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Pop-up shops at Women’s Bicycling Forum puts fashion front and center

Posted by on March 4th, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Bandbox Bicycle helmets-2

These helmet hats by Bandbox were a big hit.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Women entrepreneurs are riding the wave of two major American trends: a renaissance in urban bicycling and a surging demand for stylish riding apparel. At the National Women’s Bicycling Forum on Monday, the League of American Bicyclists hosted a pop-up shop full of vendors who see functional and stylish clothing as just another front on the effort to make bicycling more appealing to women.

Helmets are decidedly unappealing when it comes to fashion and they present a quandary for women who put safety first. Not only are helmets notorious for messing up one’s coiffure; but a big plastic dome can also ruin even the cutest outfit. Dr. Cheryl Allen-Munley of Bandbox Bicycle Helmets seems to have a solution. Her helmets look like hats that happen to come with a chin strap. The shells can be wrapped with all sorts of designs — from cowgirl hats to berets and everything in between. Women flocked to her booth all day snapping photos of each other and trying on the different styles.

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Women's Bicycling Forum-26

Women's Bicycling Forum-27

A few tables over, Bird Industries offered “Accessories for the urban bike chick” among stickers that read, “Friends don’t let friends wear spandex” and a brochure that said, “Show your sass, not your @$$!”

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Women's Bicycling Forum-2

Mariana Chambers of GiveLoveCycle has designed a tote bag for the discriminating lady who wants something that’s functional but also looks good. She took me through the paces of her Guilden Carryall, which has nice features like a shoe compartment on the bottom (“So you can ride to work in your sneakers”) and an assortment of straps that allow it to go from your basket or rear rack onto your back or over your shoulder. Since many of her customers are moms, Chambers designed the bag with a material that’s easy to wipe off after those inevitable spills.

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Mariana Chambers

Fashion designer Ann DeOtte of Iva Jean showed off her “Reveal” skirt. Made out of a durable, weather-resistant fabric, the skirt has a zipper up the back. When unzipped, an extra gusset folds out, giving women room to step up into the saddle. Then, when the ride is over, they can zip back up and maintain a “professional silhouette.” Susi Wunsch, who writes the VeloJoy.com blog, told me DeOtte’s skirt is the “holy grail” of women’s bike fashion.

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Ann DeOtte.

Another vendor that got a lot of attention was Vespertine. This New York City-based fashion brand makes beautiful and sexy reflective vests, jackets, shirts, scarves, and other accessories. One of Vespertine’s newest fans is none other than New York City’s Commissioner of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan, who I caught trying on one of the vests in the hallway before her dinner plenary speech.

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National Bike Summit

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan trying on a Vespertine.

Check out a full list of vendors on the League’s blog.

BikePortland’s coverage from the National Bike Summit in Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike. Major thanks also goes to Pro Photo Supply.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • SC March 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Soooo….at a national conference representing a multitude of events and high-profile speakers, including awesome folks from Portland, you chose to focus your report on fashion?

    That’s messed up.

    It’s swell that these retailers are providing alternatives to spandex and bike stuff cut for men, but I’m dismayed that you managed to turn a critical conference for women who ride bikes into a post about shopping.

    In case anyone’s wondering what else happened at the conference, here’s the program for yesterday: http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/women/forum_schedule.php

    Maybe we’ll hear about the content, and not the clothes, another day? Because women who ride bikes definitely want to hear about stylish helmets before having to listen to all that blathering inspiration from bike-industry pioneers or a keynote speech about necessary infrastructure changes from a national figure.

    Please consider if you would have focused on the retailers, and not the speakers or policy discussions, at a bike forum not specifically designed for women. You have presented yourself as a policy wonk in the past…apparently just not when those policies aren’t explictly about/presented by men. Hmm.

