There Is No Such Thing As One Size Fits All

by Susan Otcenas

The following is an excerpt from a talk TeamEstrogen.com founder Susan Otcenas gave in 2012 at the Women's Summit (part of the National Bike Summit) in Washington DC.



TeamEstrogen.com was founded on the premise that women are not built like men (this is shocking, I know) and that we will better enjoy participation in our chosen sport if we have sport-specific apparel that is attractive, well-fitting, comfortable and built without compromise.

And so, since 1998, we have made it our mission to find the very best athletic apparel for women of all shapes and sizes.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

Like many of us, I cycled as a kid. Rode my bike all over the neighborhood, and biked to school for most of high school. No buses in my small town.

In my early 20’s, I found myself a newly-minted college graduate still carrying around the Freshman Fifteen (ok, maybe more like 25 or 30...). I decided to embark on a program of diet and exercise to do something about it. What I discovered was that I was really lousy at the diet part. But I LOVED the exercise part! I started out by joining a women’s gym, and soon fell in love with step aerobics. Looking for something to do together on weekends, my man & I decided to buy bicycles. It was love at first pedal. I remember the first day I rode 17 miles on my $88 Huffy Roadmaster. I felt like a rock star!

One of my frustrations with cycling was the lack of apparel available to fit me. At the time, I wore mostly 12s & 14s. I’ve never been a small gal, but I was certainly not obese. However, the choice of women’s apparel in my size was woefully inadequate, and most bike shops tried to put me into men’s clothing, assuming they bothered to carry clothing at all. But, I’m not shaped like a man, and men’s clothing looked terrible on me.

Fast forward to 1998. I’d spent numerous years in banking, and I’d also spent numerous years traveling and playing by bike. I decided I wanted to start a women’s specific bike shop, one that would focus exclusively on the needs of female cyclists. Instead, my partner &emdash; who was a freelance web developer &emdash; and I decided to launch Team Estrogen online. This was back in the hey day of the dot com boom when new web companies were sprouting like weeds. 15 years & a few dot bombs later, many of those competitors are gone, but we are thriving. Why? We never had ambitions to be huge, or make millions or have an IPO and retire rich. Instead we had an ambition to put more women on bicycles, more often. To make bicycling a more comfortable and pleasant experience. We’ve thrived because we’ve been true to our core audience.

Today we carry more than 100 brands of cycling, triathlon & fitness apparel and accessories. We ship around the world from our warehouse/office building in Hillsboro, OR, which we own and built specifically for our business. We’re not gigantic like Performance (nor do we want to be), but we are a force inside the women’s cycling apparel industry. Our vendors listen to us.

The industry has come a long way in 15 years. When we started out, we carried a half dozen brands. It was slim pickins. Most manufacturers didn’t make sizes beyond large, and they were tiny larges at that. Now, dozens of vendors are actively courting the women’s market. I can even buy in-line apparel from several vendors in plus sizes. And I contract with several other vendors to make custom plus size apparel just for our customers. In the past 15 years, numerous women-owned apparel companies have launched, some quite successfully, from well recognized names like Shebeest, Sheila Moon & Skirt Sports to feisty new startups like Moxie, Psoas and Active Angelz. While there are still a few manufacturers who want to “shrink it and pink it”, they are becoming a rare breed. These days, the women’s apparel is *usually* as technically advanced as the men’s. Women have buying power and influence and our vendors know it.

Is there progress our industry could still be making? You bet. We need more female product line managers, more female reps, more bikes designed to fit smaller women, more women working in bike shops, etc. I’ve often joked that I dream of the day when I’ll be put out of business by bikes shops that finally “get it”. So far, I’m in no great danger of that happening. But, nonetheless, we’ve come a very long way in 15 years.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

We want EVERY woman to be able to ride her bike in comfort & style. For better or worse, most of us women care about how we look in our clothing. A woman who is comfortable in her clothing will be more comfortable in her own skin. And being comfortable in her own skin means she’s more likely to engage in activities, like cycling, that make her feel good about herself.

But, why do we care if women ride bikes? Because women are like an indicator species. Studies and surveys have shown that women ride bikes when they feel comfortable and safe with their environment, when it’s convenient, and when it’s accessible. While there will always be the confident and the fearless who will ride in any circumstance, if the on the ground situation is poor, if there are no bike lanes, if traffic speeds are too high, if enforcement of cyclists right to the roadway is weak, if poor connections exist between where we live, where we work, where we shop, where we learn and where we play... well, in that environment, most women will choose not to ride.

