Recently I was contacted by Rene Rice of Flying Pig Apparel, a startup plus-size activewear business, and I got excited. Really excited. Because I’m incredibly frustrated at the dearth of activewear available for fat women. Especially since there is an assumption that we’re all sedentary and lazy, and the constant calls of “Just move your arse fatty!” I’ve really struggled to find suitable clothing to ride my bike in, and even worse to find clothes to do yoga in.
I asked Rene if I could interview her for Fat Heffalump, as I think it’s really important to support a business that is finally going to start catering to all fat bodies, and particularly one that is run by people who know what it’s like to live in a fat body. I know I’m going to be supporting this project, and I hope you all will too.
For starters, will you introduce yourself Rene?
Rene Rice is a 20-something from Albany, Oregon. She’s been sewing for herself and others since the age of 5, and has made things as diverse as a corduroy couch cover to a fuchsia wedding dress. Short, wide and voluptuous, Rene has had a love/hate relationship with all things active. She loves being outside, camping, hiking, and even horseback riding. She hated P.E. and still isn’t a huge fan of competitive sports. Right now she’s obsessed with her latest project, Flying Pig Apparel, a small line of active wear for plus size women. She’s more than happy to talk to anyone about it, it’s getting her to shut up that’s the trick.
What made you decide to go into business producing activewear for plus-sizes?
It actually happened kind of spontaneously. I began my self-acceptance and Health at Every Size journey late in 2011, and joined my local YMCA at the beginning of 2012. I rapidly realized that I didn’t have anything appropriate to work out in that wasn’t stained or worn to bits. I tried searching for active wear to fit me online (because I knew full well that my local stores didn’t have anything) and was shocked and annoyed that I could only find ONE company that made work out pants large enough to fit me. And despite hearing several glowing reviews of the quality of their products, I was simply unable to pay their high prices.
Thankfully I’m a skilled seamstress, so in place of spending $80 for a single pair of yoga-type pants, I purchased some fabric and made my own. I also bought some fabric to make a few cute work out tops after seeing another plus size woman rocking hot pink leopard print top in a zumba class at the gym. Bobby, Barb, and Audre had all seen me in one of the tops, and we got to talking about our frustrations with clothing in general. Someone made an offhand comment that we should just take over the world and I replied, “Well, maybe not the whole world, but we could probably manage the fashion world.” I spent about two weeks feverishly doing research on the plus size active wear situation and also searching for wholesale suppliers of fabric and notions. I also randomly heard about Kickstarter during that time.
From there, things have just fallen into place in really amazing ways. I was given a serger, which made producing our sample garments much easier than it was for me to make those original pieces. Then one of us had a bit of a windfall, which allowed us to purchase the fabric, and a few parts for the free serger. And it seemed like every time one of us turned around, we’d end up in a conversation with a friend, a neighbor, or a random person on the street who expressed how much they loved our ideas.
What size ranges are you planning on offering with Flying Pig Apparel?
Want to know something wonderful? All of our garments will be available in any size, no limits. Two of the things we’re purchasing with our start up funds are pattern drafting and grading software and a large format printer. Basically that will allow us to take any customer’s measurements, plug them in, and within a matter of minutes have a pattern that will fit them, regardless of whether they have a 27 inch waist or a 72 inch waist or larger.
I can’t even describe how discouraging it was for me, back in January, to be searching for active wear. Each time I’d check the size chart, regardless of whether their top size was a 2X or a 6X, the largest hip measurement was in the 55-60 inch range which put me a little bit over. It sends a strong message that larger people should not exercise. We don’t want lack of adequate clothing to be a barrier for anyone trying to get active.
Where did you come up with the name?
We were all brainstorming ideas for a name for the business. I knew I wanted to play with words. I played with acronyms of fat for a while, but I heard someone use the phrase “when pigs fly” and it just clicked. And just to be clear, we’re not calling ourselves or our customers pigs, not even cute flying pigs. We’re saying the proverbial pigs are flying, so now what? We’re giving ourselves permission to go out and do all of those ‘impossible’ things we’ve always wanted to do. Starting a business is one of them for us.
Tell us about the Flying Pig team? Is it just you or do you have others you work with?
Oh, if it were just me, rest assured that Flying Pig Apparel would have never come to be. I’m incredibly thankful to be surrounded by a group of friends whose strengths compliment my own. I don’t have much business sense, but thankfully Bobby knows all about running a business and has done it before. I’m a reluctant newcomer to social media, but thankfully Audre has stepped into that role beautifully. And thankfully Barb is here to take on the marketing and shipping duties… silly me, I was pricing boxes for shipping things in! *chuckles* I get to be the spokesperson right now, but as soon as I’ve got some sewing to do I’ll happily go back and hide in my sewing room and let one of the others do the talking.
You have a basic range – do you plan to expand that in the future?
Absolutely! We’re starting with this basic range of active wear for two reasons: we felt it was the biggest gap in the things available to plus size women right now, and the logistics of manufacturing them was the easiest to arrange. We’ve got a lot of ideas of things we’d like to develop, and we’re still working out a strategic plan for when and how to introduce those items. I can tell you that we’ll be working on expanding our active wear line first, bringing some more sport-specific and high performance options. For example, we’ll be working on bicycle shorts/leggings as soon as I get my hands on the pattern drafting software. I’d also like to offer a complete men’s line as well. Oh, and sports bras! I think we can make better sports bras, and I think we can make the high quality ones more affordable for lower income women.
But we’re not stopping at active wear. I’m also passionate about ensuring that all women have access to the wardrobe basics that can be so difficult to find. I’ve worked in retail and restaurants for 10 years, and there’s never been a year that I have not struggled to find a pair of basic black slacks. I’ll admit, I’m picky, but I know what looks good on my figure. I don’t want an elastic waistband. I don’t want pleats. I NEED pockets. Other things like basic white or black button down shirts or polo shirts are important too. And they need to be high quality but affordable. After that, the sky is the limit. We’ve got ideas crowding our brains across all categories of clothing, from undies to formals.
When do you plan to have your store open for business?
We hope to have our retail website up and running by mid-August, September at the latest.
Are you only marketing to HAES practitioners or size acceptance peeps?
No, we’re welcoming of all women of size (and men too, though we don’t have any men’s products just yet) and so we’re taking a diet-neutral stance. We won’t accept any body shaming or diet talk on our blog, but on the other hand we’re not going to engage in bashing dieters either. I don’t personally agree with dieting, but I still think those who have chosen that route are deserve the option of nice looking active wear. On the blog, I talk about the four healthy habits that are proven to lower the risk of mortality across all weight ranges: avoiding smoking, moderate drinking, eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and getting exercise 3 days a week. Regardless of what your goals are, those are healthy choices to make, and we’ll encourage those habits in our readers and customers.
How can people support you in your startup of Flying Pig Apparel?
First check us out at flyingpigapparel.wordpress.com. We have photos of our samples posted and more information about our vision and values there. We’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds we need to start the business as well as make the first 250-ish items. As soon as the Kickstarter campaign starts, we’ll post a link on our blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you’re connected with us. I won’t go through all the rewards, but if you contribute at the $50 level you get your choice of one of the tops, and if you contribute at the $100 level you’ll get a full outfit. Shipping is included in that amount. So think of it as pre-ordering. Can’t afford that much right now? You can back us for as little as $1, and every dollar counts. (Note: The Kickstarter page is up! Click here!)
Can’t pledge your support? You can still help us out. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or follow our blog and share it with your family and friends. The more people that hear about us, the better our chances of meeting our goals. Kickstarter works on an all-or-nothing principal, so if we don’t receive enough pledges we don’t receive any of the money.