Episode 172: Where is All the Plus-Size Snow Gear – Part 2

Interview with Plus Snow Founder Mon Balon

Sponsored by IKON Pass, Danner

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For people who wear plus-size apparel, it’s often downright impossible to find the gear necessary to get out and stay warm, safe, and dry on the mountain. That’s what this two-part series is about.

In part two, we hear from Mon Balon, the founder of Plus Snow – an online retail shop that sells plus size snow gear to fulfill the need for quality gear that fits a variety of plus-size bodies. Mon shares the origin story of Plus Snow, talks about how misleading supply & demand can be within the industry and shares why she’s so passionate about this work.

In part one, we talk with Marielle Elizabeth. Marielle is a photographer, model, fat advocate, and the writer of a viral essay in The Cut titled “Apparently, I’m Too Fat to Ski.” Marielle speaks first hand about the need for plus size winter apparel, as well as the changes she’d like to see across the outdoor industry. Part 1 is also available now in your feed, or here on our website.

Full transcript available after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Mon Balon

Hosted by Gale Straub

Music is by James Childs and Kazi Jay licensed via MusicBed.

Resources

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Featured in this Episode

Mon Balon, Founder of Plus Snow

Mon Balon enjoying the mountains. Mon isn’t plus-size herself, but doesn’t want lack of gear to hold people back from finding joy in snowsports.

Plus Snow

Plus Snow is an online-only venture for now, but they empower their customers to find the right size for them.
Plus Snow is one of few outdoor retailers selling plus size thermals (as well as shells and insulation)

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores. This is the second of a two part series on plus size snow gear. Both are available in your feed today.

Mon Balon:

Well, I think everybody deserves to stand outside in the falling lightly falling snow, and look up and feel warm, dry, and cozy and feel those snowflakes on their face and not have to worry that their thighs hurt or their bombs poking out. Or they’ve got, you know, some bare skin showing or they’re feeling gross in men’s gear or embarrassed about the gear they’re wearing. So it’s, yeah, it’s really the customer that really spurs me on and the outdoors itself

Gale Straub – Narration:

In part one, Marielle Elizabeth talked about how clothing confers access. Your gear doesn’t need to be brand new or luxurious, but it does need to cover your body and fit properly. And while that should be possible across sizes in the outdoor industry, it definitely isn’t standard. Mon Balon, founder of Plus Snow, is hoping to change that. Let’s jump right into the origin story of Plus Snow, which started in Australia. The story goes back to Mon’s childhood.

Mon Balon:

Basically, I’m, I’m a ski shop kid. So my mom had a skate shop when I was a little girl and she sold secondhand clothing to make skiing more accessible to Australians and to families when I was a little girl. So I kind of grew up as that kid going there. And it was kind of like my babysitter. Um, so her and I ran the business for many years together. And then later my Canadian husband came in and we ran the business together. And as a life happens and my mum passed away, I decided, and my husband decided together that it would be a good opportunity to try something different in life and see what I could create for myself and for himself. So he went into his own new business and I decided to go into mine. But while I was trying to work out that what that was going to be, I decided to go into a drop shipping model of [inaudible] in Australia.

Mon Balon:

So I started working from home. My kids were really little, my son was one at the time and I was buying small amounts of products into my home and then selling them from there as well as the drop shipping model, which is direct from the supplier’s warehouse to the consumer. And part of my old skate shop had, uh, had had a plus size section in my old skate shop when we were a bricks and mortar store. So I started getting in a little bit of product for that, and it was selling out really quickly. And basically over that first winter season that I had that online model going, I had three deliveries are plus size clothing. And by the time the second and the third delivery was ordered, it was sold out before even came to my home to be shipped out again. And I used to love talking to customers and starting a small business.

