Pearl Izumi was formed in the 1950s in Japan – initially catering only for a male audience.
In the 1980s they moved much of the design and development work to the US where things began to change. Now, seven of their nine product developers are female and 51 per cent of their overall products are for women.
The product team is headed up by Senior Product Manager Caroline Marois, and the Senior Designer is Lynn Bush. Lynn joined in 2008, and the brand works with 214 US and 39 international female riders who wear and test their kit before, during and after production.
Bush, a mountain biker and CX rider, admits that in the past much of the design work was outsourced and carried out by men – saying: “Prior to when I was hired, much of the design was outsourced to contract designers which were predominantly male who designed women’s products, often resulting in women’s products being a ‘take down’ of the men’s styles with merchandiser’s briefs for men’s styles being used for its women’s version".
“Long gone are the days where women’s product is born from men’s. The research and drive to build women’s product is conceived by women, for women."
However, all this has changed – she says: “Long gone are the days where women’s product is born from men’s. The research and drive to build women’s product is conceived by women, for women. Women’s Design Direction and Language, cut and sew lines, colour, features, and fit are all defined, discussed, edited and evaluated among some of the most influential women and end users in our building. We have built a strong and dedicated team that embodies the varieties found in our end users. As a female athlete and as a female Designer, I am fortunate in my position to craft the look and experience I desire in a cycling kit. This feeling only gets better when the concepts come to market and is purchased and appreciated by the female consumer".
More production than sales
The female focus approach seems to be working – in the UK 35 per cent of Pearl Izumi sales go to women, compared to the national average of 30 per cent. Though the sales aren’t equal, the creation is – with 51 per cent of the overall range being engineered for women.
“Women are conscious of the way they look when they go on a ride. Looking good brings confidence"
Discussing the equal offering, Senior Product Line Manager for Women’s Apparel Caroline Marois said: “Women are conscious of the way they look when they go on a ride. Looking good brings confidence, and giving them more options to choose from is great and shows them that we care about them. If they enjoy their ride they will enjoy their life too".
Pearl Izumi support a high number of professional female cyclists – and have done for decades. Back in the 1980s they worked with Team Benotto 7-Eleven (1985), Connie Carpenter and Team USA (1986 Olympics) and track cyclist Rebecca Twigg (1985). From 2010 to 2012, they partnered with Kirstin Armstrong and her Peanut Butter & Co – Twenty12 teammates (2010-2012) who were heavily involved in product design, development and testing to further refine garments to the needs of women.
More recently, the brand worked with Sarah Storey’s team Pearl Izumi – Sports Tour International through 2014, involving them from the start with fit sessions and testing throughout the season which they say resulted in much improved construction and fabrics in 2015.
Working with Strongher
This year, the brand are now working with the new women’s cycling initiative formed by Marianne Vos – Strongher. Their hope is to work with local dealers and cycling groups to grow grassroots women’s cycling, as well as support future racers and create a sense of community. They’ll be organising women’s events and working to ensure that bike shops stocking the kit are welcoming to women.
Clemence Copie works as a brand manager at Pearl Izumi, and also rode for Pearl Izumi Sport Tours International last year – she’s a Cat 1 (that’s really good) rider and for 2016 joined Les Filles Race Team.
“I’m a strong believer in bib-shorts for the ultimate comfort and support they provide and the new Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Bib-Short is my go-to short."
Asked about her favourite road product from Pearl Izumi, she told us: “I’m a strong believer in bib-shorts for the ultimate comfort and support they provide and the new Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Bib-Short is my go-to short especially when it comes to the long rides as it features a drop-tail on the back making it as convenient as a short for ‘comfort breaks’ and the brand’s plush Elite Pursuit chamois which offers a bit more support riding in the drops and when leaning on tip of the saddle. The fit is spot on and the chamois so comfortable that I never need to use chamois cream! For sizing reference, I’m a size small in Pearl Izumi apparel and I’m 5"6’, 60kg and usually a size 8 UK but would always recommend women to try shorts on before they buy."
Copie also does a bit of off-roading, and has more product recommendations – saying: “Like road riding, a great off road experience demands comfortable, yet technical products that do not interfere with your ride. One of my favorite pieces in the MTB range is the Women's Elevate Short combined with any of our bib shorts. The durable short fabric works well on a tight singletrack not snagging or tearing on stray branches or brambles and is light enough not to feel rough against any exposed skin. I love having a zippered pocket for days when I am not wearing a pack and need to keep cash, cards and phone safe. A second amazingly versatile piece is the Women's MTB Barrier Jacket. As the name suggests, it is a superbly functional piece that provides great wind protection and water resistance. Easily packable it is also durable with additional abrasion resistance on the outer panels of the arms."
You can see everything Pearl Izumi have on offer here - just be prepared to spend quite some time browsing the range!