International Women’s Day: how Sprayway designs for diversity

International Women’s Day: how Sprayway designs for diversity


It’s international women’s day, and we wanted to take the chance to celebrate women hillwalkers all over the world, as well as our diverse team here at Sprayway.

That’s why we’ve caught up with our Head of Design, Fran, to hear her thoughts on women in the industry, outdoor sports, and how Sprayway does things differently to other brands on inclusivity.

Fran has been Head of Design at Sprayway for around two years - but she’s worked in the outdoor industry for 13 years.

In fact, it wasn’t until starting in the industry and meeting her husband that she became an outdoor enthusiast:

“I’m a keen runner now, but I would be lying if I said I had always been outdoorsy. To be honest, it wasn’t until I met my husband and then started working in the industry that I really started appreciating the outdoors.

“My husband Bill would drag me out walking and camping when we first met. He’s also a keen mountain biker and got me riding bikes again since being a child. Plus, during my career I have been really lucky to have been on some amazing trips and experiences, from winter mountaineering in Scotland to sport climbing in Italy.”

Fran says that, despite having children, she and Bill haven’t given up their love of nature and the outdoors. They live on the edge of the Peak District, so there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy some incredible walks.

“Since having children, our adventures are a bit smaller these days, but living where we do really helps to make it easy to get out into the outdoors. A typical ‘micro’ adventure involves walking to the woods near our house, putting up some hammocks or building a den, eating biscuits and drinking hot chocolate. Nell, our 3 year old, has just learned to ride a bike - so I’m also looking forward to taking her on some longer bike rides this year.”

Fast fashion, and starting out in the industry

When Fran was at university, fast fashion was a relatively new concept. This is when brands rapidly mass produce clothes to capitalise on current trends, and typically sell them with a low price tag.

But to achieve these low costs and rapid mass production, companies often rely on exploiting low-wage labour from developing countries. Many of these workers are vulnerable women.

And the nature of this mass production wreaks havoc on the environment, with fast fashion estimated to be responsible for around 10% of global pollution.

“Whilst studying at university, the term ‘fast fashion’ was a relatively new one but one that was being written about more and more”, Fran explains. “I knew then that I didn’t want to work for a fast fashion brand. I remember being so disgusted with the clothing industry that I almost changed to a completely different degree. I think I considered doing architecture at one point!

“However, I loved designing clothes, so finding a sector of the clothing industry that had a slower pace was important to me. It needed to align with my values. That is how I ended up choosing the outdoor industry. There is something very rewarding about designing clothing that someone is going to have an adventure in. Good kit is sometimes the difference between having a really good time and a bit of a rubbish time.”

“Pink it and shrink it.”

Fashion, overall, is still a male dominated industry. In fact, just 14% of the top 50 fashion brands are run by women - despite 85% of fashion graduates being women.

The outdoor industry, Fran says, is just as bad.

“It is a male dominated industry. You only have to visit an industry trade show to see that. You can’t move for men in plaid shirts and insulated vests! There is also a surprising number of male buyers in the industry compared with high street retailers. So, that’s men essentially making decisions on what women can buy. I have always struggled with that.”

A lack of diversity can hugely stifle creativity and quality in businesses. Different perspectives and experiences can help brands design effective and purpose-built products for different types of people and body types.

“There has typically been a mentality in the outdoor industry to ‘pink it and shrink it’. At Sprayway we try to work differently. Our women’s range is bigger than the men’s. With many of our styles there isn’t a male equivalent.

“A lot of thought goes into the women’s fit. Our design development team is predominantly female and we give a lot of thought to perfecting the fit of a garment before it goes to production. Sprayway offers a wider size range than many other outdoor brands up to a size 22 in some styles. We believe size and shape should not be a barrier to enjoying the outdoors. I would like to think we design to make women feel great and to give them the confidence to get outdoors.”

Sprayway’s design mantra

At Sprayway, we design our clothes with care and attention to detail, ensuring every product we create has a purpose and function backed by research.

“Trends, feedback and sales data all inform our design brief for a season.” Fran explains. “We have a couple of rounds of prototypes to get the design and fit perfect before we receive our salesmen samples. At every stage in the development cycle we will send our samples out for field testing. It’s really important to gain valuable feedback on the functionality and fit so we can make any changes before production.

“My philosophy is that garments should be designed to last, so we test all our fabrics rigorously for durability and to check they are fit for purpose.”

Sprayway’s products aren’t just durable and reliable. They’re also sustainable. That’s something Fran is extremely proud of, with the amount of recycled materials used in products increasing since she joined the team.

“Since joining the brand, the percentage of products that have any recycled content has increased from 24% to 77%. That’s a stat I’m proud of. We still have a long way to go, but it’s a good start. We’re going to start looking at the trims we use next.”

Hillwalking and inclusivity

Although many outdoor sports are still male dominated, Fran highlights that hillwalking is one of the most diverse and accessible activities out there.

“Looking at hillwalking, which is the activity I’m more closely involved in, I think there is more parity than other outdoor activities. Google ‘women’s walking groups UK’ and there are loads of amazing organisations and communities doing fantastic things to help women feel empowered to get outdoors.

“But representation and inspiring participation at a grass roots level is really important for getting more women and girls into outdoor hobbies. At Sprayway we work closely with a number of grassroots organisations like the Lindley Educational Trust, which is a wonderful charity that helps build the skills and confidence of young people through outdoor activities and experiences.”

Sprayway is always looking for new ways to innovate, and create products for all people and body types.

That’s why we have an extensive range of women’s clothing, and have a long history of supporting women - including sponsoring the first woman to climb Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen!