style. But that’s the beauty of it all. I got to choose… what suited me, what fit me…my body, my style, my budget. I had the freedom to choose.

All because this retailer recognized their customers – those curvy women I saw on the streets of Madrid – and catered to them. Instead of telling them what they could have…they provided an option for women to choose what they wanted. They honored the diversity of body types, needs, tastes, and provided the opportunity for women to choose.

It was all about choice. And enough selection for choices to be made. 

I selected a few pieces from the fixtures and took them back to the fitting room, where not one, but two sales associates got me settled. My coworker threw a few other things over the door at me that I wouldn’t have picked for myself. The sales associates came back to check on me multiple times, to see how I was doing, if I needed anything else (OMG, remember good customer service?!), and I did…. I did need something else. A smaller size. A larger size. Why be self-conscious about admitting to needing a larger size if I was never going to see these women again? I had nothing to lose. Does it come in blue? I asked these questions ALL IN SPANISH. Senor Ochi would’ve been so proud.

The service alone was unbelievable. The associates were so kind, prompt, and attentive. I was having a “Julia Roberts Pretty Woman” moment. Not the Richard Gere/call-girl part. The Rodeo Drive shopping spree part. I was the most important thing going on in that department, right then and there. I was valued. I felt seen. Like I mattered. Like I belonged.

A well-lit fitting room with a curtain and mirror

And every time I stepped out of the fitting room and stood in front of the 3-way mirror (ugghhh 3-way mirrors!), I felt like a million bucks.

I felt like me. I saw ME in the mirror. Not someone dressed as whatever a brand or retailer thought I was supposed to be.

Because I wasn’t restricted by what was available, I was able to choose the clothes that represented who I truly was. Or who I felt like being.

Again, gobsmacked.

Everything I took into the fitting room with me that day, I purchased. Two work dresses (one of which I wore when I successfully pitched the expansion of our Plus Sizes program to our Leadership team later that month). A plaid blouse. And yes, even the sequined miniskirt.

And to this day, every time I wear those pieces, I still feel like a million bucks.

Everyone should get to feel like a million bucks.

Regardless of size, shape, race, age, or identity. We all deserve equal choice.

The plus-sized community is the majority in North America. As such, 67% of apparel should be offered in our sizes. But we’re not that demanding. We’d settle for half. To be treated the same as everyone else.

No more. No less. Just equal.

And is the emotional reaction I still have while wearing those clothes because of the clothes themselves? The style and aesthetic I identify with? Do they transport me back to that positive shopping experience as a customer? Or to the epiphany that helped my find my purpose, and shifted my career path? Likely all of the above.

Here in the States, brands are so hesitant to invest in and serve a population they don’t yet understand. So rather than doing the work, researching, getting to know this demographic of potential customers, they play safe. They offer small assortments. They dip a toe. Test the waters. But here’s the problem when you play safe: the smaller the offering, the less likely the plus sized community is going to find what we want. Which means we won’t buy. Which means brands will think we’re not interested and they’ll pull the plug.  Shrug their shoulders. Say it didn’t work.

Because brands are deciding for us, prefiltering, assuming what we want based on very little data, they’re selling themselves short and limiting their opportunity for success, all while continuing to marginalize the plus-sized consumer. They’re not even giving it a chance to succeed. And while I’m not a sports fanatic per se, the following idioms come to mind: “never up, never in”, “play small, win small”, “no risk, no reward”. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Following the remaining days of our trip (wherein a hot Italian male model from our fashion show asked me to dance at the soiree following our Sales meeting – I told you this was a life-changing trip), I returned to the office and pitched a fit an idea to our Senior Leadership team about expanding our Inclusive Sizes product range – as a “stretch goal” on top of my current workload. They were on board, and in 5 years’ time, we quadrupled our Inclusive Sizes product offering, doubled our revenue, and firmly secured our spot as the leading global outdoor brand in Inclusive Sizes.

From there, the side-hustle became the full-time job. Starting in 2020, I went on to run the Inclusive Sizes Business as the Divisional Merchandising Manager, working with our Go-To-Market teams (Ecomm, Retail Merchandising, Marketing, Social Media), help them connect and engage with this new group of consumers, letting them know that not only were we making more product available for them, but that we were committed as a brand in taking every opportunity for size inclusion. Sales continued to boom. Our online engagement with the plus sized community blew away every social media benchmark we had in place.

So why would I walk away from a thriving business and successful career with one of the top 3 leading Global Outdoor brands?

Because I had more work to do.

My mission was about choice, and choice means more than one option.

It’s great if Brand A’s product fits your body, your budget, etc. But what if you don’t like the color pallet they picked for the season? Great – there’s a Brand B. You love the colors, but what if the body shape of their plus-sized fit model isn’t built like you? So then what?

Straight-sized folks have countless brands to choose from. Plus-sized folks do not. Not yet.

If my ultimate goal is equal choice for people of size, that means we need more brands working on size inclusion.

By being fully committed to a single brand, I limited the amount of change I could make in the industry. So I chose to step out, go bigger, and keep using my momentum, learnings, experience, and voice to advocate for and amplify that change.

By launching an apparel consulting firm focused on and committed to size inclusion, and hanging my shingle as the CEO, Founder, and Advisor of Make Plus Equal, I can help more brands become more size inclusive. Which means more choice for more people.

Which is how we Make Plus Equal.

And, to quote my father, who often quotes Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Make Plus Equal horizontal multicolor brand logo

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