Like the saying goes: function before fashion. Or is it fashion before function? Wait, what about function AND fashion?
That’s the question Ashley Rankin, founder of Shredly mountain bike apparel, began asking after a persistent span of unsuccessful trips to bike shops. “I’m not that picky when it comes to shopping, but I didn’t buy any bike shorts for two years because I couldn’t find anything,” recalls the Carbondale, Colorado native. “So I started riding in board shorts. They were more fun. They had more colors and options, but the fabric wasn’t great, and they’d get caught on the bike seat.”
Rankin soon saw the opportunity to merge her background in fashion design with her passion for mountain sports in order to address the pitfalls of women’s bike clothing.
The Tipping Point
Rankin didn’t initially set out to solve the women’s bike gear crisis. Though she holds a degree in apparel design from Colorado State University, “I had no interest at all in being an outdoor apparel designer,” says Rankin. “I always wanted to do high end couture.” This passion led to an internship in Florence, Italy during college. In Florence, she followed the trends of Euro-chic fashion and runway labels.
I’m glad I didn’t know what I was doing when I started because I think it would have been too overwhelming. I had no big expectations. I was just learning as I was figuring it out, and there was nothing to scare me from trying or deter me from doing something new.
But when Rankin began studying the form and function of women’s mountain bike apparel back home in Carbondale, she discovered that most clothing could be lumped into one of two styles: shrinked-and-pinked or baggy-and-black. Neither of which were comfortable or flattering for the sports they were designed to handle. “My girlfriends all had the same complaints,” she says. “You don’t have to explain to any girl that there are not bike shorts designed for women.”
Putting her education to work, Rankin began designing patterns that spoke to her haute style, creating shorts with a women’s-specific fit and wild colors. “Black is easy,” she says, referring to the fallback choice for many bike apparel companies. “It doesn’t require any thought.” And that, as Rankin sees it, is the biggest downfall for women’s cycling gear.
From conservative pinstripes to crazy peacock prints, every Shredly fabric swatch is thoughtfully chosen in hopes of raising the bar with women’s bike clothing. Even its “Made in the USA” label is a deliberate choice that emphasizes a dedication to quality over quality. “Making shorts in the USA fits with the culture of the company and the meaning of the product,” she says. “If I’m going to create a premium product and charge a premium price, quality can’t be sacrificed.”
Though Shredly’s designs are inspired by mountain biking, the brand’s range of use isn’t limited by a single sport. “I knew I wanted something that would function as multi use, because that’s how I am in life,” says Rankin, whose own recreational interests are as varied as the Colorado weather. “I want to be able to use all my gear for multiple things and can’t stand to buy something new for every sport.”
So with hits like quick-drying fabrics, mesh pockets, and contoured detailing, leisurely SUPers and golfers can revel in street-savvy, purpose-built activewear as much as aggressive climbers or hikers. It’s also a key factor in Shredly’s manifesto and longevity as a performance-driven apparel company. “I don’t want to pigeonhole myself just as a bike brand,” says Rankin, noting that the versatile design “allows for expansion” down the road, on or off the trail.
Getting the Wheels Rolling
Few, if any, bike companies dedicate one hundred percent of their R&D towards women’s gear, but the lack of industry competition gave Rankin the freedom to create her own standards for women’s bike apparel. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” says Rankin, admitting that her lack of experience in the bike world helped—not hindered—her cause. “I’m glad I didn’t know what I was doing when I started because I think it would have been too overwhelming. I had no big expectations. I was just learning as I was figuring it out, and there was nothing to scare me from trying or deter me from doing something new.”
With a fearless business idea brewing in a less-than-stellar economy, Rankin began exploring alternative ways to get the project off the ground. After a friend suggested the idea of crowdsourced funding, she debuted Shredly on Kickstarter in January 2012, disregarding the rules of retail merchandising and pre-selling summer mountain bike apparel in the dead of winter.
Few, if any, bike companies dedicate one hundred percent of their R&D towards women’s gear, but the lack of industry competition gave Rankin the freedom to create her own standards for women’s bike apparel.
But cold-weather temperatures didn’t stop nearly 130 backers from buying into the business. “The reaction was amazing,” explains Rankin. “I did the shortest project you could do and did nothing but live, breathe, and eat Kickstarter for thirty days. I got a quarter of the financing I needed for the year, and it was the last piece of the puzzle [to get started].”
What Women Want
Despite the immediate success, Rankin couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something obvious. Mostly: why was no one else making well-fitting bike apparel for women? And in a social era where customers take to Facebook to vent their frustrations, why is no one doing anything about it? “It makes me think that big companies aren’t listening to their customers,” says Rankin.
“The feedback I get is interesting because women have the same comments,” she says. “There’s not just a one- or a three- or a five-size-fits-all short. They want something unique when it comes to size, color, and style.” Rankin works judiciously to integrate constructive feedback into her clothing, but as such a small operation, the requests outweigh her production capacity. “I could probably have eight different styles [of the same short] for all the body types I get,” she says. “It’s a big enough market for me, but I can’t quite offer everything I want to yet.”
What she is offering, though, is “everything that you wouldn’t expect from a mountain bike short.” From buttons encased in gold to a chamois inspired by yoga pants, “it’s the little details” that add up, she explains. “I always want to include stuff that’s unexpected and outside of the box.”
To learn more about Shredly, visit www.shredly.com.
From The Column: Upstarts and Underdogs
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We have to extend our gratitude to Dj Brandt for resurfacing this moment. Trust us, the punchline isn't from the horrendous mountain bike dad joke. Wait for it.
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