Talking with a Bike Clothing Designer – Part 2

Last week, I introduced Lauren Steinhardt, and shared her background and thoughts about designing bike clothing for women. Catch up on Talking with a Bike Clothing Designer – Part 1, if you haven’t read it yet.

This week, Lauren shares some trade secrets about the sports clothing industry, her research into what women like to wear while biking, and how the fashion industry predicts trends.

How did you end up designing bike clothing? What was your Master’s thesis research like? What prompted it?

I’m big into utilitarian design, reuse and recycling, and living lightly upon the earth. But I’m also a Libra, and I like things to look pretty (seriously, it’s bizarre how many clothing designers are Libras). I had a huge collection of pretty vintage skirts and dresses, and I started making these little bloomer/pantaloon things to wear under them for biking, that I made out of vintage or thrifted fabric. Then I started selling them at craft fairs, but I quickly found that it’s hard to grow from that size because the options for small-scale manufacturing are nonexistent in this country. (Though that’s slowly changing, and I’m very excited about that). I decided to go back to school for clothing design, and realized that instead of going to a debt-factory private college for a grossly overpriced associate’s degree, I could actually get a Master’s degree and do my own research, all without going into crazy amounts of debt.

I hear you - massive amounts of research at the end of writing my MA thesis!

I hear you – massive amounts of research at the end of writing my MA thesis, but such an amazing experience!

My Master’s thesis research was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I did qualitative research, which means I actually sat down and interviewed people and then reviewed what they told me. I interviewed about a dozen women, who were so kind and supportive of my project. They invited me into their homes, made me tea, spent a long time discussing what they wore to bike to work and how they felt about it. In the end I felt like I really touched upon a need and a subject that doesn’t get enough attention. I also did a lot of research into the historical connection between bikes, the dress reform movement, and first-wave feminism, which is absolutely fascinating.

Amelia Bloomer, in her "Bloomer suit," one of the most well-known images of the "rational dress" movement in the mid-1850s. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Amelia Bloomer, in her “Bloomer suit,” one of the most well-known images of the “rational dress” movement in the mid-1850s. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

How many designs to fashion designers for a company like REI do per season that don’t get used? How far in advance do they design?

This can vary depending on circumstance and the way a particular company operates. Usually, we have what’s called a line plan that is created with the merchandising team, which gives the basic outline of what new styles we will be doing that season (example, three men’s tees, men’s MB shorts and jersey, etc). Sometimes with something like tees, we’ll design more than we need and sort through them to choose the best ones. Sometimes we’ll do a totally new style or range of styles, but then the budget will change and the styles will be dropped before production, or pushed back to another season. In a bigger company and especially with technical performance pieces, the development cycle can be at least a year out and sometimes as long as 18 months.

Do designers look to current shapes and colors; New York Fashion Week; etc? Check out the Pantone Color of the Year? Are they influenced by professional athletes, and what they wear?

First I’d like to say that these are great questions! I’m glad to share a little peek into how the clothing “sausage” gets made, and maybe get people thinking a little bit about the consumer decisions they make.

I mentioned earlier that many companies have a long development cycle. Because of this, most companies use style forecasting services like WGSN to predict trends in color, silhouette, and consumer interests. Really there are only a handful of these forecasting companies, so most clothing companies are relying on the same trend forecasting data, which is why there are consistent themes across various brands in a given season. In the active/outdoor/bike market we also pay attention to tech and performance trends. Trade shows like Outdoor Retailer and Interbike are a good place to get the scoop on that.

Interbike - this looks like so much fun! (Image from Interbike website)

Interbike – this looks like so much fun! (Image from Interbike website)

Another aspect that goes into design choices for performance/active/outdoor clothing is that it can be fairly expensive, and most people purchase it as a well-researched investment piece. If it’s too overtly trendy it can be a turn-off for the consumer because they want to wear it for a long time without looking dated. Thus, trends move slowly in the outdoor industry.

Most professional athletes are sponsored by major activewear brands, which can be great brand publicity. For instance, Nike outfits everyone from Tiger Woods to Serena Williams, and Burton does the US Olympic snowboarding team. These partnerships can definitely drive innovation that filters down to the consumer level.

