Emily is a knitwear designer, cyclist and all round lover of the outdoors – and also our newest FINDRA Brand Ambassador. Based in Inverness, Emily talks frankly about her size in connection with outdoor activities and sport.
Welcome on board Emily!
Hi Emily, and welcome to the FINDRA family! Let’s start by you taking the time to introduce yourself.
My name it Emily, a knitwear designer, cyclist and all round lover of the outdoors, and I live in the centre of Inverness. And because it colours my whole experience in the outdoors, I’m fat.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
I spent most of my childhood resisting the outdoors and any sport at all. I was bought up in mid Wales, and while I loved going to the beach or reading a book up a tree I certainly didn’t like walking or cycling. In fact I managed to almost entirely avoid dong any sport at school by strategically arranging music lessons in those periods. I was the fat kid at the back, and never fast, and other then a passing talent for shot-put the whole experience was one of almost total humiliation – being second last back from cross country running every week, having to stop and rest in the 1,500m, freezing in goal during a hockey game in the snow, the gym skirts, everything. It’s fair to say I hated everything about it.
So I don’t think anyone was more surprised than my parents when I went to university and joined the Expeditions Society, and started going away on walking and camping trips for weekends. I learnt to climb (not very well, I had a hard time finding a harness that fit and it was always uncomfortable), and went away for weekends walking in the Lake District and the Brecon Beacons in a battered old Land Rover. Those shared (mis)adventures cemented life long friendships – in fact I even met my husband, Francis, at the Freshers fair.
When we graduated and moved to Sheffield so Francis could do his PhD, there was already a group of University friends there so we all carried on doing things at weekends together. There were weekends climbing in the Peak District and a phase where a lot of us started mountain biking. I also started to appreciate the outdoors in different ways – three of us had allotments next to each other, and it was also where I discovered my other passion in life – knitting and sewing. I even had my only flirtation with competitive sports and completed a couple of triathlons. Suddenly finishing was such an achievement that being last didn’t seem to matter as much as it used to.
A few years later my job bought us up to Inverness, where we have lived for the last 17 years. Living here has meant that we have access to so many amazing places to explore in so many ways. We started hill walking again and I joined the Canoe Club and did lots of sea kayaking. Francis took up ultra distance running (I didn’t see him much for a couple of years!) and I spent lots of time in my garden. Then after our son was born things shifted a bit again. All of a sudden cycling made sense because we could put him in a trailer and take him along, and a Canadian canoe was much more practical than sea kayaks when we went out on the water. When he got a bit older I learnt to ski because we were taking him to lessons at Cairngorm and it seemed the perfect opportunity.
My son was really ill when he was 7, and that was the year I started to swim outdoors. There were only these little chunks of time to get outside and I found that by going for a really cold swim I could get the whole feeling of complete immersion in nature in the space of an hour – as opposed to a long day out in the hills. It was about this time that a friend started a cycling group based at the school, to encourage Mum’s out on their bikes. This group is still going strong 5 years later and I’m more and more obsessed with cycling and active travel than I have ever been.
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
There have been so many amazing trips and adventures, and they all have their amazing moments. A couple of years ago I went on a bikepacking trip round Mull and Ardnamurchan with my cycling group – the weather was amazing, the company was brilliant and it was such an uplifting trip. And then that summer we got our first ever child free holiday and went cycling in Belgium and The Netherlands for a week. I love the simplicity of minimalist cycling touring – one little bag with a change of clothes and your essentials, and no need to decide anything other than where you are going to stay for the next night. Then in between it was just cycling and seeing what you find along the way – and of course marvelling at the amazing cycling infrastructure and how easy it is to just cycle through the middle of any large city.
How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
That’s the perennial question really, isn’t it! Now that my son is a bit older, we try to pick outdoor activities that he enjoys so that we can just take him along too. I’m lucky in that I work for myself so can (to some extent at least) tailor my working hours to fit in with the demands of school and make sure that I always have time for a group ride on a Friday. But fundamentally there are just not enough hours in the day to do all the things that I would like to.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
I honestly have a hard time identifying with a lot of inspirational people in the outdoors world, because I almost never see anyone who isn’t super skinny represented anywhere. When Kailey Kornhauser and Marley Blonsky recently put out their film ‘All Bodies on Bikes’ it was honestly one of the first times I had seen anyone who looked like me celebrated. Their whole approach to their trip was so joyous and full of laughs, as well as pushing up hills, that it made me instantly want to get back out there and ride.
I have always been most inspired by the people I do things with. My husband has always encouraged me to get out and be active, and is usually patient enough to wait for me at the top of the hill. Especially during lockdown, I had a really hard time getting out on my own, but as soon as I have someone to talk to it becomes fun and is far less effort. I’m really lucky to have family and a lot of good friends who just enjoy being outside, so there is usually someone I can convince to keep me company!
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
The two things that have revolutionised my relationship with my body are learning to make all my own clothes, and challenging myself physically.
It wasn’t until I was about 35 that I took the conscious decision that I would no longer wait until some imaginary point of thinness or fitness to try things that I wanted to do. Since then I have learnt that I am far more physically capable than I could have ever imagined. I can cycle 185 miles round the Cairngorms in a weekend; I can smash ice and get in the water and enjoy the swim; my legs are strong enough to keep turning the pedals up that hill and that if I give myself the right kit and enough time I can do pretty much anything. And that by realising my body as capable of all these things, I have come to respect it in a way that I never did when I was younger.
But getting the right kit is often a downright struggle! It’s been at least 5 years since I stepped into a shop to try on clothes only to find that they don’t fit. This is because I started (as much as possible) to make the clothes I need and honestly the relief of that is something that I didn’t even realise was possible. While I know that due to my size I cannot just walk into an outdoors shop to buy a coat, or cycling shorts, or a wetsuit, there are increasingly places on the internet that you can find them. The difference that well fitting technical clothing can make to whether you can enjoy an activity (or indeed whether you can even do that activity) is enormous.
What is it about cycling and swimming specifically that you love?
My favourite bit of swimming is that point about a minute after you’ve ducked your shoulders under the water, you’ve got your breath back and you start swimming. The feeling of welcoming the cold as it glides over your skin is the most cleansing experience.
And the thing I love most about cycling is the feeling of freedom – I can point my wheels wherever I want and my legs will take me there in the end.
When did you discover FINDRA?
I have been aware of FINDRA for a few years, and been frustrated that none of the clothes would fit me! When I commented on a facebook post to that effect it lead to a really positive and thoughtful conversation about size inclusivity in the outdoor world with Alex. And here we are.
Really FINDRA is a company at the intersection of my interests – an enthusiasm for sustainable clothing made of wool, with clever innovative knitting details, while being practical and designed to wear outdoors.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to take up space. You have as much right to it as anyone else.
On writing this blog, what do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more?
To just get outside and try that thing you’ve always wanted to do, because in all likelihood you are far more capable than you think you are and there is no point waiting.
Thanks Emily for your very inspiring interview!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild by Lucy Jones
Not sure I have a favourite book, but one I read recently and found really interesting and engaging is Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild by Lucy Jones.
Beautifully written, movingly told, Losing Eden is a meticulously researched rallying cry for a wilder way of life. For finding asylum in the soil and joy in the trees that just might help us save the living planet– as well as ourselves!
MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasilieras No 1
I like lots of really different music, and it depends on my mood as to what I am going to be listening to at that moment! But honestly if I am going to get really carried away by something it’s probably the Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasilieras No 1 for an Orchestra of cellos.
I remember playing it on a summer school and it reminds me of the joy of chamber music – which is something that I don’t have time to do now at all!