How Female Designers Are Changing the Industry’s Approach to Apparel

The best women’s mountain bike shorts are made by ladies who shred. Get to know the designers who are changing the game.

Back in 2012, every one of Ashley Rankin’s mountain bike rides started with a dreaded ritual: She’d pull on a pair of less-than-luxurious elastic-waist shorts that refused to accommodate her thighs and hips. They were ugly—just plain black—and they made Rankin feel ugly, too.

She longed for mountain bike shorts that were both functional and flattering. But every pair of women’s shorts she tried felt like some company’s afterthought. The colors were drab, the fabric was stiff, and the fit seemed cut for men, not women. Fed up, she resolved to make something better.

Rankin had studied apparel design and production at Colorado State University, where she’d imagined herself in haute couture, making cocktail dresses for Manhattanites. Then, during an internship in Florence, Italy, she visited the Swiss Alps—and decided that the mountain life was more attractive than a big-city career. Thus, while living in Crested Butte, Colorado, she hatched an idea for mountain bike shorts that women would actually want to wear.

In January 2012, Rankin launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a wildly patterned pair of shorts for mountain biking, paddling, hiking, or any mountain sport. They featured a comfy waistband, stretchy fabric, a gusseted crotch for freedom of movement, and pockets on the hips and thigh. She called her company Shredly.

Rankin field tests Shredly’s shorts on one of her backyard trails | Photo courtesy of Shredly

Since Rankin met the $25,000 Kickstarter goal, Shredly’s shorts have amassed a cult-like following in the company’s home state of Colorado thanks to their fashionable yet functional design and tough quality—a long overdue departure from the industry status quo. Staying true to the company’s grassroots beginnings, Rankin can be spotted at women’s bike clinics and festivals across the West, personally spreading the Shredly stoke from her pop-up store.

Shredly is not alone anymore, though. More boutique companies have begun to produce mountain bike shorts by women, for women. “Soft goods for women are really overlooked by the bigger brands,” says Katy Hover-Smoot, a Lake Tahoe skier and mountain biker who launched her own apparel company, Wild Rye, in August 2016. She, too, struggled to find mountain bike shorts that fit her muscular hips and thighs. “Companies just didn’t seem to get that girls who bike have big legs,” she says.

Wild Rye and Shredly have both put painstaking effort into designing universally flattering and functional fit for women. Hover-Smoot’s debut shorts, the Whitney, feature a conical waistband that tapers from hip to beltline. And Rankin has experimented with various kinds of waistband designs to eliminate gaps: Now, instead of exterior Velcro tabs, she uses an interior band of buttonhole elastic that cinches evenly around the entire waist. “It’s low profile and weightless, and it lets you take in the waist as much as you need to,” she says.

The Wild Rye crew plans their next high Sierra strike mission | Photo: Wild Rye / Ray J. Gadd

And both women geek out over their fabrics–an exceedingly important design element. Rankin spent a full eight months searching for the perfect material for her multi-sport shorts and Wild Rye’s Whitney shorts feature a lightweight, stretch-woven Schoeller fabric. “I wanted something that was lightweight and breathable for hot climates, but also tough enough to survive a crash. And I wanted a really nice hand feel,” explains Hover-Smoot.

Neither woman is a mountain bike racer. Instead, they’re recreational riders with a passion for creating gear that’s optimized for the XX crowd. But they deliver what their fellow riders really want. Judging from the success of both companies, there’s a robust market for mountain bike shorts for women, by women. Shredly has grown by 50 percent every year since its launch while Wild Rye has wrapped $20,000 in sales in less than a year, secured partnerships with a few select retailers (the company continues to sell product direct to consumer), and expanded to offer a line of women’s base layers for skiing.

“Women can tell that my product is thoughtfully made,” says Rankin. “There really is nothing like using a product that is designed by another user. My customers are so thankful for that.”

Big Brands Are Getting On Board, Too

While both Rankin and Hover-Smoot were motivated by a demand they say more established mountain bike apparel companies were ignoring, boutique brands like Shredly and Wild Rye are no longer the only brands offering shorts designed for women, by women. These larger companies also feature women-specific gear and apparel designed by women.

Troy Lee Designs

Former mountain bike racer Leigh Donovan operated her own women’s clothing boutique before collaborating on the redesign of Troy Lee’s Skyline Women’s Shorts. She added leg vents and stretch panels to prevent the fabric from binding across the leg—while also creating a flattering backside. “For me, the butt area is really important,” she says. “Most women want to look thinner, not wider,” a desire she asserts has been overlooked in the design of many women’s shorts.

POC

Amanda Dallhof, POC’s product manager of apparel, is a mountain biker, and so are some of her design colleagues, such as Monica Lindstrom. “As riders and enthusiasts, we can provide insights to the women’s product range about what we look for and the cut we prefer,” Dallhof says. Such savvy culminates in the Resistance Mid WO, light-but-tough shorts that are long enough to play nicely with knee pads, because the dreaded pad/short gap adds extra insult to injury when dealing with an ill-fitting pair of shorts

Dakine

“Having women’s input on the design of their gear is crucial to having successful products,” says Dakine designer Brittany Crook. “With all of the subtle realities of dialing in fit, performance, and style, women need to be involved in the entire development process.” Crook relies on a crew of female shredders to test and refine Dakine’s apparel, including the Cadence Bike Shorts, a surf-inspired style made with four-way stretch fabric and an adjustable (but streamlined) waistband.

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