Women’s urban bike clothing is still a fairly niche market. How have you seen it grow in the years you’ve been designing?

I thought Novara’s urban line was just delightful, and I am so happy that I got to be a part of it. I hope they keep doing it! Right now it seems that women’s urban cycling is still too small of a market for the big guys to pay attention. But in a way I think this is a blessing, because it’s keeping the door open for smaller, women-owned companies to get a toehold and become industry leaders.

Thank you again, Lauren, for your insights into the world of women’s bike clothing! This has really helped me see lines including the Novara line differently. Maybe I’ll complain less about what is being offered, knowing a bit about what goes into making each garment. And I will definitely do what I can to support smaller, women-owned companies become industry leaders!

IKEA Rain Poncho – Look Out, Cleverhood!

IKEA always has the most fun stuff for such good prices, and I can’t ever leave there without spending more than planned. But I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a gray print rain poncho with reflective trim for $6! Look out, Cleverhood! IKEA copied you!

The poncho packs into its own small bag, which then acts as the front pouch pocket, which is a nice feature. The pocket flap, the two arm slits, the neck, and, rather randomly, a bit of the elasticized hood are all trimmed with reflective material, although there is nothing on the back other than the neck. The elasticized hood is a bit odd, and combined with the big Velcro flap under the chin, makes the face opening so small that it is hard to see out of. It does fit under my helmet, but the hood is large enough to fit over my helmet as well. I discovered this one evening when it started to rain heavier than expected, and I didn’t want to stop and fuss with the hood. The fabric is very lightweight, which makes it easy to fold into the pouch, but means that the fabric flapped up as I biked in the rain, and my back got wet.

 

It is longer than my Cleverhood, so it covers more of my bike, but because it is not made for biking, it doesn’t have the extremely useful thumb loops the Cleverhoods do, so I clutched the fabric and my handlebars at the same awkward time. Functional, for $6, but not very comfortable.

 

I wouldn’t use this IKEA poncho in a heavy rainstorm, because I am not confident it would keep me dry for too long. However, it’s not a bad backup to have, in case of an emergency. I could keep it at work, so if I need to bike home in an unexpected rain storm, I would be more comfortable than without. People with cars might want to think about keeping one in their vehicle emergency kit, although the solid black version is not a good idea at night. But if you are interested in a real rain cape, definitely splurge on the Cleverhood. Besides, you will be that much more fashionable in one!

Talking with a Bike Clothing Designer – Part 1

Lauren Steinhardt came to my attention when she commented on my review of the REI Novara Whittier Dress – she was the designer! How cool to get feedback! I looked her up on LinkedIn (I’m such an internet stalker) and her background sounded really interesting – she has a Master’s Degree in Apparel Design from Oregon State University, and her thesis was on Women’s Commuter Cycling Apparel!  So I took a chance and asked if I could ask her some questions about her background and experiences with bikes and designing clothing. Luckily for us all, she agreed!

This part of the interview lets Lauren explain a bit about herself and her experiences and influences. The second part, to come next week, focuses on the retail and sports clothing industry, and how it relates to what we wear on our bikes.

Which came first? Bikes or fashion?

Well, I don’t really consider myself a “fashion” designer. I design clothing, but it isn’t always fashionable, depending on its end use and the needs of the company. In fact, I can’t say I endorse the “fashion industry” in regards to fast fashion and stuff, but it is important to make a nice looking product that makes people feel good when they wear it or engage with it.

Novara Whittier Bike Dress

Novara Whittier Bike Dress

Starting from about age five, I always knew that my future vocation would be to design clothing. I had bikes growing up and as an adult, but my relationship with them has always been a utilitarian one – how can I use this device to get me from point A to point B, and why is my clothing not made for bike riding when it seems like guys’ clothing is? I didn’t start riding recreationally until I moved to Portland in 2002, mostly because there is such amazing bike infrastructure here and it’s so easy to get around.

What is your favorite type of biking?

My favorite type of biking is everyday biking. I commute by bike and use it to get around town. This is mostly my personal area of interest for designing bike-friendly clothing too. I think it would help more women get out there on their bikes. I’d like to try some bike camping or bike-packing – sounds like it would be fun!

Me wearing Lauren's dress (on a Capital Bikeshare bike, of course)!

Me wearing Lauren’s dress!

How many bikes do you own?

Just one, it’s an 80s Nishiki road bike frame that has commuter rack and fenders. My favorite bike ever was a vintage Roadmaster Cape Cod 3-speed that I got at the thrift store in Olympia :)

What is your favorite biking destination?

I like to ride my bike around the city; I never take my car downtown so that is a frequent bike destination for me. Some of my other favorite spots are Mount Tabor, Sellwood Park, and Blue Lake.

What would your dream vacation be?

Probably a long backpacking trip – maybe into the Olympic rainforest? I want to be Mick Dodge when I grow up.

Mick Dodge - I didn't realize he was a National Geographic star! (Image taken from National Geographic website)

Mick Dodge – I didn’t realize he was a National Geographic star! (Image taken from National Geographic website)

What are your favorite bike accessories and fashion companies? What do you use and why?

I don’t do a lot of clothing shopping myself, and when I do I tend to stick to the basics. But there are a few companies that have been making really exciting products that I want to give a shout out to. Iva Jean started out making rain capes and now they have expanded their line with some really cute pieces. And BetaBrand is a fantastically inventive company that accepts design submissions from the public.

The Iva Jean Reveal Skirt (Image taken from Iva Jean website) - I really want to try this skirt

The Iva Jean Reveal Skirt (Image taken from Iva Jean website) – I really want to try this skirt

Where do you look for inspiration?

My #1 source of inspiration is my own experience. What feels good, what’s easy to use, what do I feel comfortable in? Ultimately, wearing clothing is about the way we experience the world. We might spend a few minutes looking in the mirror, but we spend all day in our clothing. So it’s got to work and it can’t impede us from living our lives. How can clothing help us live our lives more gracefully? That’s my main inspiration.

Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your story with us!

Next week, I will post the second half of her interview, in which Lauren gives some insights into the industry that makes cycling (and all sports) clothing. Stay tuned! 

 

Reflective Pants and Shepherdstown

Shepherdstown, WV, is clearly turning into our (well at least my) favorite nearby getaway destination. It was only 2012 when The Mechanic and I first participated in the CASA River Ride, and then two years later, we got married at the Bavarian Inn. This past weekend we decided to go stay at the Bavarian Inn again, and just relax. Every trip to Shepherdstown since our engagement a year ago has been for wedding-related meetings and appointments – not a bad thing, just not casual, random fun. So it was nice to return and be random! IMG_2422

Conveniently, I had just finished my latest reflective fashion project – Butterick 6028 Katherine Tilton pants made out of snakeskin-print corduroy (my favorite fabric of all times!) with of course reflective bias trim in the seams. They were trickier than they should have been – I’m pretty sure the pattern instructions were wrong regarding the zipper fly and the facing. So the inside is not perfect, but whatever. They fit pretty well, despite the high waistline, which I am not used to, and are very comfortable. I wore them to get dinner Friday night, but they officially debuted on Saturday.

It is not quite full autumn colors, but there were enough, plus coupled with some cooler weather and rainy clouds, it felt like fall. So we were appreciative of the fire in the fireplace at Hillsborough Winery, where we stopped for wine tasting. This winery is on the road to Shepherdstown, and every time we have driven past, I have said, “We should stop in some day.” So this time we made a point of starting our trip there. The wines were different and good, but the scenery won the prize.

We watched a bit of the Shepherd University football game, where The Mechanic coined the phrase “artisanal football” – small, local, excellent, not found all over. Come on, you know it’s the next hipster thing! Then an excellent dinner at The Press Room, and a stroll around town in the dark (ooh spooky…), then going to bed early and sleeping late. Ah…. relaxing….

Sunday highlights were stopping at the farmer’s market so I could buy flowers from Megan Webber Flowers, who did our wedding flowers, and whose work I really truly love (She just has such an eye for flower arrangements!), as well as biking on the C&O Canal. We were a bit dismayed to find some construction along the trail around Mile 74, and really hope it is not going to be parking spaces. No cars! Keep it wild and wonderful, and free of too many people! I got a flat tire as we were headed back to Shepherdstown, but luckily I married a bike mechanic, who happily patched up the tire.

It was so nice to feel relaxed and peaceful and very zen, but after our dee-lish vegetarian sandwiches and a WV beer at Domestic, we sadly loaded up the bikes and dove back into the traffic to return to our normal lives. Time to face another week.

C & O Canal zen

C & O Canal zen

Three Generations of Merrell Evera Bicycle Shoes

At last I acknowledged that the basic black Merrell Evera Pure Pumps I have are too small and hurt my feet. The decision makes me sad,  because my other Merrell Evera MJ pumps are my most favorite pair of summer heels. The fact that Merrell no longer makes this line of bicycle-specific heels also makes me sad. Thankfully, I just found last year’s version, the Evera Draft, on Amazon for $35.  Because these have the mary jane strap, I was able to order the shoes in my actual size, and they will stay on. This was the mistake I made with the Evera Pure pumps: I had ordered them a half-size too small, hoping that the size difference would keep them on my feet. Alas no, they have just been too uncomfortable to wear, so I will try to sell them to someone who might fit them.

It was interesting, however, to compare the three generations of these shoes. All three are essentially the same shoe, and yet they are not.

Left to right: Evera MJ, Evera Pure, Evera Draft

Left to right: Evera MJ, Evera Pure, Evera Draft

Similarities:

  • Same foot bed and sole, which Merrell originally claimed was stable for better “midfoot pedal power” as well as their special “sticky” rubber to better grip the pedals
  • Same toe box and style
  • Same name

    Side shot of the MJ, Pure, and Draft, showing the style differences

    Side shot of the MJ, Pure, and Draft, showing the style differences and similarities

Differences:

  • Reflective trim on each pair is different, or in the case of the Draft, non-existent. The Evera MJ summer heels have reflective trim on the edge of the strap, while the Pure pumps have tiny squares on the back of the shoe. Granted, these small spots are not very useful, but it’s the point that Merrell was thinking about bike safety and visibility. I’m disappointed that the Draft doesn’t have any reflective detailing.
  • The cut outs on the side of the heel on the MJ sandals and the Pure pumps are gone from the Draft, which makes them pretty plain and almost boring.
  • The label on the insole is different – on the first two pairs, there is a cycle design, proudly showing these to be shoes for women to wear while biking. Not in the Drafts. Guess Merrell gave that up as a promotional piece.
    Reflective bits, or not

    Reflective bits, or not

    Top: no bike; bottom: bike

    Top: no bike; bottom: bike

I am happy to have the Drafts, and I don’t have a proper pair of brown heels, so they will be great to bike to work in. Nevertheless, I am disappointed that Merrell discontinued making a bicycle-specific shoe line for women. I had been very excited about their winter boots last fall, but perhaps those were a retail flop, which made them pull the plug on the concept. I have heard that women’s bike clothing (and shoes) are still a very small niche market. I guess it is still too small for shoes by a company even as large and popular as Merrell. Thanks for trying, though! Better luck in a few more years?

In Which I Try Coffeeneuring

I’ve secretly been a bit envious of the intrepid Coffeeneurs who, every fall season, bike to far off destinations in search of coffee to share in the Coffeeneuring Challenge. This challenge, organized by Mary at Chasing Mailboxes, is only in its fourth year but seems to have somehow become elevated to a cult-like following. Maybe it’s the coffee? Yet, I’ve never tried to join in, just read triumphant stories with some mild jealousy.

This year, I decided to try it. So far so good – this weekend was the initial weekend, and I think it went pretty well. A group of us from work decided to coffeeneur together, so we met at the Ballston Metro Station and biked to Java Shack. We were somehow the first bike-y people there, so we got the good spots on the bike rack, and we watched as a while later all the Revolution Cycles Sunday morning group ride cyclists started pouring in.

After hanging out for a while, we set off on our Part Two – biking to Falls Church to go to Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae, a family-owned sandwich and ice cream shop.

I had iced tea and a dee-lish veggie sandwich, but it was not exactly a “coffeeneuring” defined stop. Right off the W&OD Trail, and not far from the West Falls Church Metro Station, I’m surprised I’d never discovered this place before. Apparently they make their own ice cream, and I noticed that pumpkin pie was one of the listed flavors. My other challenge this month is All Things Pumpkin, so I might have to go back soon!

We decided to stop and play on one of the children’s playgrounds on the W&OD Trail on our way home. Ignoring the “Designed for Children 5-12 Years Old” signs, we tested out everything, even the log run thing, that was much harder than expected. Thank goodness for the slide.

Really, they should make playgrounds for adults. We need them too!

We headed back to Ballston, and our various homes, feeling much happier for having been out on such a gorgeous (albeit a bit chilly) fall day. Was it the coffee? The biking? Or playing on the kids’ playground? Who knows! It was fun.

I got about 12 miles in all together, which is nothing compared to the other people who participate in the Coffeeneuring Challenge, but it’s more than I’ve done in a while, so I was pretty happy about that. But now the pressure is on to keep this up for the next 6 weeks! The Mechanic and I are returning to Shepherdstown, WV, next weekend, and are taking our bikes, but the coffee shop is pretty close to the Bavarian Inn. Maybe we can take the long route? Then after that, well, there are so many options! Where to next?!

 

Reflective Wear-to-Work Challenge, in Review

I did it! I wore something I have made to work for thirteen days in a row! I’m pretty impressed – even I didn’t realize I’d made so much reflective bike fashion!

Week 2

Week One Collage

Week Three

One of the days was sort of a bonus day, since I only made the reflective sash I tied on over my dress and cardigan, so it was more like 12 +1 days.

Seeing everything like this makes me wonder if I need to be more strategic about my projects. Should I try to design mini “collections” each season, that all work together? Or should I just do whatever catches my fancy, as I have been doing? The two projects I’m working on right now, pants and a fancy sweatshirt, are designed to coordinate, although I’m not sure they will once both are done! We’ll see.

But the point of this whole initial idea was to make things I could wear at the office, as well as just around town. Part of me feels like I need to be therefore more strategic, and consider my work shoes and blazers and so on, to make sure everything works together a bit more. Not that any of this is inappropriate, but I could probably step it up a bit.

I also posted each outfit every morning on Instagram (I’m disguised as @earlettef), and on one of the days, I decided to tag the McCalls Pattern Company. They were interested enough that they asked if they could post the top, McCalls 6792, on their Facebook page. Well of course! It got at least 100 “Likes,” 12 Shares, and several comments. I was pretty pleased by that!

McCalls Facebook Love

McCalls Facebook Love

I think it also shows that there could be a market for nice clothing that as reflectivity sewn into it, clothing that does even whisper “tech,” that is just fashionable yet functional. But how best to focus that? I’m still deciding.

It’s been fun wearing my own designs, but the rest of my closet missed me, so for a while, I’ll sort through what is left. Now that the weather has cooled off a bit, it means it could be time to dust off the tweed! Yay!

I need to redesign my sewing space and desk, too...

I need to redesign my sewing space and desk, too…

 

Busy Bike Fashion Week

It’s been a busy week, but bike fashion hasn’t been far from my mind. I continued my reflective wear-to-work challenge, reviewed some bike accessories for The Discerning Cyclist, tested my new Iladora bike top, and got up today at 6am to order the Altuzarra for Target blouse I wanted. Oh, and pre-ordered the new iPhone 6!

I was only able to get in three days of my reflective wear-to-work bike fashion challenge. One day I had to wear the work polo, and I was off the last day of the week, so that meant only three days. On the plus side, it means I can probably do all this coming week! The weather has cooled off enough that I’m not sure about my sleeveless tops, but I’ll risk it!

I got some fun bike accessories from Bike Belle, to review for The Discerning Cyclist. I am very fussy particular about what I put on my bike, but I ended up loving these! Now my bike has a front basket from Denmark, skirt guards from Sweden, and a bike bell from Poland. What next?! I’ll share the review when it’s on the website, but I’ll give you a sneak peek.

Notice anything different about my bike? Think small accessories....

Notice anything different about my bike? Think small accessories….

