Unsung Heroes: Alicia Bamford on Launching a Women's Cycling Clothing Brand - Total Women's Cycling

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Unsung Heroes: Alicia Bamford on Launching a Women’s Cycling Clothing Brand

Is being a woman in the industry hard? "Hell yes! But I've never been so well supported"

Setting out to build a brand on your own has to be a labour of love and it was a desire to share her passion for riding that led Alicia Bamford to launch her women’s cycling clothing brand.

The notoriously male dominated cycling market isn’t exactly the easiest industry for a woman to break into solo, but with the female segments the fastest growing and many of us demanding more options it’s also a pretty smart place to start up.

Bamford began her ‘Queen of the Mountains’ dreams whilst on a 1,000km charity ride across the French Alps. The freedom and exhilaration of riding all day, every day, as well as the confidence gained from achieving a major goal was something she wanted more women to experience – and poor provision of kit seemed to her to be a major hurdle.

The end goal of the brand is simple, she tells me: “I want to get more women riding. The women’s cycling community is growing and I want to help fuel that growth.”

“The women’s cycling community is growing and I want to help fuel that growth.”

Moving from the finance industry to cycling, on her own, however – wasn’t easy. She tells me: “I’ve got a background in finance in quite senior positions, where women’s opinions were really respected… my company had the highest percentage of women on their board. Then I quit my job and went part time to be able to launch this brand, and coming into the bike industry was totally different.”

“I hate it when men will say ‘she’s a man in a woman’s body’, or she’s man hating just because she’s doing something for women.”

She already has one pet hate – she explains: “I hate the notion that the women that are pioneering for us aren’t feminine, I hate it when men will say ‘she’s a man in a woman’s body’, or she’s man hating just because she’s doing something for women.”

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Asked if it’s tough being a woman in the industry, she answers quickly: “Hell yes! Big time. Everyone who is running a bike shop or a bike retailer typically is a man. That’s where big changes need to happen.”

It’s not just an issue for those in the industry, either, customers are affected – she adds: “There need to be people [in bike shops] that will make women feel comfortable when they go in. Maybe women are unsure about what they want or need, they don’t want to be ripped off like when they go in to get their car serviced. It’s the same mentality. You don’t know what you don’t know – there needs to be a shift in customer services and more women working in the industry.”

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It’s not all bad though – whilst it’s still a male dominated world there is a lot of love to go around since basically anyone working in the trade is bike mad. Bamford says: “Everyone’s been really kind to what I’m trying to do – I’ve never felt so supported in anything I’ve done before. And it just goes to show that there’s a big shift coming and a lot of men that want to tap in as well.”

“I’ve never felt so supported in anything I’ve done before.”

In terms of action, Bamford’s biggest contribution is her new clothing brand, Queen of the Mountains, designed to provide women with kit that works, and makes them feel good whilst they’re on and off the bike.

Speaking to other female cyclists, it was clear the existing offering wasn’t ticking their boxes – Bamford says: “I suppose they [women in audience survey groups] just felt like the colours where quite dull and muted, or you got a really loud, bright pink and purple [design]. Or men’s designs with a flash of pink. It wasn’t quite there. They weren’t really styled, it wasn’t fashionable clothing, it was kind of sports wear with a flick of colour.

“People just wanted something fresh and also visible. I think visibility and safety was more at the forefront of women’s minds compared to men – but [they still wanted] something that looked nice – not like a bright yellow jacket.”

“I went back to basics – chose a few of my friends and cyclists I knew from different clubs as well as a couple of pro cyclists, who had different body shapes and asked them to wear it.”

Designing kit for women, whose body shapes she says vary much more than men’s, is difficult – but the difference a well fitting garment makes is well worth the trouble.

Bamford told me: “It’s a minefield and fitting clothing for women is harder than for men. Initially I developed a size Small and Medium – from the day I had most cyclists in the UK are around that size, which equates to a UK 10 to 12, and maybe 14. So I did a lot of the testing and the sampling in that size range. Then I went back to basics – chose a few of my friends and cyclists I knew from different clubs as well as a couple of pro cyclists, who had different body shapes and asked them to wear it.”

Good fit, she determined, was mostly down to picking the right materials. She says: “Fabric is really important – if you get something with a four-way-stretch in it, depending where the seams are and the shape of the garment, you can allow for different sized chest or hips and give a little bit of extra stretch. So the lycra I used in the shorts is a four-way-stretch which means if you’re wider at the hips it will still give great coverage and feel firm, but it’s quite elastic so if you’re smaller at the waist it will fit tight enough.”

I share my own frustrations with brands that size their kit completely differently depending upon the ‘range’ – if it’s race fit or leisure wear, taking me from an Extra Small to a Medium without my body actually changing shape which makes buying online hard. Bamford’s range has a classic fit jersey and a race fit option – so I’m keen to hear about her approach.

She says: “I’ve tried to make it so if you’re a Small in one you’ll be a Small in the other style. We’ve gone off base template measurements for bust, hips and waist. However – it could be that as the race jersey is much stretchier, people will go down a size.”

Fabric is obviously incredibly important in terms of performance too, and Bamford relays to me hours of testing tight fit t-shirts on the indoor trainer to determine their wicking properties before eventually selecting her favourite Italian mix. The shorts use a Cytech pad – known in the industry for being the absolute best and Power Lycra ensures coverage and support.

The first range of kit is inspired by Bamford’s favourite climb – Mount Ventoux and includes two jersey designs in a range of colours, shorts, a base layer, gilet and caps.

We’ll be putting it to the test, soon – to see how it rides and give our verdict and it’s currently available via a Kickstarter page which Bamford tells us allows women to pick up extra discounts – with jerseys starting at £80 and shorts at £90. If the Kickstarter goes well and she reaches her target, the kit will be available to buy on the main site and there will be more ranges to come.

As well as launching the clothing range, Bamford intends to run regular rides and grow the sport at a grassroots level in a way she doesn’t feel it’s being supported – she said: “I’m also doing monthly rides for women in our area [the South East], I want to get more brand ambassadors in board, around the country, and I’ve been meeting with local leagues and looking at supporting or holding events.”

“The collective is so much stronger than the individual. So if we can come together we’ll get far more traction than just trying to fight this solo battle.”

She added: “The women’s cycling community works harder as a community – I think we’re having to, to make things work. And that’s what women do best – coming together, supporting on another, working towards goals together.

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“The collective is so much stronger than the individual. So if we can come together we’ll get far more traction than just trying to fight this solo battle.”

We’re excited to see Queen of the Mountains grow and will be following the rides, events and development of the range. Check it out on Kickstarter here.

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