116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Life
By Wallace Baine/Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - It might be an Olympic first.
Has it ever happened before now that an Olympic weightlifter was called “girlie”? Maybe as a crude slur during the bad old days of Soviet domination of the sport, but not quite like this.
The weightlifter in question is Sarah Robles, the southern California Olympian who is widely considered the best female weightlifter in the United States. And the description comes from Santa Cruz clothing designer Jill Alexander.
Last month, Alexander flew down to Arizona, where Robles was training, on a mission to give the 5-foot-10, 270-pound weightlifter a fashion makeover.
“I was really surprised to find that she was so girlie and excited to have this kind of makeover,” said Alexander from her office in Santa Cruz. Robles had told Alexander that she spends most of her time in workout clothes, but that “no one every sees my girlie side.”
Since launching her first line specifically designed for plus-size women in 2009, Alexander has made great strides in visibility in the plus-size arena. Robles has, in the past, been vocal about her inability to find clothes that fit. Problem, meet solution.
Robles - who finished seventh overall in the “+75kg” competition in London - has used her prominence to promote a positive, body-acceptance message of plus-sized and athletic women. On her blog - prettystrongblog.blogspot.com - she would often comment on how difficult it was to find nice clothes in her size. She related one experience in which she was to be included with other female athletes in a photo session in which the matching clothes would be provided. There were no women's clothes that fit her. She had to wear a man's jacket.
“Am I going to sit here and cry about it? No,” said Robles on her blog. “What am I doing to make change? Every time I get to talk about body image or my blog, I jump on it even in interviews. I spoke with Nike and Polo representatives and mentioned the issues. If no one speaks up or just accepts what's been handed to them, positive change will not happen. I want future athletes to be happy, comfortable and included. I want the fashion industry to rethink their ideas of what a female athlete can look like.”
All this is music to Alexander's ears.
A fan of Robles reached out to Alexander with the idea of sponsoring the makeover. Eager to help, Alexander sent Robles a few items, convertible, multifunctional pieces typical of Alexander's line.
“When we sent them to her, she wasn't really sure how she should wear them,” Alexander said. The two women talked on the phone and hit it off. Alexander made plans to fly to Arizona.
“My photographer came, and she brought a makeup artist. So we just said, ‘Let's just have some fun with this.' And the makeup person put some false eyelashes on her and she goes, ‘Uh-oh, my inner diva is coming out.' She's just so happy and personable.”
“I'm hoping it will have a positive influence on the fashion industry,” said Sarah Robles in London to Santa Cruz Sentinel sports editor Julie Jag. “Everybody keeps focusing on the plus-size thing, but there are people who are shorter, or smaller, or thinner, or taller, or longer and there's so little options. And there's so many elite athletes. If you look around, there are so many different body types and everybody deserves to look good and feel good.”
Alexander's mission was to give Robles a few pieces that she could wear to press interviews and other more formal events in which workout clothes weren't appropriate. She said that her focus is on providing women fine clothes for every day, and not necessarily for one-time special events.
Many women, she said, are too willing to spend their resources on a special gown rather than a collection of versatile pieces to wear many times.
“I don't want to put them in a fabulous outfit that they'll only wear one time,” said Alexander, who welcomes personal fashion appointments at her Santa Cruz office. “I try to educate women. You want to make the investment in the pieces you're going to wear every day, because those pieces need to stand up to washing and wearing, and they need to be transitional with a lot of things in your closet.”