Mon Balon:

You’re very hands-on with everything. And I had a customer say to me, one day you should have a website that’s plus size snow gear only. And I just thought, gosh, that’s a great idea. So, because I’ve been in this game industry for so long, I went and spoke to my suppliers and I had one supplier that was already making rental clothing. Uh, and she makes amazing fits and cuts in for retail, but also for rental. So I went and spoke to her and I spoke to another supplier and I had two suppliers that would make plus sized gear for me. So in the size specs that I, that I needed. So yeah, that’s basically how plus snow was born. And that was five and a half, six years ago. And it’s been growing since then. I had a couple of good journalists and different people in the industry that realized what I was doing. And they hunted me down and kind of gave me a little bit of press. And once people started to know that I was there, I was just getting busier and busier every winter.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Now Mon’s not plus sized herself and she’s very open about that. But while she doesn’t have firsthand experience shopping as a plus sized person, which would indeed be valuable, her years of experience in retail helped to equip her with skills to make a serious contributionto solving this problem

Mon Balon:

As a voice that’s, you know, coming from a retailer and coming from experience of sales background and knowing, and going to trade shows and having a little bit of experience with big companies and how they work on the wholesale and supply. And I feel like it’s something that brings me a lot of joy to be able to do for other people and, and obviously do for myself as well. I mean, I want to grow my business, but it’s not fair that people don’t get to go out in the mountains and go outside and enjoy winter. And during COVID, everyone needs to be able to get outside and not necessarily congregate together and, you know, and enjoy the mountains in the winter and the outside and the fresh air. And it, it ties in with mental health on so many levels, which is a big issue, you know, for me and for everyone during COVID that, you know, I think if everyone can just get outdoors more that mentally we’re all going to be in a better place as a result,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Mon launched a US version of Plus Snow since she’s been in Canada with her husband and children during COVID. They had come over earlier in the year and weren’t able to return home. Mon saw a real need for plus size snow gear in the US, too. Mon explains that, for her as a small business, there’s a real advantage to focusing on plus size, and particularly plus size snow gear, rather than having a full range of sizes across different activities.

Mon Balon:

You know, that gorgeous customer that suggested it to me in the first place was so on the money with it. As I’ve learned over the years, that you can’t just size up regular size snow gear and expect it to work. You know, you have to have real focus on supporting the people who are in plus-sized and their shapes and their needs, and really being a specialist. And so I’ve come to tout myself as a specialist and an expert in this area because of my experience.

Gale Straub:

So, so you mentioned that you, you know, you have this experience with retail so that you have, have had lots of conversations with wholesalers, you know, through trade shows and, and through your background and, you know, through to today, what have you learned about the plus size ski apparel market? Like what have you, and what have you learned about wholesalers and why they do or do not make that size clothing?

Mon Balon:

Well, I’m speaking from my experience of coming from Australia. So I don’t have as much experience talking with North American companies and the big companies over this side of the world as much. So that’s kind of a limitation, I, I guess, on my answer, but from what I understand and what I know from my lifetime is that, uh, manufacturing is expensive and you’ve got to make it work for you. And it’s all about a supply and demand. So what I understand is that when you have a skate shop or you’re a retail, and you’re creating demand for the wholesaler to make a certain size range, you buy within a certain bell curve of sizes. So, you know, low amount in a small size and in your average size, which used to be a size 12 more, and then it tapers off as you get to the 14 or the 16.

Mon Balon:

So that’s the way that you buy. And as a result, that’s the way that your customers buy. And then depending on what kind of stock you have left at the end of the season, you can say, Oh, well, I’ve got too many size sixteens left. I won’t buy as many next year. I sold out of my size tens, or my says 12 this year. So I’ll buy more. So it’s that kind of self-fulfilling problem in that way. But as far as manufacturers and wholesalers go, they’re not getting the demand from the retailer, but they’re also not providing the gear that fits fit, the women that they to fit. So women with bigger thighs and hips, and, you know, when it comes to creating sizes that are extended or plus size, or without their normal size spec, they have to, there’s so much investment involved in that they have to get new fit testers and new fit models, and they have to create a new spec for their, for their actual fit and their shape.

Mon Balon:

Uh, so what they’ve done incorrectly in the past is they’ve just sized up. So they will create up to a size 16 or a size, extra large, and then they’ll just click one more size and see how that goes, or two more sizes and see how that goes. And that’s the floor in creating clothing for plus size women. You can’t just pick up from, you know, a fit model that was a size, extra, small, small, and then expected to fit plus size women at the, at the opposite end of the size grid. It needs to be specifically tailored to plus size women and their shapes. You know, what I’ve actually found from some companies when I went to my last trade show is there’s companies that are doing plus size, but they’re only specking up from the sizes they’ve currently got. And they’ve only got one model.

