It’s been described as mountain bike kit for grown-ups. Based in Scotland, new brand FINDRA has gone from startup to award-winning business in just over a year. It’s testament to the strength of vision of founder and designer Alex Feechan – and to the growth of women’s cycling.
The women’s mountain bike clothing brand launched in late 2014. Within its first year, the choice of technical fabrics, natural colour palette, dedication to function and understated styling – which contrasts markedly with the majority of women's bike clothing on the market – not only gained the company a loyal customer base, but launched it onto the pages of online cycling retailer Wiggle.
BikeRadar spoke to Alex Feechan, the woman behind FINDRA, to find out what motivated her to start up a new women's clothing brand, and why she took the approach she has to design and manufacturing.
Feechan comes from a design background, having worked for many years in the fashion industry. Her approach is based, she says, in researching the market to determine what women want – and designing products from the ground up.
“I started FINDRA because of my own passion for biking, and my background in design.” Feechan tells BikeRadar. “I started riding a few years ago and got really hooked on it, and decided to go buy some kit to wear. I felt there was nothing out there for me as a woman that was particularly well designed or looked or felt good.
"It felt like everything that was available suffered from the ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach, which is basically taking a man’s product, reducing it in size and adding a pink flower or go faster stripes to it, which felt condescending,” she adds. “With my background in design, I felt there was an opportunity to do something more interesting.”
Feechan lives and works in Innerleithen, a town with a strong community based around mountain biking
Based in Innerleithen, a mountain biking mecca in the Scottish Borders and home of the TweedLove cycling festival, Feechan was well placed to research the market. It may not have the elevation of Whistler or the Alps, but the area is renowned for its world-class technical singletrack and a mountain biking culture that isn’t seen in many other areas of the UK.
"I started really looking into the marketplace, did a lot of market research, and really observed what women were wearing. I asked them what they wanted to wear, and [whether] they liked what they had," Feechen goes on.
"It drew me to the conclusion that there was an opportunity to start a women’s-specific brand, and a brand where you designed products that had an element of style but were very much coming at it from a women’s perspective in terms of the fit, the cut and the shape, and also very much performance.”
It’s this insight into the market, combined with a strong brand identity and inclusive approach, that has attracted the attention of the female mountain biking market, and subsequently that of big retailers such as Wiggle.
After less than a year of existence, the online cycling superstore began to stock FINDRA's products. It wasn’t a decision, according to Feechan, that was taken lightly.
“We had a really good chat, where we talked about Wiggle as a company, and also the fact that FINDRA had its own brand values and a strong story to tell.” Feechan reflects. “We want to empower women in cycling, to encourage women to participate in the sport, no matter their ability, no matter what level they ride at – for us, it’s about enjoyment.
“Wiggle were keen to support us, so they let us have our own brand page – which is pretty unique given we are such a new brand. It also allowed FINDRA to be opened up to a bigger audience, an international audience, and get the brand out there in a way that I felt was right for us.”
The imagery used by FINDRA emphasises the brand's take on mountain biking – inclusive, encouraging and enjoyable
Award-winning women's clothing
FINDRA hasn’t just proved successful commercially; it’s also received recognition within the business and industry sectors. The trophy cabinet includes an Acceler-8 award for entrepreneurship from 'business accelerator' agency E-Spark’s Entrepreneuring Awards, a Scottish Borders Business Excellence Award and a bike industry international Design and Innovation Award for the merino Marin Cowl Neck Top.
Merino is a material that Feechan is passionate about, and indeed forms the core of FINDRA’s collection.
“It’s fantastic.” says Feechan. “It’s got all the great wicking performance properties you want from a raw material, and therefore it’s perfect for an outdoor garment. So that was the starting point – our merino collection – and I’ve built up from there.
“The products in the merino collection are all seamless garments, made in Scotland. The products I create are manufactured using a very innovative manufacturing process where basically the whole garment is created in one piece, with all the features created within that.”
As well as the award-winning Marin Cowl Neck top, the range also includes the Cadon and Rouleur jerseys, neckwarmers and hats. More products, including merino leggings and more accessories, are planned for the future.
Another eye-catching product in the FINDRA range are the MsMo shorts. “Findra is always looking for interesting fabrics which may look like a fashion fabric, but are also performance fabrics. So the MsMo shorts are a technical denim,” says Feechan.
The future for FINDRA
Feechan is most certainly not resting on her laurels, with some significant expansion to the product range planned over 2016 and 2017.
“We’re looking to build around the mountain bike range, and also introduce products that will be technical but for urban commuting as well. That will include a jacket for next autumn/winter. In the near future, we’ve also got our signature print padded legging liners, which are coming in for spring/summer 2016.
So it’s clear that the brand is going from strength to strength, and that there are exciting plans afoot, but to what does Feechan attribute the popularity of the products she designs, creates and sells?
"I think there’s been a bit of complacency [about women’s kit]. It is still a small part of the market, about an 80/20 split male to female, and I wonder if for a lot of the bigger brands it’s been a bit of an afterthought.” she says. “I think some of these companies don’t recognise these things are happening, because they’re too detached at times, so it’s good to produce that little bit of disruption in terms of coming at it a little differently, from a different place.
"If you look at the statistics, the number of women taking part in cycling is growing all the time. And when you do look at the statistics it’s not a young young market, so quite a few people have said when they say the Findra collection that they are products for grownups. It’s considered; it's not just garish colours, it’s not just black, it’s been thought about.
"You don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done." Feechan concludes. "For women, the psychological element to cycling is really important, and I think that space, that freedom to get out on your bike and have that time to yourself, whether you're hugely technical, whether you're the fastest or not, is so important.
“Enjoying riding by themselves, or riding with friends, just loving it – that’s the most important thing. And I think that’s what FINDRA is about too."
FINDRA clothing is available online and via Wiggle, which ships internationally.