Many of us have a love/hate relationship with moving our bodies.
For some of us, we’ve tried to force ourselves to partake in exercise routines that we found no pleasure in and for others, we’ve struggled to feel good about ourselves when getting all hot and sweaty at the gym. And although it might sound more like pure vanity at a surface level, for many of us, a huge part of motivation can be found in the way our workout clothing makes us feel about ourselves. Enclothed cognition (an extension of the “embodied cognition” school of psychology which says our bodies influence our brains as much as our brains influence our bodies) is a theory that suggests that the clothing that a person wears can be the catalyst for performance-improving mental changes.
Have you ever felt strong and powerful when lifting weights in a form-fitting muscle tank that firmly gripped your body?
Or have you ever felt frumpy and lumpy and ashamed when working out in an oversized t-shirt that completely covered you up?
That’s enclothed cognition at work.
For me, I’m relatively new to the “enjoying fitness” game – up until around 5 years ago, I hated moving my body with an absolute passion. Part of this due to some emotional baggage around the way I felt about my body, part of this being in that I just hadn’t found the right exercise and part of this also being that I could never seem to find activewear that:
a. fit my body;
b. looked attractive; and
c. was functional – not transparent when I bent over, not with seams that ripped apart seconds after hitting the gym – for an affordable price.
Thankfully, in recent times, there are several women’s active wear brands popping up that recognise the need for women of all ages, shapes and sizes to feel strong and confident in their bodies when working out (regardless of their motivations)… a refreshing change from the active wear brands we’re used to, who like to make the concept of health out to be an exclusive clique!
One of these brands is Manifesta. In 2011, founder Rachel Blumenfeld became disheartened at the lack of diversity in active wear, particularly for curvy and plus sized women. So, she took matters into her own hands. She put in research, testing fabrics and reimagining athletic clothing design, taking into account the body measurements of a diverse range of women (and not just the typical bust-waist-hips, but different thigh, calf, and arm measurements as well!)
Today, it’s my absolute pleasure to chat with Rachel about her views on the current state of body positivity, diversity and representation in the fitness wear industry.
AA: How did you come up with the name Manifesta?
RB: When I originally had the idea for the company, I was telling my friend about it and he said that first I needed to come up with the company’s manifesto and I said, “You mean manifesta,” and that was that!
AA: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal journey with active wear? You’re involved in a lot of physical activity, but was there ever a time in your life where you weren’t so confident in getting active?
RB: I was NEVER confident being active. In fact, I remember in elementary school when my gym class was playing softball, and the gym teacher making fun of me for being slow. I was so disheartened that I never participated in gym class again. I would make excuses to sit on the side. Only now, in my 30s, am I finally able to work out without being concerned with what those around me think of my fitness level. In fact, that confidence came after founding Manifesta and building the community of supportive, body-positive women that I now have.
AA: Many “conventional” active wear brands produce clothing only up to a certain size, stating that it’s too difficult to simply adjust the patterns for larger sizes. Do you find that there’s any validity to these claims?
RB: I HATE when I hear this. I also hate when I see companies charge extra for different sizes. It’s unbelievable. There’s no reason you can’t adjust patterns for different sizes – quite easily – and to charge the same amount for all sizes. The profit margins on clothes are huge for big companies, and they’re probably only spending an extra $.50 on fabric but then charging several more dollars. And with their margins, the cost of making patterns in additional sizes is easily covered once they sell a few items in that size. There are other reasons that those companies don’t want to create larger sizes, and those reasons are based on beliefs they have about shoppers of a certain size and about who they want seen in their clothing.
AA: You made the decision to replace numerical sizes with the names of flowers to aid the fight for inclusivity in fitness. How have you found the reception to your size names from customers?
RB: Most customers seem to love the flower names, but it can also be quite confusing, especially if you don’t have a measuring tape handy! We’ve tested a few ways of doing the sizes on the site (like now it has the flower name and then says “formerly known as”) to try to figure out the best approach.
AA: So often, active wear seems to make consumers choose between fashion and function, and the items that look great often don’t hold up during a workout (and vice versa). Can you tell us a little bit about the design process for each piece – where do you find your inspiration?
RB: My inspiration mostly comes from trying a multitude of tops and bottoms and either loving a piece but wishing it was just a little different, or hating a piece and wondering how it got made. I then take my ideas from all of the pieces I’ve tried and try to come up with a better solution to the problems I’ve found – shirts that don’t ride up when you go overhead, shirts that allow for free range of motion in the shoulders, more supportive built-in bras, higher waists with elastic in the bands, etc. And of course, with customer feedback, our products only keep getting better because now we have the ideas and constructive criticism of hundreds of women! I love getting emails from customers telling me what works for them and what they’re looking for because it helps me come up with what I want to develop and perfect next.
AA: I love that you’re dedicated to diversity in the models you choose to showcase your pieces! It’s wonderful to see all sorts of body types represented. How do you go about selecting your models?
RB: My original models were just friends of mine – not professional models and mostly not professional athletes (one was a varsity rower and one is a professional CrossFitter). Otherwise, everyone was a hobbyist I met in my fitness journey. I’ve since had a lot of models email me asking to do shoots but we don’t hire professional models (with the exception of Madeline Stuart, who we hired before she was professional), and we actually don’t do shoots very frequently because we don’t come out with new items very often (one of the downsides of running an independent line).
AA: A positive relationship with exercise is so important, and the earlier in life a person can start nourishing this relationship, the better! What tips do you have for mothers trying to help their daughters feel confident, comfortable and content around exercise?
RB: I think about this ALL the time since I had my first child – a daughter – a year ago. I really want to foster in her a positive body image and a healthy attitude toward food and exercise. My goal is for her to only see me doing exercise I enjoy so that she doesn’t see it as a chore, and for her to see me celebrate what my body can do rather than me using exercise as a way to punish my body or change it. I want her to know that I exercise because I want to be as strong so that I can lift her, and to be flexible so that I can bend over and play with her, because I think it’s absolutely amazing what the body can do. Hopefully, that help her start out on a positive path herself.
AA: We also know that it’s never too late to get into exercise, either! Do you have any advice for women who’ve systematically avoided working out for a long time, and now want to make it a priority?
RB: I’ve read that the number one reason people stop exercising is because they try to do something that they don’t enjoy. Yes, CrossFit may be a great workout, but it may also not be for you. And yoga may be super popular, but it may also not be your thing. So don’t be afraid to try something new like pole dancing or boxing because once you find what you love, you’re more likely to keep doing it.
Also, I think it’s great to try new activities with a group of friends. When you’re all new to something, activities are much less intimidating. For example, I planned one of my birthday parties at a local circus school where we did aerial and trapeze work. I’d never have had the courage to go on my own, but when 15 women were there trying it out for the first time, it was absolutely no pressure and much more fun.
AA: Finally, what are your plans for the future of Manifesta?
RB: I want to continue to add to the line with items that respond to customers’ requests, such as shirts with sleeves and solid black tops. I’ve also had a lot of requests for running skirts, which I’ve never worn, so that will be a fun challenge that’s out of my element!
Manifesta ships worldwide… and how’s this for awesome: within 6 months of a purchase, if you need a new size for whatever reason, you can exchange your clothing (if it’s in good condition) for a comparable item in your new size at 25% off the new garment’s price.
Your used clothing will be donated to the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, a group of non-profit organizations that encourages physical health and teaches valuable life skills to under-privileged youth!
Click here to check out Manifesta’s wonderful range, and then jump on over to Facebook & let me know your thoughts on active wear – have you found some you love? Have you struggled to find gear that fits properly? Do you find it plays a role in your workout motivation? Let’s chat!