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    • Christianne March 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was a little disappointed by this particular choice of coverage. Sure, the story is cool and a good read, and highlighting women entrepreneurs is incredibly important (those helmets ARE pretty cool) – but not as an initial focus. Kind of gives off the air of Ladies = FASHIONOMGLOL.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 5, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Wow. OK. So I get that you guys don’t appreciate the timing of this story. I hear you. I’m doing my best trying to cover this summit. I have more coverage coming. cheers.

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      • SC March 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

        Thanks for checking in about the timing – and the other story does have some good coverage. It’s just tough to continue to see “women who ride bikes” automatically equated with “hey ladies, look – clothes and shiny things!” instead of policy and other issues as the primary focus. The way this rolled out seems to be an issue of timing, and I hope you consider my end question for future stories – or at least note that a substabtive story is on its way. Fashion/”fun” stories are way quicker to write, so I get why this went up first. But it felt icky.

        I completely agree that many of the clothing options available for women who commute by bike are terrible, but it is often a perception issue that is pretty easy to deal with. I say this as someone who works in a downtown building where it’s important that I am presentable during my workday. I look like crap on my ride, and I clean up well. The in-elevator awkwardness can tough, indeed- I DO have mud in my teeth today!, but it’s worth it for me to have a dedicated hour of time on my bike, exercising and not being crammed i traffic. I love that there are women-specific retailers working to find solutions to make the ride more approachable. In fact, I layer on my ride for seat durability (hey, saddle lines and holes in pants are an issue over time) and because no one really needs to see me rocking the spandex.

        Not everyone wants to be a spandy-pants rider. Not everyone wants to commute in a skirt of three-piece suit. But they all should have the choice to do so, which comes down to policy and infrastructure. A person can ride a bike in anything (or nothing, as we know), and it’s important that people have the basic amenities in place to make their rides safe before anything else. See also: Tweed Ride, Bunny Ride and all the rest.

        tl; dr: Thanks for replying to the concerns stated here. Please try to use an issues-first lens for all stories, regardless of the specific group of people at the core of the story, which may help avoid this situation in the future.

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    • Capizzi March 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

      I know a lot of women who do not ride because they are very self-conscious about how they appear, especially in tight fitting clothes. I appreciate that high quality alternatives are available to women. When we asked women at the Portland State Office Building why they did not ride during the bike commute challenge last September, clothing was a big issue/barrier.

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    • Sara March 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      oh give me a break. Jonathan has always been an advocate for equality in cycling and this article is great coverage of this important event. as a female cyclist, I find it embarrassing that more females don’t commute by bike when barriers to entry are so low. and when I ask my female friends why they don’t chose to bike to work, fashion and appearance are often the top reason so this is no small issue.

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    • are March 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      in jonathan’s defense, if the fashion display was in fact prominent at the first summit to make an ostensible outreach to women, should jonathan simply not mention the fact? there are at least two other, much more substantive stories posted alongside this one dealing with the so-called outreach, and actually not much else yet about the summit more generally. so it is not as though jonathan highlighted the fashion thing to the exclusion of other content.

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  • Jim Labbe March 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    When I lived in the Netherlands for 6 months I was always impressed by how well dressed the cyclists were, both men and women. I always got lots of chuckles when I would ride around in my rain pants. I think better and differently dressed cyclists- both men and women- can help broaden the appeal of cycling. In that respect cycling fashion should not be dismissed as frivolous, superficial new story.

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  • BIKELEPTIC March 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I feel like some people got snap reactions to JMaus’ coverage of the Summit. It also makes me feel like they are new to BikePortland. I appreciate any and all coverage because I don’t get to attend. And he’s only one man. As a blogger myself, I realize how long it takes to write an article and I know that he has several in his queue he’s editing regarding this article. I would much rather read personal articles about what I would see going on at this event than the Schedule of Events with Key Note Speakers. What a SNOOZER. I know, while I would be going to the speakers, of course, I would also be hovering the kiosks and rubbing elbows with all my transpo friends from across the country.

    A couple other of my friends on FB who are also there have been posting photos of a photo booth that they have there with little sharrow hearts and moustaches on sticks, etc. We’re missing out on bike activist and transpo wonky photobooths!!

