Forward Cycling make gorgeous, weird, spectacularly not-shit kit. Women’s cycling kit is coming on leaps on bounds, picking up speed in the move from wearable to genuinely desirable gear, and brands like Vancouver-based Forward Cycling are helping. Think Saved by the Bell-themed jerseys, cat hats, and an earth-loving ethos, and you’ll see why I got excited about talking to, Founder, graphic designer and illustrator Helen Eady. Her gear is decidedly unique. We hopped on to Skype to chat.
Claire: Helen, thank you for getting up at silly hours of the morning to talk to me from Vancouver. I love your kit and what Forward Cycling represents. Your company’s quite young and it feels like a super exciting time for you guys. Tell me the story of how the first thoughts were planted.
Helen: We started in March. I’d say it was was floating around as idea for the last year, and it got a bit more serious in the last six to nine months before I launched. It was a two fold desire. Firstly, to see the kind of kits that I wanted to wear (and that the other women I ride with would want to wear, too). There’s a lot out there that’s covered in logos and we wanted to do something that was a little more fashionable. And the other thing we wanted to do was give back. That was a pretty important part of the company: we’re giving 10% of all sales to charity. Mostly it’s going to Bikes Without Borders right now, which is a charity organisation that gives bikes to community health workers in Africa. But there are examples here and there, like the Cat Cap, and the proceeds from that will go to the RSPCA – it just makes sense because it’s a cat cap!
What’s your cycling story – when did you start?
Cycling I’ve been doing since I could walk, as a kid. But in a more serious way, road cycling I probably took up two years ago as a lucky and wonderful outcome of a bad situation. I was an avid rock climber at the time and I had a pretty bad rock climbing accident that left me unable to walk for about four months. I had to switch gears for a little while, and I thought cycling would be a pretty good recovery activity. So that’s when I switched and got my first road bike – up until then I’d ridden everything under the sun: a mountain bike, a BMX, a fixed gear, a vintage bike, but that was the thing that really spurred on buying my first road bike and I fell in love with it.
And then it got serious. After a year of being out on a road bike you thought ‘this kit’s a bit rubbish?’
Yeah, it got to the point where I was like ‘okay, I’m doing this, wearing these kits three to four days a week and I just want something better.’
Tell me about your design process and your inspiration. Your designs are so unique and really rad.
I work with a manufacturer who does custom, the actual fabric pattern. As far as the graphics and applications, that’s all me. I come from a graphic design background. There are a couple of things that inspire it. I kind of brought in a bunch of sources from a whole bunch of different places. You can see different things with each jersey. The first one was a more classic, French pattern, looking at that whole classic French tradition in style and the French influence on cycling, bring those together with the stripes. The jungle one was a little bit more fun, with the floral trends of today and keeping it – not punk rocky, but almost – keeping it black on black. And the Saved by The Bell is like 90s popish. Looking at a combination of the bright colours of the 90s’ early street wear culture, too. Kind of taking the fun and playful style that influenced surf style and snowboard style, and bringing that into cycling, too.
What are the steps that you go through after design in order to get the end product?
We worked for a long time to find a manufacturer that we liked and the one that we found is based in California. We really ended up wanting to work with them because of their ethics and how they go about their process. So the fabrics are either partially recycled or have some recycled content in all of them. The factory itself is run on solar panels. So I was really happy to work with them. Then from there, it was a process of join through designs, mocking it up digitally on models and seeing what that would look like. Then working with the factory and they’d send samples back of printed fabrics and we’ll have mini jerseys. Then it’s just a back and forth process until we’re happy.
How have you gone about starting a small company?
I work in advertising. I have a design background and I’ve done graphic design for about ten years now. Starting this was in a way really familiar and in a way totally, totally different. I’m used to the branding and marketing aspect of having a company, but everything else has been kind of honestly quite fun but really challenging.
How much of your spare time does it take up?
A fair chunk. It’s good. Having it be not a full-time thing has been kind of good for making me focus and decision making. When you’re under a time-crunch, things get a little easier in some ways. You move forward and make decisions quicker. Actually, now that it’s launched and there was order fulfilment, it’s been really nice to kind of get to know some of the customers, and have conversations with them.