Why do we care if women ride bikes? If women don’t feel safe riding bikes, they certainly aren’t going to let their children ride bikes. Walk to school?? RIDE to school? Across that busy boulevard?? On that high volume street? Where there’s no safe cross walk? Certainly not. NO. -- If women don’t ride, children don’t ride. And if our children don’t ride, where is the next generation of bike riding adults going to come from?

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

I have found the same thing to be true of advocacy.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to changing the world.

Some of us give of our time and energy. Nearly 6 years ago, I joined the board of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which is the bicycle advocacy organization based in Portland, OR. Portland has a well-deserved reputation as a pretty darn awesome place to ride a bike and I have learned so much during my tenure on the Board. But, I don’t live in Portland. I live 15 miles *west* of Portland, in Washington County. Where I live may as well be Outer Mongolia, for all its DISsimilarity to Portland. We suffer from all the same problems that most of the rest of the country does: Sprawl. Traffic. High speed corridors slicing and dicing our communities. Schools stranded on islands inaccessible to their students. Neighborhoods without easy walking and biking access to grocery stores, shopping, libraries or employment. Ginormous employers with parking lots accommodating thousands of cars, but hardly a bike rack to be seen. So much traffic shuttling kids to school in SUVs & to after school activities in minivans. Makes me sad.

So last year, I applied for and was appointed to the Citizen’s Advisory Committee working with Washington County on its 2035 transportation system plan update. 12 years ago, the committee working on the 2020 plan had 1 bike/ped advocate. This time around, there are 6 bike ped advocates, plus a community health advocate. That’s 7 of the 18 members, all of us working to make the county a place where we too can have access to cycling and pedestrian facilities that are safe, convenient, and more accessible.

Of course, as we all know, MONEY TALKS. And you know the saying, You gotta SPEND money to MAKE money. And so, in 2008, TeamEstrogen decided to put it’s money where it’s mouth is. We joined 1% for the Planet. Via 1%, we pledge to give 1% of SALES, not profits, but SALES to environmental charities.

As a member of 1% for the Planet, TeamEstrogen.com has the opportunity to distribute funds to a broad variety of organizations that are approaching the challenges to health, livability and climate change from a wide variety of angles.

Before we joined 1%, our giving was scattered. We looked at proposals that landed in our laps, and said yes to some, no to others. We were inconsistent, and frankly, we weren’t giving all that much in raw dollars.

1% has helped us to put focus and structure on our corporate giving program. It’s part of our budget. And, it’s become a part of the way we communicate with our customers. It was very important to us to get our customers active and involved in our giving programs. We wanted THEIR input as to where we sent their dollars. We decided to incorporate 1% into our checkout process. So, when customers place their order, we give them the option to direct their dollars to any one of a pre-selected list of organizations that we have chosen to support.

As a cyclist, I believe that the bicycle has the power to change the world. The bicycle does not pollute. The bicycle does not crowd our roadways or create noise on the streets. The bicycle provides critical transportation to those who can’t afford a motor vehicle, as well as those who can but choose not to. The bicycle can be a source of income or independence for a family in an underserved community or impoverished country. The bicycle can be a vehicle for low impact travel, taking us places we might not otherwise appreciate in a motor vehicle.

Fortunately, there are 1% recipient organizations that address each of these approaches to incorporating bicycles into more lives, more often. We are honored to send support to Pedals for Progress, Bicycles For Humanity, Adventure Cycling, The Alliance for Biking and Walking, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, and of course, our own hometown organization the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

Of course, bicycles may save the world, but we want beautiful places to ride in and to, and clean air to breathe while doing it. So, we’ve also chosen to send contributions to organizations protecting open spaces and the creatures within it, such as The Wilderness Land Trust, the World Wildlife Fund, The World Land Trust, Greening Australia, Green Empowerment, The Rocky Mountain Institute, The Australian Conservation Foundation, Earthshare and the Ecotrust.

And finally, we need to remember that it costs money to defend nature and science against forces that try to take them away from us, so we’ve made important contributions to the Western Environmental Law Center and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Since 2008, TeamEstrogen.com is honored and incredibly grateful to have sent these worthy recipients nearly $200,000 in contributions. In my world, that’s a pretty big number. But really, it’s just a teeny tiny drop in the bucket in terms of the great need that’s out there. And THAT, my dear friends, is what I want to ask of you today. To add my one small voice to the chorus, all our voices joined together to support, not just with our words, but with our DOLLARS, programs to make bicycling safe, convenient and accessible.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

I hope you’ll join me in finding your own perfect fit, be it in a cycling skirt or baggy knickers, on a road bike, a mixte, a tricycle or a recumbent, on a bike lane, a side path or a bike boulevard, changing the world one community at a time.

Thank you.