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Op Ed: What Women Want – Definitely Not Hot Pink Gloves

Editor's Note: Lisa Slagle has published a number of great stories and op-eds about her experience as a small business owner in a mountain town, as a woman in the outdoor industry, and how coasting on a mountain bike can clear your head. This time around, she talks about the disconnect between women's influence on buying decisions in the outdoor market and their own experience outdoors.

How do women feel in their experiences in the outdoor community? Lisa Slagle photo.

Recently, I started a conversation with one of my favorite companies about how I thought they could improve their web presence when it comes to marketing their women’s line.

Even as the owner of a creative agency, I was a little nervous about reaching out to them about it because calling out one of your favorite companies right out of the gate is a bold move. However, their response has been awesome, and they are awesome, admitting that they are a company made of men and they realize that “Woman Brain is different than Man Brain.”

It really is.

"The point of all this is that women really do weigh in on a lot of buying decisions. Their influence is abundant." Lisa Slagle photo.

For years, I’ve seen stats that women make 85% to as high as 94% of all buying decisions.

I never really thought about it or particularly cared about those numbers until I forced myself to start listening for it over the last few months.

A few different potential male clients came in for initial meetings and used phrases such as “My wife wanted me to ask you guys if ….” and “Before I sign a contract, I need to check with The Boss when she gets back into town.”

At a local gear shop yesterday, I was shopping for new snowboard gloves and amusedly noticed a husband trying on snowboard jackets and turning to his wife and ask her what she thought each time. The winner was the jacket she told him “Matches your maroon pants and makes you look really athletic” and the loser was the one that had “A weird fat puff in the chest.”

I noticed that even my man friend constantly asks me questions like, “Think I should buy a dirt bike or a downhill bike this year?”

The point of all this is that women really do weigh in on a lot of buying decisions.
Their influence is abundant.

But then, in the outdoor industry, we suddenly see this crazy disconnect.

#1:There is often a small selection of women-specific gear to choose from.

#2: The way in which the outdoor industry markets to women is definitely improving, but still has a lot of gaps to fill, and this is most evident in the stigmatic subcultures associated within each sport.

The gear battle is obvious.

For example, yesterday while I was browsing for gloves and creeping on the married jacket shoppers, I could not find a single pair of high performance gloves small enough for my hands. I found plenty of lower-end gloves that would fit, but none that were water-resistant enough for long backcountry days in the wet, spring days of Montana. I went home empty handed and ordered a pair online.

And I don’t like pink. I don’t even like black with little hot pink accents. Yet I own a lot of black and pink gear because it’s often my only choice in the product that I want. My snowboard boots are a perfect example of that. And my new gloves. It’s not a big deal, but it’s still kind of a bummer, and something I think about every time I put my boots on.

This scale of representation for the ladies expands past quality and color options into culture and marketing.

While organizations such as SheJumps, CoaltionSnow, Outsiety, and FullMoonFilms are instigating massive amounts of positive change in the outdoor industry, there is still a level of female exclusion and intimidation that runs rampant in the industry.

While I believe that this feeling of outsider status is accidental—an overlooked aspect of marketing—and not something done with intention, I am excited to help change it and improve it.

I also believe this conversation is never about attacking men. Because this conversation isn't about men. It's about women. 

Along these lines, I find it interesting that women are very comfortable helping their men decided whether or not to buy jackets and dirt bikes, but often it seems there is hesitance to purchase for themselves.

Even my closest lady friends have asked me to go shop for bikes with them because they “hate going to bike shops.” What?! I want women to own their personal purchasing decisions. Buy the bike you actually want!

I grew up working in bike shops, snowboard shops, and then online gear shops. It’s never been intimidating to me. All the guys are nice, and there’s always at least one cool chick at the shop willing to set you up with the right bike for your needs and riding style. Until recently, I empathized with the intimidation factor, but had never really felt it.

Then I started snowmobiling — something new for me.

In every single snowmobile shop experience I have had, it’s been a shop filled with men, and I feel intimidated, uncomfortable, and outnumbered. Lisa Slagle photo.

