Bike Clothes Shopping with REI Dividends

This past weekend, The Mechanic and I found ourselves (along with everyone else in Arlington and Fairfax) at REI, 2014 member dividends in hand. Neither of us had earned much, but combined with the members-only coupon, I was definitely ready to spend! You will not be surprised when I say that I headed straight to the women’s bike clothing section and swooped up several things I’ve been studying on the website to try on.

I would like to apologize for the lousy pictures I took in the dressing room! I didn’t really think about it – the staging is sloppy, the lighting was atrocious, and could I have at least smiled?! Oh, and trying on stuff all day made me feel bad about my shape – I hated the way I looked in just about everything. I almost don’t want to share the photos but think it’s good to show what stuff looks like on a real person. Perhaps you are super athletic and never worry about your fat arms or your thunder thighs (which I had long before I started biking, btw) – but some of us do. So for the rest of us, these photos are for you!

I like REI’s Novara bike clothing for women. It’s fairly cute, has enough reflective details to make me happy, it’s usually made out of some stretchy, moisture-wicking material and it is fairly reasonably priced. Let me show you what I tried (again, remember, bad photos!):

Novara Glencliff Bike Top and Novara Brightwood Bike Skirt

Novara Glencliff Bike Top and Novara Brightwood Bike Skirt

First up – the Novara Brightwood Bike Skirt and Glencliff Bike Top. I really liked the skirt; it fit well, the fabric was nice and the pockets were deep enough. It felt short, but it’s no shorter than bike shorts. I didn’t like it enough to buy it and probably won’t, unless it goes on super-sale. The Glencliff top is cute but the sleeves are really narrow and made my arms look like overstuffed sausages. That will never happen.

The Novara Ardenwald Bike Top was really cute, even though I have an aversion to things with bikes printed on them. I like the way this fit, and honestly, the penny farthing print won me over. I tried it in a size Small because they didn’t have a Medium in stock, and it fit well enough that I’d probably buy it in that size. The fabric is pretty lightweight, but in the summer, that might be just perfect. I like the reflective shoulder tabs, too.  Novara Pants BlueThe Novara Tuxedo Park Bike Pants were not to be – I wanted to like them, since I always have a hard time finding pants I love, but it didn’t happen. I tried on sizes 8 and 10, and the 10 fit better over my curves, but the stretch fabric was comfortable and forgiving in either size. You can’t tell but I was trying to show the reflective belt loop on the waist. The inside cuff has reflective trim too, so you can roll them up for some added flash. I wasn’t excited. I want summer pants that are not super tight fitted. Guess I’ll have to make lots of drawstring pants!

I actually really loved the Novara Wicker Park Bike Top and bought it. On the website, the cut looked weird to me, slightly boxy, maybe too short, I don’t know, it just seemed off. But once I put it on, I was hooked. Okay, part of it is that it’s striped, and next to floral prints, stripes are my favorite pattern. The cut is indeed a bit boxy; I almost bought the Small instead of the Medium, but it was over an inch shorter and I prefer the longer length. The moisture-wicking fabric feels nice as well.  The reflective piping down the back seam and in the cap sleeves only made me want it more. I wish the neck was a bit lower, but the pink edging and buttons are a fun touch. I can see myself getting a ton of wear out of this.

Terry Transit Bike Top

Terry Transit Bike Top (geez, just smile, will you?!)

The last thing I tried on was the Terry Transit Bike Top. I wasn’t in love with the color, but liked the fabric and cut. Alas, the fact that the placket pulled and wouldn’t lay flat annoyed me, but the neckline is sophisticated, and I can see this being a really great business top in the summer.

I also almost bought the CycleAware Tour de Joy handlebar bag in silver – it is intended for kids, but it’s the perfect date night purse! Metallic purses are always fun in the summer.

