Georgette Kanach of Gray has been a hunter for 50 years. She’s a Registered Maine Guide, a hunting safety instructor and a member of five hunting organizations.

But you’re unlikely to find her in the woods wearing women’s hunting apparel. She’d rather opt for baggy men’s clothing.

“I wear 90 percent men’s clothing, as I do not do pink on my hunting clothes,” said Kanach, 63. “Pink has no place in camouflage. And men’s clothes are tougher and more durable. I do wish there was more women-specific gear.”

Georgette Kanach and her hunting dogs, Lola, left, and Star, take to the woods near her home in Gray. While manufacturers have been designing more apparel geared toward them, women hunters say much of the clothing is off target; it's not as practical or durable as men's gear, and it too often stands out with pink or purple accents.

Georgette Kanach and her hunting dogs, Lola, left, and Star, take to the woods near her home in Gray. While manufacturers have been designing more apparel geared toward them, women hunters say much of the clothing is off target; it’s not as practical or durable as men’s gear, and it too often stands out with pink or purple accents.

More hunting apparel designed specifically for women has become available in recent years, a trend that mirrors the rise in women hunters. In Maine, the percentage of hunting licenses sold to women rose from 8.1 percent of all hunters in 2005 to an estimated 12.8 percent in 2015.

But for many women who take to the woods to pursue wild game, clothing designed for women hunters is way off target. They say it is not as practical or warm as men’s hunting clothing, and too often it contains colors such as pink, turquoise and purple.

“I want something I can deer or turkey hunt in, not something that is going to stand out with pink in it,” said Emily Parker, 24, of Windham. “That makes it a fashion statement. I don’t want to stand out. I want to blend into the environment.”

“They make it fashionable, they make it look good for that perfect hourglass figure. The problem with that stuff, it’s not useful.”

Nonetheless, clothing for women hunters has become a fast-growing niche for retailers.

“I would tell you that the past few years, we have achieved 22 percent growth in sales in women-specific hunting clothing, year over year,” said Chris Henson, the product line manager for hunting and fishing at L.L. Bean. “That kind of growth has been pretty consistent over the last five years. It is no doubt one of the fastest-growing areas of outdoor sports.”

At Cabela’s in Scarborough, the woman’s hunting line of clothing is the fastest-growing product line in the store.

But manufacturers and retailers are taking notice of women hunters who complain about the utility of the specially designed clothing – and colors some women find impractical, if not condescending.

“The consistent piece of feedback from women hunters is that this is all about performance and their needs in the field need to be addressed,” Henson said. “It’s the exact same things men need – for it to be quiet, keep her dry, be flexible and warm – except it needs to be built for her.”

PINK, PURPLE PROLIFERATE

Outdoors gear designed specifically for women is nothing new. For at least two decades, manufacturers have designed Alpine skis, mountain bikes, road bikes and backpacks to fit a woman’s smaller frame. The products are made in blues, greens, grays, black, silver and orange, colors that are also offered in men’s gear.

That’s not the case with women’s hunting clothing.

At Maine’s three largest outdoor outfitters, it is difficult to find a piece of women-specific hunting camo that is free of pink, turquoise or purple. Most brands offered at Kittery Trading Post, L.L. Bean and Cabela’s, including the brands made for these retailers, are accented with pink, turquoise or purple in the zippers, logos or stitching, if not the sleeves and front panel.

At Kittery Trading Post, beside about 20 racks of men’s hunting camo clothing there are three racks devoted to women’s camo – clothing that is accented with pink and turquoise zippers, logos and stitching. Some of the camo has pink backgrounds. There also is a rack of camo lingerie with pink lacing – in the hunting department.

“We’ve carried it a few years,” Josh Dobyns, the trading post’s buyer for hunting apparel, said about the lingerie. “It has done very well. We haven’t heard any complaints about it.”

At L.L. Bean’s Hunting and Fishing Store, five racks for women’s hunting clothing are mixed in with more than 20 racks for men’s gear. A display states: “At L.L. Bean, we don’t just size down women’s styles for her. We think out every detail, from creating pack straps for a smaller frame to developing more comfortable truly gender-specific fits.”

Most of the hunting camo clothing for women has turquoise or pink in it. In L.L. Bean’s new camo hunting pack for women, the L.L. Bean logo is stitched in a dark purple.

At Cabela’s in Scarborough, there are five racks of women’s hunting clothing mixed in among more than 40 racks for men. The Cabela’s brand for women – Outfit Her – has a turquoise logo and zipper. But many other hunting brands carried in the store – such as Under Armour, Browning and Herter’s – use pink and turquoise accents.

Greg Sirpis, spokesman for the store, said that of the 64 articles of women’s hunting clothing shown on Cabela’s website, not one piece has pink. When asked about the pastel-colored zippers shown in individual items, Sirpis responded: “I guess I never noticed that.”