Mon Balon:

And quite often that model is just tiny waist, slightly bigger hips, and then go back to quite a slim thigh. And what I found in some of my most populous styles is that yes, that hour glass woman in plus sizes does exist. But quite often there’s also the shape that is more like an Apple or more like a pear. And the women that have big bum hips and thighs they’ve basically got nothing. So even a average size woman that is that pear shape, she has to go in and buy an extra large women’s size ski pants because her regular size doesn’t fit her curves. So she’ll end up buying men’s gear. And then that creates this false demand in men’s gear. But of course it doesn’t fit anywhere else, but that’s the only option she’s got. One other thing I have to add in there as well is when the companies try their plus size gear, they start at the low end of the quality spectrum.

Mon Balon:

So what I mean is, you know, you’ve got companies and I won’t name any specifically, but there are some companies that are doing plus size snow clothing, but all they’re doing is that very basic quality gear. So it starts very often with water resistant pants, which in Australia is ridiculous because it’s such wet snow over there, but water resistant pants and low end quality, not very waterproof, not very breathable. Doesn’t have the technicality that you need. Doesn’t have the full same ceiling. Doesn’t have like a Gore-Tex plus size range is completely unheard of. I’ve been trying to chase it for years, but you just can’t find it unless you going into men’s plus sizes. And as I’ve found in my experience is that 85% of my customers are female. And I do get men who are plus size, but somehow they seem to be catered to in other areas, whether it’s work wear, or they don’t care about style and fit as much, but women who are, you know, really looking for that plus size fashion in the higher quality stuff, it just doesn’t exist either for me.

Mon Balon:

And I can’t get it made either. And I guess that’s why I’m kind of have realized that it’s not about me making my own gear or creating my own range. It’s about going to these companies who already have the experience of the technical fabrics and the quality and the eco-friendly fabrics too, and saying, Hey, there’s a whole segment out here. You’re not catering to why don’t you make high-end quality gear for plus size women so they can get out there and do these through hikes. And these multi-day hikes and spend a whole day in the mountains with their friends.

Gale Straub:

Because part of the subtext there is that it’s almost like these companies going back to that self fulfilling piece, if you’re not even going to invest in making the kind of gear that’s going to allow these women to Excel in the mountains, like what is going to have them come back to the mountains?

Mon Balon:

Yeah, exactly. And really when you get down to the crux of what you just said, it’s a stigma and they’re actively excluding a whole segment of people from even getting outdoors and being able to, you know, do all those activities that they want to do at a high level. And slowly we’re starting to see in other industries of fitness that plus size bodies can, can be athletes and they can Excel at a high level and they can perform and they can be bad woman, you know? And because there’s companies say, Oh, plus size, people are fat and lazy and they have no motivation to get outdoors. We’re not ever going to make gear for them or they don’t want to buy the gear because there’s no demand for that gear because we’re not making the gear cause the shop’s not selling the gear because we’re not designing the gear properly for them. It’s this terrible cycle of, of stigma attached to plus size people.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. One and one way of kind of breaking that is, um, not just on the company side, but on the, in the media. So I think the media is starting to pick up on that and telling stories of amazing plus size athletes and also everyday plus size athletes. Cause I think they’re, they’re, you know, just as important as those that excel in a sport.

Mon Balon:

Absolutely. Uh, you know, a person that’s getting out doors every day and enjoying the outdoors, you know, that’s kind of what we’re trying to promote and, and show to the world that if we had the gear, people get outdoors more, it’s pretty simple.

Gale Straub:

And then maybe that bell curve would shift or expand or just like start to start to look a little different over time.

