Fashion designer Alex Feechan turned her passion for mountain biking into Findra, a clothing brand for women.
The Borders are hard to beat when it comes to mountain biking. From the Glentress centre to the forest trails around Jedburgh, the area has some world-class routes to put both novices and experts to the test.
When fashion designer Alex Feechan took up mountain biking, she soon fell in love with the sport. Yet when she came to buy the right kit, she was forced to slam on the brakes. “I started biking about six years ago with a group of friends and quickly became quite hooked,” she explains. “I decided I wanted to buy some appropriate clothing and that’s when I realised that there weren’t a lot of products available in the marketplace.”
Feechan went along to one of the innovation clinics run by economic development agency Scottish Enterprise, which helped her with market research and to set up focus groups with female bikers. “One of my favourite statistics that emerged from the questionnaires was 95% of the 500 women surveyed said there was a need for a female-specific clothing line,” she remembers. “That validated the concept.”
Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway helped Feechan to make prototypes and she worked with a team of specialists at Herriot-Watt University, using an innovation voucher through the Sporting Chance Initiative, which helps entrepreneurs to start sports-related companies. Scottish Enterprise also supported her to travel to Germany for the Eurobike trade show in Munich.
Feechan launched her business at Innerleithen in the Borders in December 2014 and also passed through the Entrepreneurial Spark business support programme. She describes Findra as a “fashion-led, performance-driven bikewear apparel brand specifically for women”.
Previously, biking products aimed at women had been based on men’s garments and had followed a pattern of “shrink it and pink it”, she says. Her own clothing is made from high-quality Italian merino wool.
“I’ve worked in the fashion industry for 25 years and have worked as a designer for a number of international companies” Feechan explains. “When you’re starting a business for yourself, it’s natural to feel alone, but with the support from Scottish Enterprise it felt like I had a whole team around me.”
After gaining a first-class honours degree from Herriot-Watt, Feechan received a master’s degree in fashion textiles from the Royal College of Art in London. Her career has included working on knitwear for fashion houses such as Calvin Klein, Chanel and Escada.
She secured £200,000 of funding from TRI Capital, Investing Women and the Scottish Investment Bank in September 2016, and now employs five members of staff.
Feechan opened her first Findra shop, design studio and events hub in Innerleithen back in May. Her plans include expanding the brand throughout Europe and further afield and diversifying from cycling into other sports.
She hopes that the Borders Railway will continue to bring more tourists into the area to take part in mountain biking and other outdoor pursuits. For cyclists bringing their bikes on the train, her new site in Innerleithen is only about 13 miles from Galashiels station and about 16 miles from Tweedbank.