But women hunters in Maine notice.

“When I first saw pink camo about five years ago, my initial thought was maybe this is for kids,” said Liz Walker of Carrabassett Valley, a hunter of 30 years.

‘MEN HAVE A LOT MORE CHOICES’

Jess Libby, a fifth-generation sporting camp owner and a hunter for 10 years, stands 5 feet tall. She has worn boys’ hunting apparel because she can’t find women’s clothing for upland bird hunting. She bought some women’s hunting camo to go moose hunting last year, but had to search to find some without pink.

Jess Libby, a co-owner of Libby Camps in Aroostook County, wears a women-specific hunting outfit she got last year, but she has relied on men's or boys' clothing in the past.

Jess Libby, a co-owner of Libby Camps in Aroostook County, wears a women-specific hunting outfit she got last year, but she has relied on men’s or boys’ clothing in the past.

“There has been an increase in women’s hunting clothing (over) the 14 years I’ve been at camp,” said Libby, who owns and operates Libby Camps in the north woods of Aroostook County with her husband, Matt. “Now that they make female clothing, the (camo) pants are a lot better. But I would like to find upland pants that fit me. They’re just not out there.”

Lisa Noyes of Canton wears men’s hunting clothing even though it’s large on her. Why? Because it’s warmer than the women’s hunting gear, she said.

“I started hunting 25 to 30 years ago. Then there was nothing for women,” said Noyes, 50. “It has progressed. Hopefully the industry will watch the number of women getting into hunting. The fit is better now. But the men have a lot more choices, and their clothes are warmer. If they think women won’t go out when it’s cold, they’re wrong.”

Noyes owns one piece of pink camo because it’s a battery-operated fleece jacket. The jacket is predominantly baby pink with some camo, so she said she only wears it under her men’s hunting coat, because she worries about getting shot.

Hunters are required by law to wear blaze orange during hunting season so they stand out – and it’s recommended they avoid white, which can look like a deer’s tail.

“I don’t want a bright, light color like that. It’s useless,” Noyes said. “But I couldn’t get that woman’s jacket in camo.”

Walker, 37, acquired her first piece of women’s hunting clothing two years ago – an Under Armour jacket with pink zipper tags – but when it’s cold she wears it under her men’s hunting coat because the sleek jacket isn’t warm enough. Problem is, her hunting rifle gets caught in the folds of the larger men’s coat.

Emily Parker of Windham holds a duck she shot from a canoe. "I don't want to stand out," says the 24-year-old hunter, who bemoans attempts to make camouflage fashionable. "I want to blend into the environment," she says.

Emily Parker of Windham holds a duck she shot from a canoe. “I don’t want to stand out,” says the 24-year-old hunter, who bemoans attempts to make camouflage fashionable. “I want to blend into the environment,” she says.

“When pink came along, it just enraged me. For our clothes to have pink all over it, it’s almost like a slap in the face,” Walker said. “Then they came out with turquoise. Well, we don’t need a special color. We want the same stuff. We just want it to fit us.”

‘SHRINK IT AND PINK IT’ FAILED

ScentLok Technologies in Michigan began making women’s hunting gear a decade ago. At the time, the philosophy was basic: Take men’s clothes, make them smaller and add pink, said Nick Andrews, ScentLok’s vice president for marketing. They learned quickly it was not the right approach.

“Us being dudes, we thought we should shrink it and pink it,” Andrews said. “It was really an utter failure. It did not have a lot of buy-in.

“We kind of went back to the drawing board. We made them in all different sizes, and we made them warmer. We kind of hit the jackpot as women’s hunting really started to explode. For years, we couldn’t make enough. So we really started to listen to what the feedback was.”

Andrews said ScentLok re-evaluated using pink.

“I was involved with a survey a couple of years ago where we asked about accent colors. And we found pink is waning in popularity as a color,” he said. “Next year we are rolling out teal. The survey showed that ladies don’t want to be stereotyped.”

At Kittery Trading Post, Dobyns said he’s seen pink start to diminish in women’s hunting clothing in recent years. While it’s still on the women’s clothing, he said, it’s more subtle now.

“The complaint I hear on the floor is women are not crazy about the pink,” Dobyns said. “The industry has started to scale back. Now it’s primarily just in the logo.”

Henson, at L.L. Bean, said there has been an effort to be more understated with accent colors in women’s hunting clothing. He said the retailer is listening to women hunters as they grow their women’s line of camo. Next year, L.L. Bean will roll out a new hunting line of clothing – made for both men and women.

“We wanted women included in that new hunting line,” he said. “And that is part of our long-term strategy. We want it to be a legitimate piece of technical hunting clothing. It isn’t as much a fashion thing as about having a successful hunt in the woods.”

 


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