Back in 2014, when I was at the beginning stages of designing my first wetsuit prototype, I was working on a scuba liveaboard. My manufacturer called me while I was out to sea and asked, What size should we make the prototype? From that size, they would grade all other sizes. Since I was the one testing it, I gave them my measurements and told them to call it Medium as that was what I considered myself; At 5'6" I weighed 140lbs, 36C bra size and clothing was about 8-10 - it fit me perfectly.
When I received the wetsuit prototype, I asked pretty much every female diver I met to try it on, swim around and then give me feedback on it through a survey that also asked for their measurements. I had a range of women weighing from 105lbs - 160lbs and height from 5'0" to 5'10" all try out the same "Medium" wetsuit. I remember we were all so impressed at how this one wetsuit size seemed to fit all kinds of different body shapes.
A year later, I had finalized the design of the Truli-Mi and ordered my inventory: XS - XL, which arrived late December 2015. I began to introduce Truli Wetsuits to the water sport world and was ecstatic to see the interest and positive response from women around the world! It's one thing to love your own creation, but it's way more important that others love it and see value in it too!
I began selling the wetsuits online through the website and although many customers raved about how well Truli fit and felt, occasionally I would have some returns. These customers were in love with Truli, but they were sadly returning it because it just didn't fit right.
In 2017, I decided to add one more size: "XXL", as well as a wetsuit with a longer leg - the Truli-Capri. I (naively) thought one more size would be the answer to the sizing returns I had received; however, despite the XXL name, the size itself still only accommodated a small portion of women and many more were still being left out from enjoying the Truli Wetsuit experience!
That same year, my living arrangements completely changed and after living overseas for almost 8 years, I came back to Ontario, Canada, where I grew up and had set-up my online e-commerce business. Since it was not a planned move, I was in a bit of a daze for several months trying to figure out my next steps. Looking back, I can see now that it was the best unexpected opportunity that life could have presented to me…isn't that often the way?
Knowing how much women loved Truli, but still had to return it due to sizing issues, made me feel pretty bummed out. But it also was a huge motivating factor for me to figure out how to make my wetsuits accessible to every mermaid who wanted one!
I decided to focus the rest of 2017, and specifically 2018, on consumer trade shows and festivals where I could sell the wetsuits in person, provide a changeroom to properly try a Truli, and engage face-to-face with my customers to see their reactions to Truli Wetsuits and the sizes.
At the shows, the wetsuits received very positive and often excited reactions, however, I began to witness firsthand how limited my sizes really were. I watched as women would eye the name "XXL" and then continue walking by or scoffing at the fact that THAT was my biggest size. It was at these moments, that I attempted to start a conversation with these frustrated water women to learn about their experiences.
Due to the intimate nature of trying on a wetsuit, my conversations with women tended to be of a personal nature. I listened as they told me of their struggles to find a good quality, comfortable and stylish wetsuit. At the same time, I started to notice how often women made offhand comments about how they felt about their bodies, what they said to themselves as they looked into my mirror, and especially their frustrations towards the garment industry about how "off" the sizing systems were.
This frustration has been articulated very well by Canadian adventure and travel blogger, "Indi-Hannah Logan", who shared her humiliating wetsuit size experience with LiveStrong, "You're too big for that: My Life as a Plus Size Adventurer". The topic went viral when it was discussed again in a letter, Dear Wetsuit Manufacturers on the female-specific scuba diving platform, Girls that Scuba, and hundreds (thousands?) of other women also spoke up and shared their own similar frustrating experiences.
I pondered this sizing challenge for a long time. I reached out to Truli friends and fans for their input. Already, so many women had asked me to create a wetsuit with more coverage for colder conditions and so I wanted to make sure these new products incorporated any changes I would make to sizing. Almost a hundred women shared their measurements and opinions in an informal survey I sent out. I racked my brain, hashed out ideas, researched online, studied social media conversations, and talked to women to really figure out what the problem was and what I could do to solve it.
From my informal research and in-person observations, I found some commonalities:
- The struggle to find a wetsuit that fits is not limited to "plus size" or curvy women; Petite, athletic, and women with long torsos…essentially ALL women are struggling
- There is too much variety in the types of figures to be categorized into a standard 6 or so sizes; the traditional sizing system just doesn’t work
- Body shaming is a very real and prevalent issue that affects self-esteem and mental health; it is ingrained in us from media, our families, and too often re-affirmed by the things we say to ourselves and sadly to each other; being healthy looks different for every BODY and good health is the goal, not thinness
And then one day, I found the answer right before my very eyes. I had a bunch of excited women in my booth one show; these were women who loved to be in the water and were ecstatic to find Truli Wetsuits' unique style and quality. Everyone was taking turns trying them on; This one woman first tried on the "Medium", which looked amazing. I advised her, as I inform all my customers, that there are only millimetres of difference between the sizes. The best thing to do is to ignore the name of the size, try on more than one size, and then decide which size FEELS the best. She proceeded to try the "Large" and then the "XL" and finally decided to buy the XL as it gave her a bit more space on her strong thighs without being too loose anywhere else. I realized that my sizing system was very fluid offering quite a good range. Once women ignored the size name, they were able to simply focus on choosing a wetsuit that made them feel their best.
I quickly started to review my research and figured out how many more sizes I would need to accommodate as many figures as I thought possible. Initially I thought I would create a Truli-Curvi line of products focusing on "plus sizes"; I scrapped this in exchange for a more inclusive sizing system that did NOT distinguish between standard and plus sizes. I also wanted to include sizing to accommodate women with long torsos. At first, I increased my sizes from 6 options to 12 options and now I have settled on a total of 21 slight variants ~ a Truli Wetsuit for every BODY! I was met with significant resistance from my manufacturer who advised that more sizes was not "how other companies do it". As well, more sizes equals more material, which equals a higher product cost for me; this may be the reason that other companies decide not to pursue more sizes, but for me the added cost had value.
Although I am super aware of the risk involved in changing up a traditional system such as sizing, I knew that I needed to do something different. My first step was to remove the size name from the traditional location at the back of the wetsuit to a more discreet location inside the front chest. Since when do we need the size of our intimate wear on display for all to see? Nooo, thank-you!
So now that I had confirmed the new discreet location, I had to determine what I was going to call each of the 21 sizes! I wanted the entire experience from start to finish to be a positive one - no more cringing at the glance of a size.
I started to think about how collaborative and community minded women often are and how much we all benefit from connecting and raising each other up. What if each size represented the name of a woman in history or modern times who accomplished something great? Who possibly struggled through (fought!) harmful traditions and made the world a better place because of their perseverance?
Instead of glancing over a size name that we know doesn't really reflect who we are, wouldn't it be cool to belong to a "size" with positive connotations? I'm hoping with these small changes that Truli Wetsuits becomes even more true to the women who wear them.
Do you have a woman that you look up to? Submit her name to mia@TruliWetsuits.com and tell me why she inspires you and it may be chosen as one of the 21 names to be used! Winners will receive a new wetsuit! See all of the contest details here (scroll down to Contest).