CycleAware Tour de Joy Handlebar Purse (for girls)

CycleAware Tour de Joy Handlebar Purse (for girls)

Waiting in the mail for me was my lovely red striped Ligne 8 top, ordered last week from Bike Pretty. I’ve wanted this for a long time, and now that Bike Pretty is offering it with free shipping, I couldn’t resist! Although she has styled hers with a French beret, mine will go perfectly with my vintage J. Crew linen sailor middy jacket!

Striped shirts on our striped duvet cover - yes, I like stripes!

Striped shirts on our striped duvet cover – yes, I like stripes!

Why I Think We Need Bike Fashion

In the November/December 2014 issue of Momentum Magazine, Editor-in-Chief Mia Kohout asks the question, “Do we need bike fashion?” For a magazine dedicated to making biking-as-transportation “Fun, smart, stylish and sexy,” it might seem like a surprising question – bike fashion fills many of its pages. Mia answered her own question by saying that of course anyone can bike in whatever is in their closet, and that well-made, expensive bike fashion pieces are, like any other expensive wardrobe investment, just that, an investment piece. “Well-designed and well-made clothing can be expensive, whether for riding a bike or not,” she states. I agree – I could buy a knit wrap dress anywhere, but I still aspire to an original Diane von Furstenberg.

Diane von Furstenberg's iconic wrap dress

Ooh…. Diane von Furstenberg’s iconic wrap dress (photo courtesy of DvF website)

Regular readers of my blog know that I am obsessed interested in bike fashion, and started making my own clothing that is both office-appropriate and bike-appropriate. Fashion is not only important to me, it is important to all of us, whether we like it or not. In The Encyclopedia of Fashion, by Georgina O’Hara, the author writes, “Fashion is a mobile, changing reflection of the way we are and the times in which we live.” Michael and Ariane Batterberry write, in their massive Fashion: The Mirror of History, “To our minds, clothes have traditionally served four basic functions: to protect the body, to exalt the ego, to arouse emotions in others, and to communicate by means of symbols.” We may not need fashion, but we do need to be covered, to protect our bodies, and that need combines with the need for self expression, which then becomes fashion. The need to be covered, protect myself, and express myself results in my reflective bike fashionFashion Books

Mia’s question made me return to Lauren Steinhardt, the designer who designed the REI Novara dress I bought earlier this year, and gave us some insights to the bike clothing world (be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of her interview). For her MS in Design and Human Environment, Lauren’s thesis, titled “Women’s Commuter Cycling Apparel: Functional Design Process to Product,” spends a lot of time considering the different elements of bike commuting, and what women want to wear. Lauren interviewed women bike commuters in Portland, OR, to get feedback on what they want in bike commuting clothing, and then designed a small collection based on that feedback.

Lauren’s background research initially explored identity and apparel as group membership – anyone can relate to high school cliques, uniforms, the “roadie” look of a full Lycra kit, the “Kate Middleton” effect, and so on. We dress in ways that express not only who we are, but with whom we wish to be identified. However, as Lauren points out, “the cyclist who uses the bicycle primarily as a form of transportation may not wish to identify in the role of recreational or professional cyclist” (pg. 17). The women whom Lauren interviewed did not identify as “cyclists,” but as professionals, and chose their clothing based on that, rather than cycling function.

In evaluating her research, Lauren used research done in 1992 by J.M. Lamb and M. J. Kallal, “A conceptual framework for apparel design,” (Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 10 (2), 42-47). Lamb and Kallal developed a design process that considered the functional needs, expressive needs, and aesthetic needs of the clothing consumer. Functional needs includes fit, mobility, comfort, protection, and donning/doffing of the garment. Expressive needs includes values, roles, status and self-esteem of the consumer. Aesthetic needs include art elements, design principles, and body/garment relationships. I’ve never seen this breakdown before, but it was the perfect format for Lauren’s research, and makes sense to me.