Mon Balon:

Correct. I think there’s a few ways that, you know, the companies could do a better job in providing gear in the outdoor industry in general, you know, reducing fast fashion and changing over your models and your styles every year would help the retailer, but that exposure to plus size people in the media and podcasts and people talking about it and it not just being plus sized people talking about it as well, just being part of our conversation as a society, the admiration that I have working in this industry and, you know, following all the plus sized people is huge. And I really come to realize and admire so many plus-size athletes out there doing really amazing things in their day to day life and having goals and being inspiring just by being them. You know, you never know who you’re inspiring just by being yourself. And I think it’s fantastic.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear more from Mon after the break.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back with Mon founder of Plus Snow.

Gale Straub:

Do you think you’d be able to speak a little bit more to what you said about, you know, you’re a, an online retail shop like you, ideally aren’t creating the, the gear. You’re a place where people can find it and people can be served and they can make sure they have the right fit and they can have awesome customer service. But could you speak a little bit more to the fact that you believe that it’s going to be brands and maybe even, would you say it’s like brands that are already well-established out there that are going to be the ones to, to really make a shift in terms of the product that’s available out there?

Mon Balon:

Absolutely. I have with what I’d done so far, all I’ve done is I’ve worked with the companies that are already making skier in Australia and now in other as well, uh, you have just expanded to another couple of brands as well, that are overseas. And you know, I go to them and say, I love this jacket. I want you to make it in plus size. And then we collaborate together to get the best plus size feet. And sometimes it takes a few years to, you know, create something and then tweak it a little bit and, and create the best current shape for that, that model. So that’s kind of worked really well with my suppliers in Australia. And I think that same thing can happen with, you know, the big brands all over the world. They just need, uh, someone who’s a specialist or somebody who knows or somebody to really have proper focus on their plus size range and then create a true plus size range of outdoor gear.

Mon Balon:

Not like I said, something that’s just specked up, but something that is specifically for plus size bodies and plus size shapes and really doing it in, in a really good way, because it needs to be, in my opinion, it needs to be a company that already has the ability to make the highly technical, you know, fabrics and the qualities and that, and understand shapes and cuts specifically for the sports that people are doing that way. You’re not taking away from the focus of creating the plus size range. So you’re actually specifically kind of looking towards getting the cut and the shape and the fit, right. And then not distracted with creating the technicalities of the fabric and all the other bits and pieces that come with making snow gear and outdoor gear, because it’s not like the fashion industry where you can just make a dress that stretchy.

Mon Balon:

And it’s a bit bigger, you know, outdoor gear is so technical. The outdoor industry is really moving into this environmental, uh, phase where they’re no longer just saying they’re environmental. And they’ve got, you know, a couple of environmental pieces in their gear. They’re actually moving to be fully environmentally friendly, you know, making, you know, with their fabrics and then pieces that they use on their gear and the way that they distribute and you know, the whole level. So I think there is a distraction for a lot of, uh, wholesalers, if you were going to, or manufacturers, if you were going to start from scratch. And that’s why if you had the brand that was already trusted. And also it comes down to the fact that if you’ve got a company like Patagonia that is already admired in that space and they embrace the plus size body shape, imagine the impact that can have across the whole industry, across the whole segment of people who feel all of a sudden included and seen and respected, and they start advertising and putting information or pictures out in the media of these plus size women wearing their gear.

Mon Balon:

And it’s not just some woman, you know, hanging off a cliff, who’s the size eight, you know, it’s, it’s the every day woman wearing their really high end gear,

Gale Straub – Narration:

More mainstream brands serving the plus size community can have big impacts on the whole industry changing. Mon also extrapolates some of these benefits to those people who are on the edge of plus and straight sized, and those people who are postpartum or pregnant. Because the truth is, our bodies aren’t fixed. They change over time.

Mon Balon:

It’s always been for me, it’s always been about the customer and the appreciation and the love that I get from people who have, are able to change their life or enjoy their life more as a result, a direct result of what I can do and what I’ve done and those random messages that just come in or the people that say, Oh my gosh, I’ve heard about you. I love what you’re doing. And that really kind of spurs me on and, and makes me really passionate about it. And I didn’t realize how passionate I was about it until I start talking to people like yourself. And then I can hear myself go on and on and on and on. And I, and that voice in my head is saying stop talking, but my math just keeps going and going because I’m so excited about it. And I literally live and breathe it.