I broke down and ordered The Lisa Top from Iladora, in pink. I was so excited that they came out with some colors, and it was a dilemma to decide between the blue and the pink, but pink won out. It’s a bit more mauve-y than I was expecting, but I am very happy with it. If you aren’t familiar with Iladora, it is a San Francisco company that also makes pants and a skirt. The top is bamboo jersey, cut with dolman sleeves for comfort, and that all important dropped hem for coverage. It’s super-comfy; the cut of the sleeves means that nothing binds or constricts the arms while biking. (I will say, however, that it is snug over the part of my waist that I’m currently most self-conscious about, and I’m not happy about that – but I know it is my fault, and not the top’s problem.) But overall, I’m happy with it!

For those of you who don’t know, Target teams up with haute couture designers occasionally, and these collaborations turn into big shopping frenzies on the day of the launch. So far I’ve gotten stuff from Liberty of London, Missoni, Jason Wu, and Proenza Schouler, all high-end designers I couldn’t normally afford. The launch of the Missoni collection crashed Target’s system; luckily I’d gotten up super early to order what I wanted online. I did go stand in line at the store for the Jason Wu collection, but also ordered online while standing there! Today was the launch of Altuzarra for Target, and I had planned on getting up at 6am to bike to Target to get in line, but when I checked the website on my phone at 6:12am, and the blouse I wanted was available, I opted to order online and go back to bed. I was tempted to go to the store later in the day, but considering I just pre-ordered the iPhone 6, well, I couldn’t risk being lured into buying something else.

The Altuzarra for Target blouse I ordered

The Altuzarra for Target blouse I ordered. No idea what to wear them with – now I need new pants!

So this week I need to buckle down and alter the pants pattern and get them cut out. I started making the reflective bias, but I think I need more! I’ve created a monster.

IMG_1882

 

The Reflective Wear-to-Work Challenge

I was so excited by mountain biking that I forgot all about my most recent two sewing projects! And since they prompted me to challenge myself, I think I need to share all this with you.

First of all, I finished both the satiny pajama pants and the #@$%^% gray silky top I was struggling with. As it turned out, I am very happy with both of them.

Silkie PJ pants with reflective piping down each leg.

Silky PJ pants with reflective piping down each leg.

Blouse reflecting, and in it's Clark Kent state (that is, not reflecting)

Blouse reflecting, and in it’s Clark Kent state (that is, not reflecting)

Wearing the blouse to work!

Wearing the blouse to work!

Now that The Mechanic works a “normal” schedule, it’s easier to get him out the door to take a picture of me in my sewing projects in the morning. This means I can have everything photographed! Although our limited time means you’ll get really tired of the same spot in front of our apartment….

Actually, what prompted my Reflective Work Wear Challenge was the realization that I have actually made quite a few things in the last few years. So I decided to see how many days in a row I could wear something I’ve made. Week One was all four days, and I think I can get through another 2 weeks! It’s of course weather dependent, and although I have other reflective clothing, it’s not stuff I have made, so that doesn’t count either. And much of it will depend on my work schedule – I’m not sure it’s exactly client meeting-friendly. But I’ll see – that’s the point of a challenge, right?!

So this is the outcome of Week One:

You can also see everything else on me and my bike that are reflective!

You can also see everything else on me and my bike that are reflective!

I’ll sum up, in case you can’t tell in the photos. From Top Left: the shoulders on the dress are reflective purple material and are lit up in the photo; the stripes on the edge of the skirt are iron-on reflective grosgrain (available at JoAnn Fabrics); the gray tux stripe is edged with the reflective piping (the red Cole Haan oxfords show up white with the flash on); and the waist and neckline of the blue peplum top are reflective (as are the silver Cole Haan loafers).

I counted two skirts, three dresses, four tops, one blazer (trimmed, not sewn), and two pairs of pants, total, not including the pants I’m starting and the sweatshirt that is the next project. So I can stretch out a while still! One of the tops is a cooler weather sweatshirt, so I hope to get a few cool days in soon to wear it.

I also made myself a reflective sash yesterday, to replace the wonderful reversible obi sash I lost in Sacramento last November. So with that additional accessory, I have at least one more outfit – I have the cutest dress with which it looks great. So I have eight or nine days to go! Stay tuned to see what comes this week. I’ll be interested in feedback, favorite pieces or looks, etc., so take notes!

My new reflective sash. Not reversible and not very wide, but I love the color and the print it's lined with.

My new reflective sash. Not reversible and not very wide, but I love the color and the print it’s lined with.