Five minutes with Charis ‘Izzi’ Drysdale, co-owner of Izzivelo

A rarity in women’s cycling retail, Izzivelo is both a website and a brick-and-mortar bike shop in Ulverston. Founder Charis Drysdale told Kirsty Medlock how it came about.

Charis ‘Izzi’ Drysdale poses with the logo in the shop.

We’d always joked about opening our own bike shop. My husband Dave has always worked in cycling and I was actually a trainee accountant. The company I worked for made a bunch of us redundant in 2009, so we thought; we don’t have kids, all we need to do is make sure we can pay the mortgage, have enough food to eat, feed the dogs – why not? So in January 2010 we just did it and DC Cycles was born.

For the first 18 months, while we were getting things off the ground it was just DC Cycles. I was getting fed up of doing temp work and we just thought, if I were in the shop all the time, it would help Dave and there were more girls coming in, so I wanted to do something for them.

We started getting more girls stuff in, but our shop was only 200 square foot. The plan was to reach more people, so that’s how the Izzivelo website came around. We did some research and the only things I could find for girls was Minx and a couple of other smaller sites.

Traditional bike shops tend to get quite cluttered. I don’t like having to rummage through racks to try and find my size so we try to keep Izzivelo very open. I can see why shops do it, there’s so much cool stuff and you want to have it all on show but we’ve found that less is definitely more for our girls.

I used to really get put off by going into bike shops as cycling is predominately male oriented – it’s not their fault, they panic when they see us, but we get frightened when we go into the shop. I think boys enjoy getting really technical, whereas it’s not that we don’t care, it’s more – how easy is the bike to maintain for me to just get out and ride?

The Izzicycles shop-in-a-shop is deliberately open and spacious and the mirror is visible from the changing room.

I ride a Salsa El Mariachi 29er, it looks amazing because it’s this teeny-weeny 13-inch frame, with these massive wheels. I get people saying ‘short people can’t ride 29ers’ and I’m like, that one – it’s mine!

I’ve found that women want to try before they buy with cycle clothing, so we built a comfy changing room in the ‘neutral zone’ between the guys and girls section in the shop. More importantly we’ve placed the mirrors directly opposite the changing rooms so when you’re trying on lycra pants you don’t have to prance around the shop trying to see what they look like.

I make sure I try on everything we sell at Izzivelo, quite simply to get an idea of the fit and cut so I can offer guidance to our ladies. I’m loving the new Pearl Izumi range, absolutely loving it – there’s so much choice.

With the shop being on the edge of the Lake District, we get a lot of people up here as tourists, that will visit the market town, see there’s a bike shop and go ‘wow it’s got girls stuff!’ We’ve actually found that since we’ve opened the shop, the shop has done better than the website for the girls. Mine and Dave’s argument is that men and women shop differently. Us girls think about, well does it fit – I’ll try it on. Whereas a guy just goes, wow – check that jersey out, I want that one!

In our shop there are no stupid questions, you can ask anything and everything you like, that’s how we learn. One lady in particular took up spinning, her instructor mentioned cleated shoes and she came in asking ‘what the hell are cleated shoes?’

We helped her find the right shoes and ‘clippy bits’ and she enjoyed the spinning so much that she nicked her husbands bike and started going out on the road. Gaining in confidence, she kitted herself out with some Ana Nichoola gear, and now even her daughter joins her cycling, because Mum goes out on bike rides!

This year, we’ve got a wider range of multi-sport clothing because we’ve noticed Mums shop differently. Mum needs a new sports top, but she doesn’t want to buy that expensive top, because the kids will need a new pair of shoes next week. So Mum is sensible and buys a multi-purpose t-shirt that she can ride, run and go to the gym in.

Charis and husband Dave.

It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying starting out in a male dominated environment and it took a while for our customers to adapt to having a girl in the shop. We had a guy that came into the shop because he didn’t know how remove his pedals. After I’d shown him the ropes, he said ‘if my mates ask, can I say that Dave showed me how to do that?’ He was a really nice guy and I’m sure he meant it in jest, but I’ve worked in a bike shop for three years – I’m going to know how to replace pedals!

Although setting up Izzivelo was incredibly hard work and a big gamble on our part, I don’t regret a thing. In just three years we’ve grown from a shop where you couldn’t swing a cat in, to a new unit that is 1500 square foot, with a dedicated women’s section, it’s amazing.

To visit Izzivelo, the shop’s address is:
5 Union Place
LA12 7HS


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