Mon Balon:

And I just, I love snow so much, which is why plus snow was born. It’s just been one of those things that has really mentally helped me through my life as something that I can identify that is for me and me, myself and my own enjoyment. And I just want to share that with everyone. And I think everybody deserves to stand outside in the falling, lightly falling snow, and look up and feel warm, dry, and cozy, and feel those snowflakes on their face and not have to worry that their thighs hurt or their bombs poking out, or they’ve got, you know, severe skin showing or they’re feeling gross in men’s gear or embarrassed about the gear they’re wearing. So it’s, yeah, it’s really the customer that really spurs me on and that, and outdoors itself.

Gale Straub:

Oh, that’s wonderful. I just thought about, and I could be overreaching even asking this, but I wonder, you know, I think about your mom and having the second-hand ski shop and how she was helping more people get onto the bout. And D do you think she’d be proud of you in what you’re doing, how you’re making in certain ways, making skiing more accessible for more people?

Mon Balon:

Uh, you know, I guess that’s the one thing about having a mother who’s passed away. You’re constantly thinking about what she would think and because we ran the business together over so many years, I a hundred percent, I do it. It’s the one thing that really spurs me on when I think, Oh, should I really be investing all this time and money and energy, should I really be taking this leap at this time? And I’m constantly hearing her voice in my head, you know, telling me that I can do it. Um, I was 16 years old when I went to my first trade show. And that year when I came home from my first trade show and she had the skate shop, she basically said to me, he go, you write all the orders for the skate shop this year. So I’ve been writing, you know, snow gear orders since I was really, really young and her confidence in me to just go for it and learn as I go along, uh, you know, has really inspired me.

Mon Balon:

And she was maybe, I don’t know this as a true fact, but she was maybe one of the very first female ski shop owners in Australia. And, you know, in the late 1970s, she started her first ski shop and she said she didn’t even expect it to be busy. She just wanted to sit up the back and paint her nails. And she got busy without realizing that it was going to be a thing. And I think it’s funny and ironic, not ironic, but it’s funny. And, uh, you know, kind of gorgeous that the same thing has happened to me. I started plus snow as just a thing that I thought could be cool while I was waiting for my husband to start his new career. And it just took off without me even realizing. And I think when you come from, uh, an honest part of business and it just takes off like that, it’s really easy to kind of just keep working away at it and helping it to become successful because it is a true, it comes from a true, in an honest place, I guess.

Mon Balon:

And so that’s where I hope that people can kind of see that when I talk to them or communicate to them or email them, or they hear me on a forum or whatever, that they can kind of see that, Oh, this girl she’s got thin privilege, but she’s catering to the plus size people and she’s helping awareness and she’s, she’s representing, and she’s doing the right things and she’s not doing it for her own self. She’s doing it for the greater good. So that’s, yeah. I, I think about my mom all the time, you know, she was, she was amazing and I hope my kids think I’m amazing when they grow up.

Gale Straub:

So what are, what are some of your hopes, you know, as you look to the future for, for Plus Snow, both in the US and Australia?

Mon Balon:

Yeah. And the world actually, you know, there’s a lot of people in the UK and I had an order today from Israel and another one from Amsterdam, which was a bit exciting. Huh. So my hopes, uh, that, uh, the big brands will listen and they’ll start making plus size gear and plus size women will be represented in the media and in the outdoor industry. And we’ll see more normal shaped bodies doing awesome things. My hope for plus snow is that I can continue to grow and hopefully expand all while maintaining my love for what I do and having balance of family and mountain time, because coming from a family where everyone owns their own business, it’s very easy to get swept away in running the business and not actually getting outdoors, which was the whole reason that you got into it in the first place. So for me, it’s finding the balance and the passion and the representation and making a change. And if some big company came along and said, we’re going to make all this plus size gear and it’s going to be in this quality. And my whole business gets shut down, which I hope it won’t. But if that did happen, I would be so happy and proud of myself. I think I’d be more proud of myself if that happened, because I would know that I was one of the advocates for change.

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