Cyclewear: it’s not exactly known for both style and comfort. With that in mind, Lift Cyclewear‘s husband-and-wife duo Lea and Brian Leopold found their niche – functional, beautiful pieces that are informed by their own experiences as avid cyclists. While design is a key component of what separates their product from the rest, the Lift team are also involved in every facet of their scaling company, fast gaining an understanding of what it means to pursue domestic manufacturers – and how it enhances the quality of their wares. We spoke to Lea about how Made in America became part of their brand.
What are some key considerations in cyclewear design?
Lea: Cyclewear design has a pretty notorious reputation. Even if you’re not a cyclist, you’ve probably seen people on their bikes wearing skin-tight spandex in screaming loud prints. It was actually a barrier for us to get into the sport, and the whole reason we decided to launch this venture. Redesigning the cycling wardrobe so that you’re as comfortable on the bike as you are running errands is what we believe differentiates us from the rest of the industry.
Fabrics are central in this mission. We’re all familiar with performance fabrics by now, but they’re not all created equal. Besides having all of the same important properties that our customers demand (wicking, breathable, UPF sun protection, etc.), we searched high and low for a fabric that felt luxuriously soft. We found it, and it’s been one of our strongest selling features.
Fit is another important consideration because it has such an impact on your cycling experience. But we take a different approach to fit than the industry leaders. We’ve had many customers tell us that they have to “size up” two or more sizes to get their cycling tops to fit comfortably. If you wear a size medium to the gym, then you’ll wear a size medium in our tops.
Lift has three key design principles: comfort, function, and style. How did you approach each element, and how do you streamline your creative process?
Lea: Generally speaking, cycling apparel isn’t all that comfortable, it’s marginally functional, and is the opposite of stylish. We’re aiming to fix all those things.
Comfort-wise, we mentioned the customer pain point around sizing up to find a top that fits, and our quest to source the softest performance fabric. We also intentionally designed flat seams and used heat transfer tags to avoid any chafing. But comfort isn’t just about the design considerations of a garment, it’s also about how you feel wearing it. That’s why we designed three styles in three different fits to accommodate almost any body shape.
Functionally speaking, the standard cycling jersey has three open pockets on the back. They’re usually hard to access on the bike and you worry about your stuff falling out. We’ve spent countless hours designing pockets around the items that our customers tell us they bring on their ride AND the perfect way to store them – one large, sweatproof, zippered back pocket to keep your phone and money dry and secure. Plus, two easy-access side pockets for things like a bar, lip balm and facial tissue.
Style is my favorite element, naturally. We’ve utilized private Pinterest boards to help collect all of our inspiration, and we look for inspiration in everything. For example, colors and color combinations can come from iPhone wallpapers to a picture of a sunset. It sounds corny, but once you start seeing life through your “style” lens, you start seeing beauty in everything.
As for streamlining, our first collection took us more than a year to complete, including several touch-and-go moments when we weren’t sure if it would ever actually happen. In fact, if it weren’t for Maker’s Row, I’m quite certain that it would NOT have happened. However, having gone through this process once before, we now have established relationships with trusted suppliers, so what took 12+ months for our first collection should take less than 3 months for our second (fingers crossed).
From a business perspective, what were the key challenges, and what unfamiliar situations did you find yourselves in?
Lea: Our combined experience has served us well (merchandising, apparel development and production, marketing, and corporate strategy) but physically sourcing fabrics, trims, a patternmaker, a sewing contractor, and so on has been the biggest challenge. We’ve found that most contractors don’t market themselves or even have a website. It’s a close-knit community that operates through word-of-mouth. That’s why it took so long for us to get established, and why Maker’s Row is so pivotal in breaking down this barrier for new brands to enter the market and challenge the status quo.
What attracted you to Made in America, and how has it benefited your brand?
Lea: To be honest, we didn’t pursue Made in America out of national pride or with other moral intentions. We needed suppliers who would support small orders for our initial development, and we knew we wouldn’t meet the minimums for overseas manufacturing. However, since launch, “Where are your products made?” has been one of the most commonly asked questions from our customers. We’re so proud to tell them, “Here, in America!”
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