Like so many things in 2020, the Fourth Element Size Matters campaign started with a lockdown.
We had the opportunity to speak with Senior Designer Lauren Williams and Digital Communications Manager Helen Frances to learn more about the origin and organization of the company-wide effort.
“In the lockdown,” Helen said, “We were buying more stuff online and finding size variations, having to send things back.”
She was referring to retail clothing which, as most women know, rarely conforms to a consistent sizing standard. But it got them thinking…
If they were getting frustrated trying to find a good fit with clothes, were their customers feeling similarly frustrated trying to get a good fit with their Fourth Element gear? With health orders, shutdowns, and quarantines happening all around the world, divers are not able to visit their local shop or dealer to try on wetsuits or swimsuits, or other activewear. So they started brainstorming — other than putting sizing charts on the site, how could they show women how the products would fit?
Organized primarily by brand manager Emma Baines, all the female staff at Fourth Element were asked if they would be interested in participating in a photoshoot wearing wetsuits, undersuits, and swimwear. From recreational scuba to freediving, to tech diving, almost all of them are divers of one kind or another. So they were wearing the company’s garments all the time anyway. This would be an opportunity to give customers, if not a fully bespoke service, at least a more personalized, accurate experience, and to share tips to help them find the best size.
Trying to coordinate with everyone was something of a challenge. Although roughly three-quarters of the women staffers present on the day of the shoot were excited to participate, the UK is observing social distancing health guidelines, so only one model could work with the photographer at a time. It took some expert scheduling to get everyone in.
In the end, the women who participated in the Size Matters campaign had a great time. At first, they all felt vulnerable and self-conscious, regardless of size or body type. They’re not professional models after all, but regular everyday users of the gear they design, produce, and market. Most wore their own Fourth Element garments in the photos, and some described the experience as one of the most empowering things they’d ever done. Despite being a bit chilly during the actual shoot, there’s been a warm glow of pride inspired by the way it all came out.
The campaign has been a hit, though there have been a few mixed reviews.
Many women reached out to express their thanks and to report how helpful it was to be able to see the pieces on body types they could identify with. Others, however, felt that the project didn’t go far enough. Most critical reviews revolved around the issues of size and racial inclusivity–and that feedback hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. When customer comments come in, they go directly to the design team who get together (virtually, for now) to discuss it. But Size Matters was never meant to be a comprehensive, definitive statement.
“We are not standing there saying that we represent all women, all body types,” Lauren and Helen explained. “Far from it. That’s not what we were trying to do.”
Fourth Element currently offers a range of women’s sizes from XS to XXXL. There are 14 sizes available in wetsuits and undersuits, 8 sizes for their line of tops and bottoms, and they’re putting more and more technical garments on the website all the time. In the next year, they’re looking to add some tall sizes to their lines. Through customer feedback, they’ve learned that people have some trouble accessing the full range of sizes because many dealers aren’t stocking them.
“We encourage them to ask the dealers,” Helen said. “And if you can’t find the size you need, let us know and it can be sorted.”
In the meantime, Lauren tells us they’re constantly reviewing their current range to make sure the products are working for users. They read and discuss all the feedback they get. Sometimes they’ll notice a trend, but other times all it takes is a single comment to inspire a design adjustment. New products are based on customer feedback as well. What do people need? What kinds of things are they asking for? Whether it takes a month or year to implement changes, the designers at Fourth Element are listening and responding.
“It’s a process,” they tell us. “It’s a continual journey. We’re not saying that we’re perfect and we’re getting everything right, but we are always trying to get better. We do fittings on various sizing and try to fit as many body types as we can.”
This combination of feedback and testing has borne fruit in their new t-shirt line, which features a more relaxed fit than the usual women’s designs.
With regard to racial and ethnic inclusivity, the diversity of the Size Matters campaign was a function of self-selection, geography, and quarantine safety. The women who participated in the photoshoot are employees of Fourth Element who volunteered to be featured in the campaign, rather than professional models sought out by the design team to project a preconceived aesthetic.
Helen clarifies that there are members of the immediate staff from diverse ethnic backgrounds, “but they, like some other members of the team, didn’t feel comfortable being photographed in a swimsuit for various reasons and so chose not to be part of the line-up.”
It’s worth mentioning that the company is headquartered in Cornwall, in the southwestern UK, and their town of Helston is demographically 98% white. Commenters have suggested that Fourth Element could reach out to include the friends and families of staff members in order to actively increase representation. It’s a great idea, and one the team will be better able to pursue once COVID-19 is under control, and social-distancing and lockdowns are no longer necessary. For the Size Matters campaign, it was safer to draw from among the small group of people who are routinely onsite.
But they have heard the feedback, and are always striving to be better. For now, they encourage customers to check out their team divers and ambassadors who come from a variety of backgrounds and do many different types of diving.
The bottom line is, the women of Fourth Element want you to love diving as much as they do.
Let them tell you in their own words about the way their PADI Women’s Dive Day celebration in Falmouth, and why it’s so important to them to get women into the water.
And keep letting them know what you think — everything they hear from you helps them make products that work better for you.
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