Venturing into the fashion world, Canadian Kayla Alexander looks to fill a void

Canada's Kayla Alexander (14), right, watches her shot during women's basketball preliminary round game between Canada and South Korea at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Eric Gay/AP)

Being tall has been one of the gifts of Kayla Alexander’s life.

It has helped her get an education, see the world, play the sport she loves for a living and become an Olympian.


Shopping for clothes.

The Canadian national team star stands a regal six-foot-four and set multiple career records at Syracuse University and has eight WNBA seasons under her belt, but she can still remember the awkwardness of going back-to-school shopping and coming up empty.

“My mom would be like, low budget, ‘here's the money you guys go to the mall, do whatever you want,” she recalls on a Zoom call from Russia, where she’s playing another season in the top domestic league. “And I used to be so jealous of [my sister], Keisha.

"She would come back with all these cute outfits like, all these jeans that were cheap and fashionable and I would come back with jewellery and T-shirts because I couldn't find any cute, fashionable clothes that actually fit me. So, I never enjoyed the whole back-to-school shopping thing.”

Canada's Kayla Alexander shoots over South Korea's Danbi Kim during women's basketball preliminary round game at the 2020 Summer Olympics. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Nicole Murphy is Alexander’s lifelong friend from Barrie, Ontario. It was Murphy who saw the new tall girl in class in sixth grade and invited her to come out for basketball team, inadvertently launching Alexander’s career.

Murphy grew to six-foot and had her own challenges when it came to clothes and fashion.

“I felt the most frustration getting ready for parties or doing stuff with my other girlfriends and they would all want to go shopping to get outfits and I would kind of just like tag along but I would never be able to find cute, fancy stuff that fit me so I would always just wear like my basic like jeans and a T-shirt,” she says. “And I don't know that I would get made fun of but my friends would always say like, ‘oh Nicole you're always so boring.'

"Or even just being able to share clothes or share shoes before going out. I could never. I just kind of chilled out on the side while they all got ready. Looking back, it was frustrating."

Alexander and Murphy’s friendship and shared fashion annoyances prompted them to act. The pair – along with Alexander’s sister Kesia, who topped out at five-foot-10 – have launched, a business they hope will ease some the challenges they and their peers face in a retail world geared to those who aren’t likely candidates to play centre for the Canadian senior national women’s team at the Tokyo Olympics, as Alexander did this past summer.

It came about in two stages. This past March they started a brand directory aimed at solving the shopping and fashion needs for tall women by doing most of the work for them.

“We found every single tall clothing brand we could across the globe and then we basically put in a filter so if you say you’re in Canada and want to find jeans with a 38 inseam that ship to Canada, we basically filtered so once you put all that information in you can find which shops you could potentially shop at find those jeans to ship to you,” says Alexander.

Response was immediate and encouraging. There seemed to be a need, and visitors to the site were pleased that their scavenger hunt had been at once simplified and made more rewarding. Alexander didn’t have to go to test their ideas – she just asked teammates past and present. A lifetime of elite basketball played all over the globe told her that her frustrations were widely shared.

Murphy reached beyond Alexander’s basketball circle and was even further convinced they were on to something as she interviewed potential customers.

“It was a validating experience to hear about the [frustrations] we all felt but there was a lot of things I heard that I personally haven't been affected by,” said Murphy. “But there's a lot of emotional weight tied up in not being able to find clothes as a tall woman, especially when you're younger.

"You're already taller than the boys and I mean, it's just it's not normal. And then on top of that you can't find clothes that make you feel good in your own skin or confident and so I think there's a lot of built-up body image issues associated with it … so it was super validating and I think it was it was just helpful to point us in the right direction.”

As the brand directory gained traction, they began to consider other opportunities and settled on an online marketplace that allowed buyers and sellers to meet in one place online.

“The next natural step for us was okay, instead of kicking [users] out to shop from all these different top brands [we identified], how do we create something that allows them to shop from all of them in one place?” Says Murphy, who is a veteran of multiple e-commerce ventures and quit her last job to commit to TallSize full-time this past summer. “And so that's where the marketplace model came from where we're partnering with different tall brands, bringing all their products into one place so that tall women don't have to scour the internet far and wide for hours just to find stuff that maybe fits.

"We just wanted to create a space where women could know they could depend on it, they can go there and know that it's kind of been vetted, to truly be items that they can shop from.”

The venture hopefully provides another avenue for Alexander, 30, once her playing career winds down – an addition to the children’s books she publishes with Keisha, as well as her art and public speaking.

But until then there’s the satisfaction in knowing that those awkward or frustrating trips to the mall don’t have to be that way anymore, and along with her sister and her oldest friend, they’re actively making it so.

“I've always had like the entrepreneurial mind of trying to figure out things I could do,” she says. “My big thing is doing things that I'm passionate about. And this is something that I am passionate about, because it's something that relates to me, it allows me to be creative. It allows me to keep learning [and] … I’m doing the work now so that when the time comes to put up my shoes for good, I can smoothly move into the next phase and TallSize … will grow and that [we] can continue to do for many years to come.”

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