Charlotte Young Bowens: Outdoor Gear for the Plus-Size Community
Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. Today I’m in Tempe, Arizona, to chat with Charlotte Young Bowens, founder of Conscious Gear. Charlotte is an entrepreneur working on SDG 3: Good Health & Wellbeing, to provide comfortable apparel and gear so people can get out in nature and exercise. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Charlotte, I’m super excited to talk hear about your startup. Can you start by telling me what challenges you’re addressing?
Charlotte: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! As an outdoor gear and apparel company focusing on bigger bodies, we’re committed to ensuring that people in the plus-size community can purchase gear and apparel that fits their bodies. We’re also advancing size inclusivity in outdoor activities and the outdoor industry at large. Research has shown that time spent exploring the outdoors on a regular basis can support and ensure continued physical and mental well-being. We’re all about our three C’s which start with being a customer-centered company focused on creation by and for bigger bodies and we produce products that are customer-validated. Finally, we know that comfortable clothing and gear nurtures confidence in people to live a healthy lifestyle with their chosen outdoor activity.
Spiffy: This sounds amazing, Charlotte. What motivated you to hone in on outdoor clothing and gear for bigger bodies?
Charlotte: I started my company when I stumbled into ultra marathons after decades of living a sedentary lifestyle and being severely overweight. Lack of exposure to the outdoors and shame of my size prevented me from engaging in any physical activity, but after a health scare, I knew I had to change. Leaning on fond memories of my girl scout days, I decided to use outdoor activities to get fit and be physically active. But I struggled to find clothing or gear to fit my bigger, taller, and curvier body. I complained—then decided to do something about it—and created Conscious Gear. More importantly, outdoor activities helped my years of battling mental depression and suicidal ideation. Every day is a gift now and that came as a result of the outdoors.
Spiffy: It sounds the impact is very expansive. How would you say your helping to create a more equitable world?
Charlotte: Well, Spiffy, Conscious Gear works toward a more equitable world by ensuring there is opportunity and encouragement for bigger-bodied individuals to engage in outdoor activities like everyone else. We also provide gear and apparel that comfortably fits bigger bodies and supports optimal athletic performance.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a recent initiative and the kind of impact you’re seeing?
Charlotte: Conscious Gear recently served as a sponsor of a women’s running event where we donated running belts, t-shirts, and medal holders to plus-size women who completed their first 5K, 10K, and half marathons. Runners felt appreciated and valued by our commitment to their success.
Spiffy: I am really curious if you’ve ever faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from failure?
Charlotte: The truth is this—when you talk about creating outdoor gear and apparel for plus-size people as a black and queer woman, unconscious biases happen on a daily basis. Companies don't take me seriously, and people don't want to work with me. And yes, there have been times when I wanted to quit, but then I think about all the people out there waiting for me to provide them with outdoor gear and apparel to fit their bodies, and I don’t want to let them down, so I keep going.
Spiffy: What is something unexpected you’ve learned recently?
Charlotte: I’ve learned that more and more people are wanting to explore outdoor activities which makes my business very relevant and important. Secondly, I’m hearing more and more stories from people who are bigger-bodied, and share the impact of how outdoor activities have benefited them physically and mentally. Nature is a healer for so many people.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Charlotte: Less than 5% of BIPOC people regularly attend or visit a national park. That has to change, but in order for that to happen, they’ll need comfortable apparel and gear to feel confident enough to take a chance to explore what they’ve never done before.
Spiffy: I admire your adventurous spirit, and the ways you’re inspiring people to comfortably be active and head into nature. Thank you, Charlotte, it’s been an honor!
Charlotte Young Bowens is the founder of Conscious Gear, a foray into creating outdoor gear and apparel for bigger bodies. Charlotte is an outdoorsy urbanite and ultrarunning creative, with more than 15 years of business management expertise and business coaching for tech startups, food businesses, and emerging brands. (Nominated by StartOut. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 2, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.