I don’t know how to fix my own sled yet. I can name a lot of parts in my sled and sometimes correctly describe how a turbo works, but I can’t rip off my side panels, take a look around, and know what to fix and how to fix it. This means I have to rely on others to help me. In every single snowmobile shop experience I have had, it’s been a shop filled with men, and I feel intimidated, uncomfortable, and outnumbered. Simply put, the whole experience is highly unenjoyable, and I can’t wait to leave. It’s the worst.

Additionally, my small hands (in their pink and black gloves) don’t even reach the throttle and the entire handlebar at the same time. If I want to hold the handlebar securely enough to turn, I have to slam the throttle to the handlebar with my palm, and then I actually have the ergonomic ability to wrap my fingers around the bar. Which means I’m effectively punching it wide open just to try to turn or have a strong grip. It’s just problematic. Trying to explain this to a crew of dudes doesn’t really get me anywhere. “Don’t hit the throttle so hard if you don't want to go wide open,” they tell me with their non-pink gloves. Face palm.

"I'm all about instigating fun instead of fear." Lisa Slagle photo.

Even culturally, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in a super smelly warming cabin for snowmobilers in the Revelstoke backcountry, surrounded by strangers: 14 men and ZERO other women. While they were all talking about their machines and burp-exhaling Kokanee, there was a part of me that wanted to be able to turn to another lady and laugh about how I would have bought the burliest sports bra on the market if I’d known how aggressively bumpy and rutted that access road was going to be. (Am I right?!) Instead, I told myself, “keep that to yourself” and silently watched the snow melt off my pink and black boots next to the stove. I couldn't wait to leave the hut.

These are just a few of my experiences. I’m not uncommon. Ask your lady friends about their experiences, both good and bad. They’ll tell you.

I’d like to see some positive change in the outdoor industry, and at  WheelieCreative, I think about this a lot.

  • How can we make these experiences easier for women?
  • How can we make shops more approachable and empathetic?
  • How can we make websites where the “women’s gear” section isn’t full of more white space than products?
  • How can we make performance gear that is not pink and black? (I know some designers….)

When people ask me these questions, it all comes down to one thing:

I’m all about instigating fun instead of fear.

Playing outside is positive. It’s a chance to challenge yourself or socialize or go really really fast and forget all your responsibilities for a few hours. It’s an opportunity to be present, feel small, and breathe clean air. It’s the ability to feel wild and free.

And alive.

That’s what it’s about, and those feelings should transcend gender barriers.

  • Online shopping experiences should be fun.
  • Gear shops should be fun.
  • Warming huts should be fun.
  • Color choices should be fun.

We’re here to show you how to make it fun.

From The Column: Women in the Mountains

Awesome piece Lisa! I whole-heartedly agree that the outdoor industry has a loooong way to go on designing products, media, and experiences specifically for women (or at least with women in mind). I’ve thought about the problem a bit myself and I’ve come to the conclusion that at least part of the problem is that it’s fairly straightforward to market “action sports” to men - huge airs, thumping bass, and kinetic editing seems to do it - but women’s preferences are much harder to pin down. Even on this article, the amount of folks commenting on the Facebook post in defense of the color pink demonstrates that to me. I also think it’s going to take people like you working on solutions to this problem to lead the way forward. I’m excited to check out what you come up with.

You should join Snowest if haven’t already. They have sub-forum for the gals, and they get together and ride some as well.

Lisa, I agree with this completely. I know some women love the color pink and embrace it as empowering, but really, when will manufacturers get over the idea that women only want gear that’s candy-colored and start marketing to them as the athletes they are?  I started, the leading online community for women skiers, in reaction to the perception that women skiers are second-class athletes. Yes, we may view things differently, but that doesn’t mean we’re not just as good, or as serious about skiing, as men. And I hear you about shopping; a common complaint on TheSkiDiva is how condescendingly women are treated in ski shops. I mean, it’s 2016. Can’t we be done with this already?

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