A Conversation with Ann, Owner & Designer of Iva Jean

After years of biking, why did you decide to start a specialty bike fashion company?
When I first started riding in Seattle, a city filled with avid cyclists riding for both sport and transportation, I was pretty intimidated. I would routinely get destroyed by spandex-covered men and women with rear view mirrors attached to their aerodynamic helmets, and passed by bike messengers on fixed gear bikes, laden down by monstrous waterproof packs.

I assumed that I needed to buy a brand new bike, a bright green jacket, and waterproof panniers. After visiting a few shops, I realized that I didn’t care for any of it; and I definitely wasn’t going to pay a premium price for gear that didn’t fit my style or needs. It frustrated me that most items were very hi-tech looking, designed first for men, or plastered with flowers and “women appropriate” designs. I wanted to be able to ride my bike to brunch with friends and not be the only one in head-to-toe spandex.

In 2009 I spent a month in Europe taking in great bike culture. I pedaled next to women, men and families of all ages riding their bikes in everyday clothes. From there, I decided to take this lifestyle back with me to Seattle.

As I continued my love affair with biking in the city, I realized that I didn’t need all of the bike-specific goodies. What I did start to notice were the things that made biking easier: rubber-soled heels, 4-way stretch trousers and a big ol’ basket. This is why I set out to start a line of products designed to make biking easier for more women.

 

Why a rain cape as your first item?
One evening riding home from work, I got caught in the rain. I thought to myself, “This wouldn’t be so bad if I could just cover more than my torso. Could I wear a poncho to cover my legs and hands?! That night I did some research online and noted that none of the existing options were going to work for me. From that point on, I set out to develop my first product, a better Rain Cape – a sophisticated and stylish jacket that functions on and off a bike.

What was the design process like for the capes?
I have always loved creating, but my passion for design really started to grow when I moved to Seattle over six years ago. I started working in marketing and graphic design for a landscape architecture firm and really immersed myself in the design community. I began making jewelry, screenprinting and other small items, and I started a design and lifestyle blog, Still Dottie.

While all of this was happening, I gave up my car and opted to rely on my bike to get around town. My interest in bike culture and design started growing together and I would spend my time on my bike thinking about how I could merge my interests.

After I started sketching ideas for the Rain Cape, I connected with an acquaintance to develop a prototype. From there it was very organic – we worked from a few different patterns and test rode the prototypes that came from that. We went through several rounds of development, changing the shape and details to work best for my riders.

How did you choose your partners in the process? Was creating a locally made product important to you?
I knew from the start that I wanted to develop and manufacture my products in the United States, specifically in Seattle. Creating our first product here in Seattle made it possible for me to really immerse myself in the design process. It is also important to me to support local designers and makers and help build a stronger community in the city.

I met all of my partners through friendships and previous relationships, from prototype developers and pattern makers to photographers and our model. I also got a lot of help from the folks at Seattle Fabric and Seattle Central Community College.

Where does the name Iva Jean come from?
Iva Jean is my grandmother’s name. She was constantly making things and I could always rely on her to take me to the art supply store for my next project. When I started this company, it seemed like a fitting adventure to remember her by.

I also wanted to create a brand that wasn’t exclusive to biking or fashion, but emblematic of a way of thinking, a statement about the kind of woman you are. The name Iva Jean is beautiful to me and I felt like it could embody that statement.

How do you hope your company will inspire more women to bike every day?
The importance of creating a bicycle culture in American cities has become clearer in the last couple of years. We need to shift our thinking to include bicycling as a means of transportation, not just one of sport and recreation. To quote Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagen Cycle Chic, whose tag-line reads, “Style over speed:”

“It may be necessary to distance the image of urban cycling from the sub-cultures, in order to show the general population that the bicycle belongs and that it is just regular citizens who are using it as a transport tool.”

I founded Iva Jean with the hope that we can provide products and resources that encourage women to incorporate biking into their everyday lives. I believe that while we shouldn’t have to buy a lot of gear to ride our bikes, the gear that we do decide to buy should be functional and fashionable, working on and off our bikes. I want women to feel inspired to get on their bikes and ride with the style and personality they bring to every other aspect of their lives.

What does the future hold for Iva Jean?
As we look to expand the Iva Jean line, I’ve been working with a group in Seattle to develop more products while providing options for more colors and a waterproof version of the Rain Cape. Moving forward, the focus will stay on clothing that works on and off your bike. I’m really fascinated with the idea of creating a skirt that works in all situations and tanks and blouses that are durable and well-fitted. I’ve also been talking to a local bike builder about creating a signature bike for Iva Jean.

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