The Fabric of Fitness

Designing activewear for the long-ignored older body, Arizona-born clothing designer Shirley Kenan is outfitting America’s “actively aging.”

Jimmy Magahern | Jun 26, 2012, 3:06 p.m.

That’s something Kenan is already doing, making numerous appearances at senior tennis tournaments from Mesa to La Jolla, where she often takes a little pop-up tent to use as a changing booth where people can actually try on her uniquely designed shorts and “skorts” (combination skirt/shorts), capris, tops, vests, jackets and work-out clothes.

“The main thing people are looking for is comfort,” she says. “Many clothes, even though they may not be too tight, are still not comfortable. I design clothes that fit very smoothly without a flexible waistband. They just mold to your figure. They’re also stylish enough that you can wear them from the tennis court to the clubhouse. Most of us are not playing at a level where we get drenched in sweat.” Kenan is also big on pockets, a feature left off of most sportswear for younger people. “You’ve got to have a pocket for pickleball!” she explains.

As for the future, Kenan hopes to eventually bring more of her manufacturing process to Arizona, and has some specific ideas about who she’d like to employ.

“I have a grandson who has autism, and so I belong to a grandparents’ support group at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center in Phoenix,” she says. “We have so many young people with autism here in Arizona who are being cared for and helped through life by older people like myself. Where are these young people going to go, what’s going to happen to them as their caregivers age and begin to need care themselves?

“I am hopeful that I can put together a working relationship with SARRC to help me build a company that will employ individuals with autism, because many of them are perfectly capable of handling a lot of jobs,” she says. “If I could build something for some young adults who need a place to work and use their talents and their gifts, and help them feel that they’re worthwhile and capable of doing for themselves — I can’t think of anything that could please me more than be able to leave that behind when I’m finished here.”

The fact that they’d be helping make products for their elders to feel better about themselves, too, would underscore the statement Kenan feels she’s ultimately making with her clothing line.

“We’re not all made the same way,” she says. “Isn’t that what this is all about?”

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