One Woman's Quest To Improve Outdoor Apparel For All Women

Charity Fox has always been a bit of a gear junkie. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, skiing, camping and biking were a way of life. "But I was always struggling to find women’s outdoor apparel that fit me well," she says. "I often ended up buying men’s smalls, and I was still disappointed by the fit." At some point, her mom pointed out that maybe she should make her own apparel. "A light went on for me," she says. "How had I never thought of that? That was the best way to find stuff to fit me: Get a job and try to make better women’s apparel for all the women like me."

So she went to fashion design school and focused on outerwear, sportswear and activewear—and she traveled. "I live to travel," she says. "My favorite places have been India, Argentina, Morocco and Iceland." And those trips, as well as her time in the Olympic or Cascade Mountains in Washington, heavily influence her designs. "The colors, the food, the people watching, seeing how styles and the way people dress change so much from culture to culture," she says. "The last time I was in Paris, even the street people were stylish somehow!"

What has she learned from all her experience? For women, the devil really is in the details. Whenever she's out traveling, be it in a foreign city or in her PNW backyard, she's paying attention to what she's wearing and thinking through ways she could improve it. "Being an active woman myself, using all of these products, really helps me refine details to better flatter a women’s body and to make a high-performance garment that also looks great," she says. "Knowing where to place a chest pocket so it’s not too awkward on your bust or where to put a zipper so it's out of the way of your pack straps or climbing harness."

For women, it's about more than just function, though. "Women want to be able to wear something for more than one activity," she says. "Women want to be able to go hiking and then stop for dinner on the way home and still look good and stylish in their hiking clothes. It’s so important to keep style in mind when designing for women—we always want to look good and feel good in the clothes we wear." And that's a huge challenge for designers, because women come in all sizes. Fit something she spends lots of time working on, she says.

You'd be surprised how much effort goes into the tiny details that can really make or break a garment, Charity says. Women care about color. We care about fit. And we notice all the details. "Most people don’t know just how much time goes into all the little things, like when your zipper matches the fabric perfectly and the logos and the zipper pullers match the cord lock. A ton of time goes into making all of those little details so that your jacket looks so good you don’t even notice the little things like the trims or how the excess hood drawcord is tucked away to not bother you on a windy wet day so that it’s not flapping in your face."

One of her proudest pieces of work is the Outdoor Research Floodlight Jacket, a waterproof down bonded jacket. "It has a really complicated construction, it’s a non-baffled, fully waterproof down-filled jacket," she says. "It keeps you really warm and dry all in one lightweight alpine package."

But she's not stopping there. Charity is watching trends in women's apparel, and dreaming about how to put new technology to work. "So much is happening with technology right now," she says. "With all the wearable technology and our constant obsession for data tracking these days, it’s really making for some interesting conceptual design work." She's paying attention to a company that's weaving fabric with conductive yarns, which would allow the wearer to access information while doing her sports without always having her phone in her hand, she explains. Interactive apparel, anyone?