The FEA (Functional-Expressive-Aesthetic) model of consumer needs, but Lamb & Kalla, 1992

The FEA (Functional-Expressive-Aesthetic) model of consumer needs, by Lamb & Kalla, 1992 (Scanned from Lauren’s thesis)

Based on the interviews of women commuter cyclists and an analysis of cycling clothing companies that existed at the time, Lauren determined that most women’s cycling clothing, even that intended to be for bike commuters, did not fulfill the expressive or aesthetic needs. Regardless of how “fashion forward” each participant may or may not have been, each apparently expressed a dislike of traditional bike clothing and accessories, and rejected clothing that could have been more functional because it was not expressive or aesthetically pleasing, and didn’t fulfill the need to be office-appropriate. The majority said that they wanted to be able to walk into their offices looking professional, and that since many of them participate in social events or run errands afterwards, they wanted clothing to wear that was socially appropriate for those situations. Some of the women also owned “bike gear,” such as padded bike shorts, but were dismissive of wearing bike-specific clothing on their commutes, and didn’t see the point in buying clothes (such as by Trek or Pearl Izumi) at bike shops.

Apparel Needs Model for Female Bicycle Consumers, by Lauren Steinhardt

Apparel Needs Model for Female Bicycle Consumers, by Lauren Steinhardt (Scanned from Lauren’s thesis)

Lauren’s thesis is full of more and better detail, and I definitely recommend the section where she designed 6 garments and prototyped a pair of pants. But for the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on the functional, expressive and aesthetic needs reported by her research. The reason why we need bike fashion is because there are those of us who do not want to buy or wear bike sports clothing, ie, jerseys covered in brands and logos, padded bike shorts, clipless shoes, and so on, because although it fulfills our functional needs (keeps clothing out of gears, keeps us warm, functions better with a road bike perhaps), it doesn’t appeal to our expressive or aesthetic needs. For example, I do not identify as a “roadie” or “cyclist,” so I don’t want to wear a hi viz yellow jacket or anything Lycra. I identify as a professional (or fashion designer, haha!), and as such, wish to look like one on my way to and from work. Hi viz pink and yellow definitely do not fulfill my aesthetic needs; they are colors I look terrible in (frankly, no one looks good dressed like a highlighter). I want to wear teal and gray and rose and leaf green. I want to be able to lock up my bike at work and walk into my office ready for meetings, or at least looking professional enough that I am not embarrassed on my way to the restroom to change and apply makeup!

This is a rather long way of saying that we need bike fashion such as the designs by Iladora, Vespertine, Ligne 8, Iva Jean, and more because they tend to fulfill our expressive, aesthetic AND functional needs better than other, more readily available commercial clothing lines. They might not yet fulfill all of our needs equally, and I will always find a way to fit Piperlime and Ann Taylor Loft into my bike wardrobe, but we need bike fashion companies to help us identify us as people who are fun, smart, stylish and sexy – and ride bikes for transportation.

Ladies biking in Arlington for fun - smart, stylish and sexy!

Ladies biking in Arlington for fun – smart, stylish and sexy!

 

Let’s Talk #Reflective Fashion

Although I am always happy to talk about reflective bike fashion, a few things converged recently to prompt a post about reflective-ness. A New York Times article, new reflective clips from Bookman, and the Fall time change all mean more ways and reasons to be reflective!

The recent New York Times article, “Go Glam into the Night: For the Bike-to-Work Generation, a Move to Fashionable High Tech Clothing,” explored how bike clothing “grew up” and became “fashionable” by making office-friendly clothing reflective. The article called out a few companies I already adore, like Vespertine NYC and LFlect, others I am familiar with, including Fik:Reflectives and Betabrand, and introduced me to a fun new one, Henrichs (these capes are so adorable! And limited edition pink and glitter reflective ones? Where is my credit card?!).

