NEW YORK -- Sometimes, the standard small, medium and large just won't cut it.
In an effort to suit up women of all shapes and sizes, activewear makers are developing more flattering fits and taking a closer look at their sizing. That's an advancement, considering it was enough for many brands to make women's activewear simply downsized offerings of their men's apparel, just a few years ago.
Lucy.com, The Weekend Exercise Co. and Danskin now realize that offering consumers good-fitting items helps build their customer base.
Kimiko Matsuda, apparel fit specialist for Lucy.com, said, "Many consumers apparently feel that it's about time. With the influx of women-specific activewear, women are demanding more than ever that product be built for their bodies."
Lucy.com, an e-tailer, mail-order house and retailer catering to female sport enthusiasts, is addressing the fit problem by providing more online information about its more than 1,300 offerings, and by introducing a private label line, which bows in April with a plus-size collection.
The impetus for developing private label was the numerous women who voiced their fit problems online, said Kathleen McNally, design director for the collection. Informed that many women were having trouble finding basics, especially shorts and pants, Lucy.com developed them in different lengths.
Consisting of 10 styles, the collection includes looks for a variety of shapes and sizes, thanks to non-traditional fitting and wear-testing.
"In addition to our fit models, we also have access to a wide array of body types right here in our office," she said. "There are lots of active women who work here and they have become our instant testers for the new collection."
In addition to offering two different lengths of pants -- tall and short -- the entire offering comes in sizes extra small to extra large, among other features to improve fit, McNally said.
"We've eliminated as much excess fabric on the garments as we could, especially at the waist and hips," she said.
Fit specialist Matsuda noted that the company has turned its attention to fit because "that's what women who have written to us have asked for."The company also makes a point of giving consumers information about product descriptions. Inseam lengths, for instance, are supplied for all pants. Also, if a garment runs big or small, it's noted to go up or down a size.
In addition to fit tips, Lucy.com has sizing charts and eight body-type boutiques -- tall, short, busty, hippy, curvy, boyish, pregnant and plus-size. The latter has different body types as well. Matsuda handpicks items for each category.
The Weekend Exercise Co. has made more of an effort to focus on fit since Amy Yeung joined the company as director of design about a year ago, said Michael Levinson, president and chief executive officer.
He described the challenge of assuring sizing is in line with industry standards as a "continuing battle." Generally, The Weekend Exercise Co. monitors what the leading activewear makers and outside services consider the measurements for smalls, mediums and larges to be, and alters accordingly.
Levinson noted that when boot-leg pants started catching on 18 months ago, the sizing was inconsistent. In general, the company tries to offer more generous sizes, which allow shoppers to buy a smaller size -- a selling point with many women, he said.
Different regions of the country tend to need different sizes. Midwest consumers, for example, tend to buy more large and extra-large items than other regions in the country.
The Weekend Exercise Co. developed small tops with larger cups, since many Southern California shoppers needed more support due to cosmetic enhancement procedures, Levinson said.
"We don't size geographically, but you almost wish you could," he said.
Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin, attributed some of her brand's success with Lucy.com to the fact that the brand has maintained a consistent traditional fit over the years.
When Danskin started shifting some production from its York, Pa., factory last year to overseas contractors, the company made exact specs for sizing to assure its signature fit was on target.
"We work like animals on fit, because no one wants to be tortured by their activewear," she said.Danskin's production shift prompted the company to upgrade fit for bottoms and leotards that are still made at the York site. Ribbed pants, for example, are now cut slightly slimmer for a more contemporary feel.
The strategy has helped the company see strong online sales, since loyal customers know the garments will fit, Hochman said. Well aware that some competitors size their garments for "hard bodies," Danskin offers a more generous cut.
"Our medium is larger than our competitors. We look at whose body is going to wear it," Hochman said. "Clothes shouldn't look intimidating. If you want to wear a particular brand and you're shut out of it due to sizing, the customer can become discouraged."
To accommodate female snowboarders with different sizes and different tastes, Burton will offer three core groups -- Radar, Tactic and OSI -- for 2002, said Hilary Wilson, product manager. Geared for women who are 20 and under, Radar will consist of oversized styles like baggy, low-rise pants.
Tactic has slimmer silhouettes than traditional snowboard looks and is aimed at women between the ages of 20 and 28.
Designed in part by the pro snowboarders that endorse Burton, OSI is more of "a style lab," with more fashion-forward styles than the other groups, Wilson said.
"This will allow us to open up the collection and offer different styles under one name," she said.
Unlike most activewear makers, Fila is going for a more form-fitting look with this spring's Settanta tennis wear collection, said Jennifer Roberti, business unit manager for tennis apparel. Spaghetti-strap tennis dresses have replaced polo-shirt styles, and bras are sewn into garments for a more stylish look, she said.
"The future of tennis is fitness [wear] -- jog bras, torso tops and Lycra [spandex] blend items. We're offering two or three groups that are more body-conscious," she said. "It's affected by what Venus and Serena wear, but I don't think the average woman has a body like that."
Women are interested in finding more versatile tennis wear that serves other purposes, as well, Roberti said.