May 11, 2017

Bike passion blooms into design line

Fashion meets function in a new women's bike wear collection by Briana Turnbull '17, unveiled at this year's Katwalk on May 18.

Most great inventions or designs begin with a problem. For senior apparel designer Briana Turnbull, it all started with a bike.

Married to an avid cyclist, Turnbull found his passion for biking contagious. But as her interest in biking grew, she discovered a lack of stylish, comfortable clothing for women who bike.

“It’s one thing if our day is devoted to biking. Or if I’m commuting to work or school, or somewhere I’ll be at long enough to justify changing clothes,” explains Turnbull. “But it’s those concerts or dinners out with friends that I don’t want to have to change clothes. I want to go from the saddle to the street looking great.”

Turnbull’s not alone. Outside of safety factors, the lack of bike wear that is both functional and fashionable proves a major barrier for women — particularly among casual bikers who are interested in cycling more or commuting.

This disincentive starts at a young age. Bike Portland reports that starting as early as age 14, concerns over safety, style and body confidence causes a sharp drop in bike use among girls. That reticence carries over into adulthood. Locally, the Star Tribune reports the three major factors keeping women off the roads are safety, gender roles, and stereotypic male bike wear like skin-tight jerseys and lycra shorts.

To address those critical safety factors, the Twin Cities — and communities nationwide — have expanded protected bikeways and bike lanes. As a result, numerous national groups including the Outdoor Industry Association, Leisure Trends and the League of American Bicyclists report that women are the fastest growing segment in cycling.

What's not keeping pace with this trend? Bike gear and clothing designed with women in mind.

Survey says “No more shrink it and pink it”

Turnbull decided to turn this challenge into an Antonian Scholars research project, and use the findings to inform her senior apparel design line. She worked with St. Kate’s Institutional Research, Planning and Accreditation office to craft a survey, which she then sent to local bike advocacy groups, bicycle bloggers, bike shops and clubs — and crossed her fingers that enough people would respond.

She set a goal of 100 responses, but hoped for 200 to provide a good data pool. Her faculty advisor, Kelly Gage, warned her not to get her hopes up — that it was challenging to get people to answer surveys.

Briana Turnbull Briana Turnbull '17 / Photo by Ryan Johnson '19

But then the results flooded in.

“It was wild. Within the first few weeks I reached over 500 responses and, by the end of the survey, I was at 614 responses total,” says Turnbull. “That told me that this is a passionate group of people who really care about this issue, and that women want different clothing than what was being offered.”

She narrowed her target demographic to local (Minnesota region) women aged 26 to 45, and still had 236 responses to analyze.

Two of the most common survey comments she received were “I don’t want to see any more pink” and the clothing shouldn’t look “too bikey.”

“A lot of people voiced their frustrations that there’s this huge variety of bike clothes for men and they didn’t feel like the same thing was available for women,” explains Turnbull. “The bike wear industry can no longer simply shrink and make pink clothing that is designed for men in order to sell it to women.”

Not surprising, many of the respondents rejected bike wear, opting for street or athletic wear. But street wear can carry safety issues (restrictive, uncomfortable, not visible or weather-proof).

Turnbull’s research findings ultimately pointed to three major areas to consider when designing women’s bike wear: Functionality that is specifically oriented towards safety and protection from the elements, versatility between saddle and street, and femininity and fashionableness without being cliché.

Design process

Turnbull first identified guiding concepts for her design line — simplicity, empowerment, femininity. She was drawn to Amelia Bloomer, a 19th century women’s rights activist who popularized a controversial Turkish style pant for women — dubbed “bloomers.”

“The controversy around her unconventional attire happened to intersect with the first American bicycle boom,” notes Turnbull. Thanks to bloomers, women of the time were able to enjoy the popular sport.

Turnbull shorten the name to “Bloom” and thus, her brand was born. She then created a mood board to flesh out early ideas that included bright colors and urban, sleek, sporty images. “Inspired by the orange light of early morning and the blue light at dusk, the color palette for the collection is representative of the lighting changes that a bike commuter will travel through during the day,” she says.

Mindful of fashion trends, she intentionally chose a color palette that's also present in the Pantone Color Institute’s spring 2017 fashion color report.

It was time to sketch.

Bloom Mood Board Turnbull's Mood Board served as a catalyst for design inspiration.

An unexpected partnership

With functionality and safety as key factors for women bikers, Turnbull started researching specialty fabrics. “The challenge was finding fabric to meet those needs — reflective materials, moisture-wicking, durability, water resistance,” she says.

Turnbull discovered 3M's Scotchlite™ Reflective Material. She reached out to the company to inquire how to purchase the material, and was eventually connected to senior designer Silvia Guttman. A few calls and emails later, the textile engineer agreed to mentor Turnbull.

For Guttman, mentoring keeps her creativity fresh. “It’s a great opportunity for me to see how other designers are working — what is their design thinking, their process. Collaboration is one of the most important things in the creative process," she says. "It’s like inventing — there is never one person who will invent something. It starts with someone else, saying something that triggers the big idea.”

One of those big ideas was the creation of a textile design branded specifically for Turnbull’s collection — with reflective cutouts based on her design. The two met numerous times to go over Turnbull’s designs and problem-solve how to best incorporate the reflective material.

“I was very impressed by Briana’s research; how much thought she put into her designs," Guttman says. "It was great to see that she was not only looking at fashion and style, but also the function — how women will feel in her clothing. I can’t wait to see the finished designs on the runway.”

Turnbull sees the extensive research and attention to function as critical elements of her work.

“A lot of people think that fashion design is a frivolous thing. But it’s a lot more like engineering than people realize — it’s about creating something out of nothing,” she says. “It’s about making you a happier, more comfortable person. Clothing is such an intimate part of your day, your experience in the world. It’s really important for it to fit correctly, and for you to feel good wearing it.”

Turnbull incorporates specially branded Bloom appliqués made from 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material

Lessons learned

Designing a bike wear line for women proved an adventurous ride for Turnbull, with some valuable lessons gleaned along the way. Like allowing extra sewing time to work with specialty material and construction challenges. “It's all those extra features that no one will see on the runway," she explains. "I know the garment needs something to give it more movement in the shoulders for biking, but how do I approach that construction?”

And balancing your design aesthetic with market needs.

"I’m trying to meet a definite need," she says. "It’s not going to meet everyone’s needs who took the survey, but it’s a start in right direction for women's bike wear. The women’s biking market is blooming right now. There needs to be different designers, with different aesthetics, to address the demand."

One of Turnbull's most important discoveries was the importance of asking for help — even when you don’t anticipate getting a response. To new or up-and-coming designers, she suggests dreaming large, envisioning the ideal outcome, and making the ask.

“I probably wouldn’t have reached out to 3M without my professor’s encouragement. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Reach for the moon, because even if you miss, you might land among the stars,’” says Turnbull. “No matter how far-fetched it might seem, just go for it; because people are often more receptive to things than you think.”

And she's right. You never know when that simple request will bloom into something quite marvelous.

Katwalk details

See Turnbull’s bike line on the runway during Katwalk — "Kaleidoscope" — May 18 at the Profile Event Center in Minneapolis.

You can expect some fun reveals, like how her pencil skirt turns bike-friendly! She is one of 14 senior designers this year, each with a unique design aesthetic — ranging from couture to ready-to-wear and from business casual to street wear.

VIP seats are sold out, but a few general admission tickets remain.

By Sharon Rolenc