I received a promotional email from Title Nine today about their swimwear. So what’s wrong with this picture?

Title Nine swimwear email

I’m guessing even without my helpful editing, it wouldn’t have taken you too long to figure it out. Title Nine is pretty much the antithesis of “all shapes and sizes.” And I say this as an admirer of their company and as a customer (when I can afford it, usually at clearance, because their prices are pretty much insane). Of course, the only reason I could speak from that position of relative leverage in my response to them below is because I happen to fit into their clothes right now. How deliciously ironic (as the Robot Devil might say).

Anyway, here’s the email I sent:

I am writing to comment on the fact that your recent email advertising the 2009 swimwear collection was headed “Swimwear in all shapes & sizes.” This is laughable coming from T9, which is famous for a complete lack of diversity both in its product sizing and that of the models/athletes featured in its catalogs.

(Incidentally, those models–and I realize they are not “models” per se, but that’s how they function in the catalog–are also usually quite racially homogeneous, and other differences including age and disability are not addressed at all. I appreciate T9’s use of a more athletic, fit, active “look” in presentation of its products, but I would suggest that you are simply substituting another difficult-to-attain aesthetic for the usual super-thin catalog model, when the emphasis should be on function. I’m sure your customers come in a wide variety of sizes and even among the very fit and competitive, not all are a tan, weathered size 2 with 6-pack abs.)

Getting back to the issue at hand, I happen to fit into your swimwear, so the email subject line I mentioned does not affect me personally, but I know a number of active women who love the outdoors and participating in sports who simply throw your catalog in the trash without opening it, because the sizing range is even more restrictive than that of most women’s clothing lines (e.g. a large or XL often represents anywhere from a 10-14, and in my experience the sizing tends to run small even within that range), and there is not a single garment in the catalog that comes anywhere close to fitting them.

I love your quality and focus on women’s health, strength, and achievement, and I admire T9’s commitment to customer service and involvement with women and its community. I would, however, encourage you to blaze a trail by selling clothes that active larger women can wear and enjoy–and by that I mean a full selection of your regular and most popular items in the full range of colors for extended sizes, rather than the usual trajectory for plus size lines at major retailers (that is, halfheartedly offering one or two unattractive, dumpy selections in a limited color selection, followed by poor sales, a quick discontinuation of plus sizes and a bewildered claim that there must just not be a market for the stuff because nobody’s buying it).

Or if you can’t do that, then at least refrain from blatantly false claim that “all shapes and sizes” of women are represented by the narrow range of swimwear sizing offered by T9, when in reality even the average American woman is probably near the top of your swimwear size range. I know this one email subject line is just a few words and easy to overlook–in theory, as a woman who fits into your clothes, it would be fairly easy for me to overlook too. But for larger straight-sized and plus-sized women looking for high-quality sports attire that is pretty much nonexistent in their size range, the subject line demonstrates once again that in retailers’ eyes, they (and their clothing and equipment budget) are invisible, unimportant, and unwanted. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Feel free to lend your voice if you like using their email contact form. I don’t think they’re an evil company, and I do appreciate the fact that models in their catalog are allowed to have wrinkles and not be blonde, and their attempts to promote an aesthetic of strength, health, and accomplishment rather than simply that of decorative thinness, devoid of normal “flaws” and bodily variation, which is more like what you see in most women’s catalogs. I just think they’re a little clueless that not every female athlete or fitness enthusiast is as thin (not to mention as well-off, able-bodied, and–almost always–white) as their featured athlete/models. Of course, it amounts to pretty much the same thing from a customer’s standpoint, if the functional sports apparel you’re looking for literally does not exist in your size.

ETA: I received the following response today (4/1) from Title Nine customer service (as I said, I do think they are a good and service-oriented company). However, I’ve been receiving their catalog for years with no sign of an expanded size range yet, so who knows when or if they will ever actually start doing this.

Thanks for contacting us. Please know that we would love to be able to carry so much more as far as sizes and styles. We definitely don’t mean to exclude anyone and encourage women of all shapes and sized  to stay active and fit.  You might be surprised but we have quite a range of ladies her at title nine from size 0 to 16+, from petite to tall, and muscular to skinny.

We actually get a lot of requests from women of all shapes and sizes (including us here in the office) requesting that we carry a wider range of sizes including petite, plus, and tall. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the warehouse space right now to stock as much inventory as we’d like.  We’re hopeful that as we continue to grow as a company that we will be able to offer a wider range of sizes to accommodate the needs of more active women of all shapes and sizes.