Why did you choose Bikes Without Borders to be your charity partner?
I was looking for something bicycle-related. I knew I wanted to work with a charity. I kind of came across them and they’re based in Toronto, which I really liked. I liked the fact that I would be working with another Canadian charity. So I started reaching out and talking to them a little bit, and they’ve been really wonderful not just as a charity partner but the founder of Bikes Without Borders also runs a mountain bike company called Sacred Rides. He’s been really helpful in giving me a little coaching in starting the business and advice from a business perspective. It came initially from a broad internet search but through a little bit of relationship building it’s become a lot more. It’s been a really great experience working with them.
Where does your super ethical approach to it all come from?
Well it’s always been there. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve been looking for a way for a really long time. I was one of those kids who was canvassing my grade five class to try and save the rainforest, and reading books on 101 ways to save the world. Ever since I was a child it’s been a really important thing to me. I think it had a lot too to do with my parents. They raised me on National Geographics and I grew up in the forest. I was always really connected to nature. That’s always been a really important part of my life.
Who taught you to cycle?
That would be my Dad. I learnt on dirt roads in a really rural part of Canada. We didn’t have a paved road. We had holes and all that.
What kind of bike do you have?
I really really love it. I got a Liv from Giant. The one I have is the MB, so it’s a little bit aero and racey but super comfortable still. I’m really happy with it. I actually only have two: the commuter and the road. Although between me and my fiancé – he has four himself – so we’re getting a little full in our apartment. Real estate’s a bit of an expensive thing in Vancouver, so bike storage becomes a thing really fast.
Who do you tend to ride with?
I ride with a group of core friends. One of my friends has a really cool organisation called ‘Ride Like a Girl.’ There’s a bike shop that runs group rides when it gets into summer and we do laps around the park.
Tell me about cycling in Vancouver. Where are your favourite places to ride?
This year’s actually been a terrible year if you’re a skier and an excellent year if you’re a cyclist. The winter’s been really dry so it’s been really good. We can go year-round anyways, but winter’s definitely rainier. We have ocean-side stuff, we have access to three different local mountains if you really want to get some intense climbing in. I guess in Vancouver my favourite route is along a route called Horseshoe Bay. It follows the coastline for a really long time, along rolling hills. It’s a really beautiful ride. It’s pretty here. It’s really really pretty. This is hard to explain if you don’t know Vancouver but you start off cycling through a park that’s in the middle of downtime. There’s an old forest, then you go over this spectacular bridge and you go straight over the ocean. The views there are ridiculously stunning. From there you follow along cliffs until you get to bend around looking out onto this beautiful straight. It’s a beautiful ride and every time I do it, I just fall back in love.
I think my dream trip would be the California coast at some point.
Have you cycled much abroad?
I have lots! I spent three years living in Japan after university. And there I went through a couple of different bikes (a BMX and what is called in Japan a “mama cherri” which is basically a ladies shopping bike with a big basket) and rode all over the city. We would often get stopped by cops, but not for any real reason other than the police wanted to practice their english with us. I remember, one time, looking at a map thinking biking to the port of my city wouldn’t talk long (on a BMX!). It took me four hours to get there and four hours back I got lost so many times! It was a full day!
What’s next on the Forward Cycling roadmap?
We’ve got a bunch of different ideas design-wise, for a late-summer release. Graphics-wise, we’re looking at changing it up a bit, and doing a bit more mesh. Adding in some more reflective panels, to make it a little more technical. We’re approaching it as a start-up, you know. Try, test, see what people react to and what people like. Get the feedback and then go from there. I think each round will influence the next. Heading into fall we’ll add a couple more pieces if we can, like a long-sleeved. I don’t know about you guys in the UK, but here in Vancouver we definitely need booty covers to get through the winter, and pieces like that. I’d definitely like to keep growing it and adding more charities into it. Luckily give more money to Bikes Without Borders and hopefully bring some more into the fold. Seeing whatever comes our way! It’s kind of exciting not being sewn in – there are so many possibilities.