The Issue Is: Cycling’s Body Problem
Jenn Kriske on the change that needs to happen with women’s cycling clothing and image.
Cycling is beautiful, but if you don’t follow the standard accepted behaviors, or look a certain way, it can feel a little “locals only.” The issue is, how do we make cycling more inclusive and welcoming for everyone? Hosted by Jen Kyle Whalen, this series shines a light on people putting their own stamp on cycling, ignoring the norms, and breaking the rules to help spur real change. In this episode, Jenn Kriske, Founder and CEO of Machines for Freedom, talks cycling’s image and making room for women of all shapes, sizes, and more in cycling.
MACHINES FOR FREEDOM
Cycling has an image problem, and not the kind that a PR firm can scramble to fix. It’s a body image problem. And for Jenn Kriske, women being able to find cycling clothing that actually fits was a barrier to entry. When women feel like they have to lose a few pounds to even find something they can wear on a bike, that’s an issue.
Tackling the problem head-on was the impetus for Jenn to start Machines for Freedom, a company that creates cycling clothing for women of all shapes and sizes. It’s inspired an even greater mission, though, as she puts it:
“My whole goal with Machines is that I want this to be as big as possible to prove to all these people that, like, this market is worth listening to. That MO collided with lots of much bigger topics around representation and body positivity. All of these bigger cultural conversations that are happening in our world today.”
At its most basic level, the conversation is one of inclusion. Women of all body-types who want to ride also want to feel like they belong to something bigger. They want the same quality clothing, with a fit that’s for them, and makes them both feel and look good. Pull back for a 50,000 foot view, and you’re looking at the bigger issue: How can we shake things up in terms cycling imagery — the inclusion and acceptance of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages — and beyond that, insert those voices into the boardrooms and product development cycles of the biggest names in the industry itself?
It’s obvious we’re fans of Jenn, and full disclosure: Specialized purchased MFF in June 2018 and are hands-off and focused on giving Jenn all the tools she needs to thrive. Her presence in our space has led to many great and thought-provoking discussions — ones that need to continue.
The issue is more than clothing. It’s about how people can define, or find, their identity. MFF has made very conscious choices about how they showcase their product, using curvier models and a wide range of ethnicities and ages. Responses are, unsurprisingly, positive. And with that in mind, put your opinion caps on and mull over these additional “kick the hornet’s nest” conversation starters.
1. When it comes to imagery, do you think people want to see how they actually look, or do they want to see what they aspire to look like?
2. Do people look at imagery and think, “I want to be that person.” Or do they think, “I know who I am, and that person does not represent me.”
3. Is it a little of both?
Discuss. More nuggets below to keep the conversation going.
“You go to that place of ‘I’m just making cycling clothes, like what can we do?’ And one of the things we can do is put out positive images of women.”
ISSUE IN A NUTSHELL
1. Why does it matter?
Jenn: “When I worked in interior design, I felt designing people’s homes was an incredibly personal job. Then I started designing clothes and realized interior design paled in comparison to how personal apparel design is. With apparel, you’re designing something that someone will put on their body. It will touch their skin. It will conceal parts of their body from the world and reveal other parts of themselves to the world. Many times, the clothes you wear shape your identity — both how you view yourself and how others will perceive you — before you’ve even had a chance to say hello. Because of that, I feel incredibly responsible [to ensure] that the pieces I put into the world instill confidence in the person wearing them. I’ve seen people come out of dressing rooms in our bibs with huge smiles on their faces, glowing, because they have never felt good about themselves in kit before. That reaction is why we do what we do.”
What do you think?
2. What have been the biggest challenges?
Jenn: “Finding our community and spreading the word. There are not a lot of ways to get cycling products into the market. There are bike shops, but most shops cater to men. You have a handful of large online retailers, but not enough to sustain a business. Thank goodness for social media and the growing sophistication of online shopping! It levels the playing field and gives small brands like ours the ability to cut through the noise without huge advertising budgets. You can connect a community through ideas and shared ideologies rather than their geographic location.
Another obstacle is getting men in the industry to engage with the cultural changes that need to happen and challenge the status quo. In shops, there’s a tendency to create “women’s corners” as a way to create a space for women, but all that does is send a message that women belong ‘over there.’ In this small, carved-out corner away from everyone else. It sends the message that, sure, we made space for you, but we don’t really want you sitting at our table. That attitude is a reflection of how the industry does business. It transcends into how products are developed, how companies hire, and how initiatives are funded.”
What do you see as challenges to overcome?
3. How do you think we can change it?
Jenn: “As riders, we can continue to push against the status quo. We can use our voices and make noise in support of those companies doing things right. We can speak up and ask questions when companies are not following through on their promises. We can use our dollars to support those products and initiatives that we want to see in the world.”
How would you start to change it?
4. What does the perfect future look like?
Jenn: “Where women on bikes are as commonplace as women sporting running shoes. When I can roll up to my local group ride and see women, and women-identifying people, represented in at least half the field.”
That’s the dream, right there. How do we make it reality? Share your thoughts and join the conversation.