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  • Scott March 5, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    I am actually curious if cycle specific fashion is such a deterrent to women in cycling. I say this not to inflame anything or to come off as un-sensitive. I just am actually curious.

    I believe that bike shops can be a deterrent. I believe that spandex can be a deterrent, but it’s not like there is insane amounts of cycling specific casual menswear so how could it be such a road block for women?

    On a road bike, for training or racing spandex makes sense. Other than that tho, I have ridden all my bikes in all of my types of clothes. When I was touring through Holland I saw a man in a top hat and tails with his passenger wearing a cocktail dress sitting on his bikes rear rack. Is this a valid roadblock to women in cycling or is this something that those who don’t really want to cycle anyway are using to self deter?

    Once again, I would like to stress that I am honestly curious.

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  • SC March 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Well, that ended poorly.

    Yep, he’s one person. That’s duly noted and never doubted.

    Nope, I’m not new here. That’s an odd assumption, actually. And I assure you that my feelings and opinions on the matter are not snap in the least.

    My comment was that I was disappointed to see “fashion” stuff called out as the top-line post for a big-deal type conference. My reply to his reply actually notes many of the same statements made by others: Stories take time to craft, the clothes thing is a barrier (real or perceived) for some women who ride bikes and that conferences are hella boring.

    My intent: Calling out an instance in which a person with good intent reinforces unhelpful stereotypes and negative dialogue (however unintentionally). I appreciate the other stories, again as I noted in my reply, but I felt it was odd to have the retail story be the recap of day one without mention of more articles to come.

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    • Christianne March 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      You are putting everything I was thinking (and couldn’t figure out how to formulate into a reasonable response), into a well-worded and thoughtful statement. Thank you for that.

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    • Sara March 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      to be frank, I think the victimization rhetoric gets a little tired. there are many very legitimate forms of gender discrimination that we all need to work towards solving but this is not one of them. a woman driving a car to work instead of biking is not a victim – she’s an offender. by not making the sacrifices necessary to bike, we are doing more than our share if the damage that comes from driving. what’s really holding us back? is it being oppressed by men or “the media/society’s” expectation of beauty standards?… or is it because it’s 40 degrees and raining and we decide to make excuses?
      on another point, I don’t think we should discount the fashion/apparel angle of cycling and this women’s forum as too feminine and thus insignificant. maybe this is a unique perspective that we females can contribute to the cycling world. when more women ride we’ll all be better off!

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      • Chery Allen-Munley April 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm

        Pardon me, but I invented the Bandbox Bicycle Helmet specifically to encourage safe cycling during all kinds of weather. The helmet cover options allow you to be warm in the winter (unlike typical highly vented helmets) and cool in the summer with wide brims available for sun sensitive riders. Most importantly, they are attractive and comforfotable to wear; cycling actually enjoy wearing them. Of course I want Bandbox to be profitiable. But my goal is no different than the larger manufacturers. Have I missed something in the news, or have Bell and Giro suddenly become not for profit companies?

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    • wsbob March 6, 2013 at 11:59 am

      “…reinforces unhelpful stereotypes and negative dialogue …” SC

      Maybe you’re also thinking the people that put on this national biking forum for women, the League of American Bicyclists, and the people that designed and produced biking gear for women that some people obviously like…look at those beaming smiles in the pictures accompanying this story…are reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes and negative dialogue, as well.

      People are different. They don’t all like the same spartan, hard core style of cycling that some cyclists and bike advocates apparently would seem to want to promote to people daring to consider riding a bike…people that as others commenting have already noted, may have been staying away from biking in part because they haven’t so far seen examples of riding gear that inspire them to an image of themselves they would like to see on a bike.

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  • Lisa March 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Axtually, those dumb helemt hats seem like a hindrance to riding. It’s easier to ride with a good, light, aerodynamic helmet. A lot of beginning riders do best with gear that has excellent features. Let’s face it, these businesses aren’t in it for the bottom line of increasing ridership and advocacy, they are in it to sell hats and make money. Try commuting in one of those wind-catching, kite-like helmets during a pnw winter.