The Henrichs Cape (Photo courtesy of the Henrichs website)

The Henrichs Cape (Photo courtesy of the Henrichs website)

Women’s fashion sports clothing companies such as Athleta and Lululemon are also adding reflective clothing to their lines. These pieces are made for runners, not cyclists, but there are obvious ways these can crossover. Look at how cool the “Light It Up” reflective skirt from Lululemon is, and the “Scuba Hoodie,” with it’s reflective hood! I love the idea of pulling this skirt over pants or leggings or jeans – not entirely work appropriate, but definitely for biking home from the gym, or a casual evening out. The “In a Flash” sweatshirt I can see wearing to work. Athleta offers a few pairs of running leggings with respectable amounts of reflective trim down the leg, and I can see pulling these on under skirts or dresses to bike home after dark. When we turn our clocks back this weekend, it will be darker earlier, but still not too cold to rule out the skirts, and then these would be perfect.

Lululemon Light It Up Skirt (photo courtesy of Lululemon website)

Lululemon Light It Up Skirt (photo courtesy of Lululemon website)

What I like about these garments is that these designers are finally realizing that gear worn outside, especially in the darker hours, should have a bit more reflectivity than just the token logo on a corner, or on the ankle. Here is an example of what I consider bad reflective trim – this adorable “Cyclocape” from Terry Bicycles has a single line of reflective trim down the center of the back. Although the unbroken line isn’t a bad idea, it doesn’t give any sense of how wide the wearer is, so how much room to give the cyclist, and what if if was covered by a backpack or bag strap?  (Don’t get me wrong, if someone wants to gift this to me, I’d happily test it out!) These black Terry “Metro Crop” pants have reflective trim inside the side slits, so they don’t offer much reflective-ness at all.

Terry Bicycles Cyclocape (photo courtesy of Terry Bicycles website)

Terry Bicycles Cyclocape (photo courtesy of Terry Bicycles website)

Title Nine has a decent collect of clothes with reflective trim, and although this “Slip’n Ride” commuter skirt is another example of questionable print choices, I like that the reflective trim is on the outside hem, right where you want to be visible to a vehicle.  REI’s Novara winter cycling pants have reflective stripes down the entire leg as well – just like my reflective pants!

I love the latest pants I made!

I love the latest pants I made!

I also point all of this out because Time is “falling back” this weekend, and it will be darker longer. Although I don’t believe that us wearing reflective clothing gives drivers license to NOT pay attention to cyclists (and pedestrians) on the road, I don’t think it hurts to be defensive about what we wear either. I wear a bright red coat partially because it shows up better in headlights than a solid black jacket would – the reflective Vespertine belt I wear with it simply helps.

Red coat, reflective trim on skirt, purse - hugging an owl in Copenhagen

Red coat, reflective trim on skirt, purse – hugging an owl in Copenhagen

It is easy to add reflective accessories, less expensive, and perhaps a bit more versatile to have something that can be moved from jacket to shirt to skirt, like the Bookman clips or the options from REI. Or there is always another route – Glimling is a Swedish-American company selling Scandinavian style reflectors that can be attached to purses, backpacks, coat zippers, or panniers. I have several and love them. They are so cute on my purses! Elisabeth, the owner, totally gets the importance of reflective-ness, and loves to share this somewhat staggering statistic – 70% of American pedestrian accidents happen after dark, while in Sweden, the number is much lower, 40%. Adults and children alike in that country wear reflectors – we saw them for sale in bookstores and dollar stores and in the airport when The Mechanic and I were in Denmark and Sweden, too. Check out her blog post with visibility tests.

Assorted reflectors on assorted bags - some I bought in Sweden, some are from Glimling

Assorted reflectors on assorted bags – some I bought in Sweden, some are from Glimling

So what am I saying here? Reflective clothing is going fashionable and mainstream for biking and running, yay! Designers are beginning to figure it out, and maybe by next winter, we’ll see even more. If buying reflective blazers and dresses is not your thing, or you can’t afford to (I know, the cool stuff is always so expensive!), consider accessories with a good amount of reflective coverage, and attach reflectors on strategic points.  The least it can do is make you a bit more visible!

 

 

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!