When I first saw FP’s post that had a girl modeling an old-school K2 Skis beanie, I was taken aback because skiing seems so far out of their market. Upon further investigation I found a whole cache of our beloved brands and products in the shop. In their fall line, Free People is carrying Dakine luggage, Flylow gloves, Bogner goggles, Nikita outerwear, and even a pair of Coalition Snow’s ‘La Nieve’ skis.
Knowing this evoked emotion from me, either confusion or amusement, but most certainly surprise, I posted screenshots to my Instagram story. Within an hour, my inbox was flooded with fellow skiers, mostly female, expressing their dismay over the indie fashion company selling ski products.
Upon dozens of discussions, I have learned that the hate and surprise directed towards a fashion-oriented shop like FP selling ski clothing stems from a deeply-rooted protective perspective. As women in skiing, we are often found guilty of projecting jealous, negative feelings – especially towards other lady skiers. More prominently, after having so many discussions, it became clear that there is stigma surrounding inexperienced women in skiing based on aesthetic.
“I’m 100% for getting women on skis…” one girl told me. “My hope is that it promotes good ski culture and doesn’t make it about just going for the insta pics and cute outfits – because that’s not what skiing is about either. I think we can find ourselves hating on it because skiing (to me) is about feeling free, chilling with the homies, being in the outdoors and having to really be present. It’s like being on a hike with someone who is checking their phone and taking selfies the whole time.”
In response, I discussed with her that breaking out of this mindset is the only way to improve the relationship of women and skiing. Who are we to decide what skiing is or isn’t about? It’s different for everyone. There is nothing wrong with going skiing for the fashion and photo ops. It gets people outside, puts money into our sport, and doesn’t affect us. So why are we concerned with it? Plus, historically, skiing is fashion-driven, look-sexy-outside kind of sport. That’s cool. Let’s be stoked on people expressing themselves whether it’s through fantastic knit sweaters, tracksuits, or baggy pants and tall t's.
Erica Aarons, a well-seasoned winter badass, has been noticing this downhill trend of negativity amongst female skiers for a while.
“For me, I was never popular in school or anything so when I found skiing it was like this little hobby I was good at and being one of few females, you get attention for that, obviously,” Aarons said. “I think that attention is what we’re so protective over.”
I completely agree with this sentiment. I have been guilty of it. However, you can only truly progress as a woman when you realize that other women are not, and never have been, competition. Women uplifting women is far more powerful than being negative.
Another respondee said, “people are scared of the thought of skiing reaching a larger audience and we almost always put people down for getting into skiing if they’re not immediately gods at it (especially women).”
Hating on the inexperienced is becoming a common trend. The gapers and jerrys of our world are trying – we shouldn’t spread negativity towards them. It’s one thing if someone’s inexperience puts you in danger, but try not to maintain hateful energy.
Other discussions warrant that Free People should not be selling skiing-related items in their fall shop because they fail to offer expert advice on the desired items. Sites like Evo and Backcountry offer great advice and Buyer’s Guides on specific products that inform the customers on any special technologies and usages.
On a more positive marketing note, FP has made efforts to create unique and stylish clothing for sporty women for a while now. However, back in 2014, Free People received an alarming amount of backlash from a ballet campaign.
The campaign offended many people who actually practice ballet because Free People was simply only scratching the surface of the sport and focused most on making it aesthetically pleasing. How is “The Ski Shop” any different?
I recently spoke with Jen Gurecki, CEO of Coalition Snow – a trusted female-centered gear brand. Jen described the move as absolutely positive.
“It gives Coalition validity,” as FP reached out to them to initiate the partnership. “They found us in an effort to bring on brands that align well with their values and mission, which is centered around women.”
“It’s a different way of looking at the industry,” says Gurecki, “FP has a much larger reach that can encourage women to take interest in skiing.”
“It’d be elitist if we didn’t approach beginners. We don’t want to be an exclusive club, and just because we are core skiers does not mean we are only catering to core skiers. That’s not what it’s about,” Gurecki adds. It was clear that Coalition is not only for core women, or women at all for that matter, “nothing is stopping men from buying our skis.”
From a business perspective, FP bringing on Coalition can be a fantastic thing. They are driving outside attention to the brand that can raise the reputation of both brands in the industry and out.
“More women being interested in skiing is good for the industry, for society, for the environment, for everything,” Gurecki said – encouraging that FP is a catalyst for just that.
At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that Free People has a huge audience, and a different audience. Having a campaign like “The Ski Shop” draws attention to our sport, which is a good thing.
It will encourage women to get involved in skiing. Even if only one woman goes and tries it for a day wearing the full length Hestra gloves she got from Free People, that’s a step in the right direction.
It’s toxic to have anything less than neutrality towards people doing the thing you love. Skiing is really special, and it sucks that it’s not as special to other people, but at least they’re doing it.
Free People also did their research. They brought on brands like Coalition and Nikita that are female and skier oriented, rather than going down the path of offering pre-mounted directional Dynastars, or even some of these things.
They are celebrating skiing, and as skiers we should celebrate that.
Anyway, I’m 100% down to make edits for Free People so if anyone in the right position is able to make this happen, that’d be cool.