    PS And yes, friends do let friends wear spandex, because they don’t care about their friends conforming to some bs beauty standard fed to us by the media. Friends encourage friends to ride and have fun no matter what they look like or what they’re wearing.

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    • spare_wheel March 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      “Friends don’t let friends wear spandex. Show your sass, not your @$$!””

      Just the other day my friend Jenny strolled into the office wearing lycra tights. Needless to say the entire office was shocked that she would dress in this manner. I and another bike commuter casually sidled up to her and jumped her. We then proceeded to remove those immodest tights with office scissors. Since Jenny is now much sassier and only commutes in modest gusseted wool cycling skirts our intervention was a resounding success!

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    • wsbob March 6, 2013 at 10:55 am

      People like to have fun. The helmet hats probably wouldn’t be good all purpose helmets, but for occasions, they might help a lot of people be more enthusiastic about cycling.

      Anything that can combine lightheartedness with safety and get more people riding has got something going for it.

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  • L March 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Some of the word choices were curious: “coiffure” (why not hair?), “sexy reflective vests” (really? are vests sexy when they are men’s vests?), “discriminating lady” (does Jonathan refer to men as “gentlemen” in other stories?) It all sounds sort of retro. Sure, women want good looking stuff to cycle in and the helmets are a great idea but why revert to such retro language unless Jonathan also uses the same words when talking about men’s cycling kit?

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    • are March 6, 2013 at 7:50 am

      “lady” is a portlandism you will unfortunately find all over what you might otherwise have thought of as a progressive culture. always reminds me of those 70s arena rock bands.

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      • Sara March 10, 2013 at 8:25 pm

        huh? we can’t be called “ladies” now?

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        • L March 11, 2013 at 6:42 am

          Sure you can. Call yourself a lady anytime you want to. But it’s 2013 now and journalists generally refer to men and women not ladies and gentlemen. If Jonathan refers to men as gentlemen then that’s a different dealio but as far as I can tell he doesn’t.

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  • Nick March 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Women who ride bikes are sexy. Those helmets rock. This blog is amazing.
    And I always fix my coiffure after I doff my helmet because I am a discriminating gentleman.

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  • Austin March 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I can’t speak for Portland, as you guys have a generally more styley attractive populace on average anyway, but it’s the guys up here in Seattle who need more help than they’re getting from a fashionable, look-good-on-bike perspective, as opposed to the ladies. Some of the biggest clothing choice facepalms I’ve seen in my life involve dudes on bikes. Men! Your options are not limited to choosing between Team Spandex or Laundry Day! It doesn’t have to be suits and wingtips for every commuter but a Nice pair of jeans paired with a collared shirt and tie has been proven to make a ride more pleasant, particularly this time of year.

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    • A.K. March 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

      Jeans, collard shirts, and ties have NEVER made a ride more pleasant, unless you’re not going far or are going quite slow.

      I’ve tried to commute wearing normal clothes, and it SUCKS. Honestly. Unless you’re going downhill all the way into downtown it just doesn’t cut it for those of us with more challenging commute routes.

      Plus I don’t understand the hate for good quality lycra. Like I want all that moisture to be trapped in a bunch of cotton? Give me a break.

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      • Austin March 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm

        Yeah, I guess 10k miles a year in a hilly city isn’t too much. I obviously have no idea. lol

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        • A.K. March 6, 2013 at 3:29 pm

          Obviously not.

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  • Monica March 6, 2013 at 11:33 am

    I’m a female, car-free daily commuter who owns a lot of Spandex, GoreBike, Showers Pass, etc. I just change once I arrive at the office. Jonathan, I LOVED this article. I sent the BandBox link to my family as a birthday present hint and am looking forward to wearing one of those hats/helmets with my sundresses on leisurely weekend rides around the neighborhood this summer. Just like we have different clothing for different functions in the rest of our lives, so it should be with bicycling.

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