by Catriona Sutherland for StrongHer
On the search for inspirational women making their mark on the cycling world, we spoke to Alex Feechan, the pioneer behind women’s cycling brand Findra. Using mainly Merino in her designs, Alex has added class and style to our kit room. I went to visit her at the new studio in the beautiful setting of Innerleithen – a mecca amongst mountain bikers and a perfect source of inspiration and motivation to get on the trail.
Can you share with us a little about yourself and your background, which led to the creation of Findra?
Originally my background was design and I studied Industrial Design and Textiles at Heriot Watt University here in Scotland. The campus is not far from where the business is based now. My specialism was knitted textiles and with a passion for this, I came away with a first class honours degree. Shortly after that, I took on a Masters at the Royal College of Art focusing on Fashion Knitwear. From the three areas I had to study during my honours, the one that captured my imagination was working with wool. I loved the process of taking a ball of natural fibre and creating something from it – whether that’s a new fabric or a top.
With this passion, I moved into fabric development and once I’d completed my Masters, was approached about further study for a PHD, however reflecting on it, I decided after 6 years that it was time to get my hands dirty and gain some industry experience after studying for so long. The experience I’ve had in manufacturing has been invaluable to the business. At the back of mind though was the desire to start my own brand.
At what point did you decide it was time to start Findra?
I had made the move to Innerleithen for work and at the same time discovered a love of mountain biking – we are very lucky to have a network of incredible trails right on the doorstep. At this point, I decided I’d like some decent kit to ride in, however my first time shopping left my cold. Entering the local bike shop, all I could see was an after thought of the men’s range, which consisted of ‘shrink it and pink it’ or simply ‘add a flower’ and there you go! Trying it on, the kit was unflattering and dull. After a casual conversation with other female riders to get their perspective, which ended with a unified agreement on the lack of choice, the seed for a brand was planted in my mind.
An email arrived in 2013, from Scottish Enterprise – a government body encouraging entrepreneurship within Scotland – and invited me to pitch an idea to their innovation clinic. I shared my idea for a female specific cycling brand and the instant reaction was ‘Brilliant!’. From that moment the help was there to make it happen. The building blocks to Findra consisted of a huge amount of market research – from reports to questionnaires and from all of this knowledge gained, it was clear to see women were being overlooked – they wanted something more. From over 700 females we surveyed, 97% came back to say there was need for a women’s specific clothing brand!
After a second trip to Eurobike – media and retailers took a huge interest and qualified it was time to get knitting.
How do you fit riding in to the busy life of an entrepreneur?
Life is incredibly busy and we’re a small team, but I do get to ride as part of the weather trials. Actually, I might well be the worst dressed cyclist when I’m on the trail – I take out samples that are the wrong size or mismatched colours! But this ticks two boxes – I get to see how the product really performs and I get the miles in. We were at the Glentress Sevens event supporting our riders and showcasing Findra recently – so I’m inspired to do that!
What was the biggest challenge you face developing the brand?
Supply chain stands out as the main challenge – from my background I really valued the ‘Made in Scotland’ approach – and I also wanted to be close to hand, but this proved to be a problem later on. The decision to move outside of the UK arose, as the skillset just isn’t available for some of the processes.
What inspires you to create your designs and why do you choose to work with merino?
The inspiration comes from being a cyclist myself, seeing what’s missing and what I would want to wear. Certainly it’s not high fashion items; it’s stylish, simple details that make up my designs. It needs to look good, feel good and do what it sets out to do. We’ve turned perceptions away from the idea that it’s too good to bike in – we ask testers to go away and ride in it, see how it feels. Always they return saying they love it. Our brand ambassadors put product through its paces and Scotland offers up some tough conditions so it’s tested to limits!
Naturally my leaning was to merino wool – it’s a brilliant fibre – this had been the source of my inspiration originally, but also the properties of merino lend themselves perfectly to an active sports product as it keeps you warm as well as cools you down – it’s odour resistant and lightweight for carrying on a ride.
One of our brand ambassadors Meg Hine, an outdoor adventurer, absolutely loves the brand and what we do – she’s worn merino for years and thinks it’s very durable and up to the task – a week of wear non stop whilst on expedition was proof of this!
I seem to find it impossible to find the right short – either shapeless, a bit ‘euro’ in length or just not durable and tough enough to with stand the UK weather! The Findra relaxed short looks the answer. If you had to choose, what’s your favourite piece to wear on the trail?
Ooh, I’ve never thought about that! The Marin Cowl Neck Baselayer is a classic piece, distinctive and won’t date – it’s our signature piece for Findra. I love the fact that I can wear it comfortably off the bike. Sitting in a coffee shop at the end of a ride, you wouldn’t associate it with typical riding kit.
What’s next from Findra?
We’ll keep focus on women’s product for now – there has been demand from men as well, but there’s still so much I want put into the women’s range. For 2016, we’ll be introducing a lightweight and heavy weight option as well; for the moment it’s just mid-weight merino wool. The shorts have been really welcomed – we had one of our ambassadors who is mainly a Lyrca clad road rider use them in a local mountain bike event. She barely could tell they were there!