Thursday, March 10, 2016

Women Involved Series: Lea Leopold (Lift Cyclewear)

My name’s Lea Leopold (married in to that name). I grew up on a farm in Northern Iowa, attended ISU, and have worked for 10 years in the apparel industry in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

I’m married and have a 20 month old son who brings me endless joy and pain on a daily basis. About a year ago I launched a line of women’s-specifc cycling apparel with my husband, and we’re just a few short weeks from launching our second season!

Visit/Follow Lift Cyclewear on:


When did you first start riding a bike?

I actually just wrote a blog post all about this! I got into cycling about eight years ago, and it wasn’t until I got a bike with skinnier tires and a more aerodynamic geometry that things really started clicking for me.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
It’s a healthy mix of exercise, suntanning exposure, and good old fashioned fun. My husband isn’t able to run with me anymore since a knee injury, so biking is something we can still do together.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I think every newbie is at least a little concerned about clip-in pedals. No exception here! I’ve done the slow-motion, 90-degree bend onto the pavement more than once. It’s a rite of passage! However, I think I struggled with wrapping my mind around how to shift on my drop handlebars more than most people. Which hand adjusts the front gears versus the back? Which way is up and down? For me, the only way to get past this hurdle was practice. Even still, I give myself a 2-minute warmup at the beginning of each ride where I go through all the gears to refresh myself.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outdoors working on a good sweat. Whether that’s running, hiking, SUP’ing or cycling, it refuels my energy levels. What’s great about riding my bike is the fact that I can cover so much more distance, allowing me to take in so much more beautiful landscape. There’s also an element of “play time” with a bike. It’s like my big kid toy and I look forward to playing with it any chance I get. And now that we have a toddler, we can finally strap him in the Burley and go for family rides!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My current bike is a Trek Madone (women’s geometry). I didn’t want to default to the Trek brand because it’s so common, so I test rode a bunch of other brands first - Specialized, Canondale, Felt, etc. In the end, the Trek was the most comfortable for me. My local bike shop also had it on closeout pricing, so I could get higher-end components and a full-carbon frame from a fraction of the original price, and within my budget. As I’ve progressed from a hybrid cruiser to my current road rocket, each upgrade has had an exponential impact on my distance and power output on each pedal stroke. April Morgan has me excited about trying out a fat bike next… :-)

You started Lift Cyclewear with your husband due to the lack of stylish and functional clothing options- tell us about your journey:
Throughout my cycling experience, I’ve always struggled to find clothes that were sport-specific that didn't make me look like I was smuggling a fruit basket in a spandex leotard. As I shared my frustration with other women, it was clear that when it comes to the traditional cycling kit, you either love it or you hate it. In my circle, the feedback was pretty unanimous - somebody needs to fix this! As it happens, I have a degree in Apparel Design from ISU and 10 years industry experience to draw from to design and produce my own line (something I’d always kicked around in the back of my mind). My husband has an MBA with an Entrepreneurship emphasis, so we combined forces to launch Lift Cyclewear. We’ll be coming upon our 1-year launch anniversary at the end of this month! We’ve learned so much in the last year, I can’t possibly cover it here. Some of the highlights include direct feedback from riders about what they like, what they don’t, and what they’re looking for but can’t find anywhere else. You’ll see a lot of those learnings come through in our 2016 collection, also launching at the end of this month.

What has been the biggest struggle starting your own business?
There are two.

1) Decision making. We don’t have anyone giving us goals or guidance about what to do. We have to be very self-directed and maintain a healthy amount of risk tolerance to see this venture through. We second guess ourselves all the time, and we’re working to be more decisive.

2) Distribution. A lot of neighborhood bike shops are understandably risk adverse to trying new brands, and you need to be pretty established before a regional or national retail chain will take you seriously. That means that we need to focus our efforts on selling directly through our own website to create meaningful scale that will hopefully snowball into bigger opportunities.

What has been the best thing?
Freedom. Every minute spent developing the business is a direct investment in our own future. I don’t have any corporate politics to navigate; I can just focus on what’s the very best thing for our target customer and immerse myself in doing that.

You attended Interbike in 2015- how was your experience?

For the sake of transparency, Interbike taught us firsthand how much the bike industry is an old boys club. While there’s a lot written about the opportunity to invest in the “majority minority” of the bike industry (i.e., women), we didn’t see a lot of traffic in what they called the Women’s Neighborhood. That may be a result of the women’s area being situated in a less-than-prime location, but even as we listened to speaker panels next to our booth profess the untapped potential of the women's segment, buyers quickly left the panel and breezed right by all the women’s brands. It was a perfect depiction for why there are so few women’s cycling options out there. The industry just isn’t there yet, which reinforces our need to build our direct to consumer channel.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Any new experience can be intimidating; especially when there’s already a strong subculture established and you don’t know anyone to help acquaint you with how it all works. It’s like drinking wine. There’s so much to “know” about drinking wine. No there’s not. Just drink what you like, and hopefully it’s not expensive. Riding a bike should be no different. Just get out there for the fun of it. That all being said, if you can seek out a women’s cycling group (check Facebook or local bike shops for organized rides), women are so inviting and approachable and will go out of their way to make sure you’re feeling confident in your abilities. Ride Like a Girl Cycling in Bloomington, MN is a perfect example for any women in the Twin Cities. Before my first mountain bike ride, Martha spent 30 minutes with me in the parking lot teaching me all the basics - from shifting to tire inflation, and how to descend and ascend hills. All my trepidation about the ride completely evaporated and I had a blast!

What could change in the industry (or in general areas) to encourage more women to ride?
We need more women working in the industry, first of all. Both, for the big bike brands so we have more product options to choose from, but even more so in the bike shops. A male bike shop employee isn’t going to be able to dish all the dirty details about how to pick the right products to make sure my undercarriage doesn’t get too sore. It’s not his fault. How would he know? Unfortunately, these are important questions for a woman and need to be answered by someone who can speak from experience.

Tell us about Ride Like A Girl Cycling and how you became involved-
Penn Cycle was one of the first bike shops to pick up our line, which is where I first met Teri. She invited me to a RLAGC event, which is where I made fast friends with a few of the other women who continue to be some of Lift Cyclewear’s greatest supporters.

Why do you feel women’s groups are a benefit and/or necessity?
(See my answer above about what deters women from getting involved with cycling).

Any suggestions on how a woman can find a group to join? What are some key points for people to consider before joining?
(Ditto to the first question). First, match your skill level (some groups may be more advanced, but most seem accepting of all skill levels). Second, just be sure you feel comfortable asking questions and have fun while you’re there.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?

Cycling offers a life long hobby that actually makes you healthier inside and out as a side effect. My goal is to get more ponytails out on the trails.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
If you are what you eat, then I’m a candy jar.

1 comment:

  1. Lea is humble, modest and zeroed in on creating innovative product and a great brand.

    ReplyDelete