Monday, July 24, 2017

Women Involved Series: Lindsay Piper

Lindsay Piper- my official title is Consumer Brand Softgoods Manager at QBP, which means I manage the KETL brand, and do product management, development and sourcing in apparel for QBP's brands... primarily KETL, 45NRTH and Surly, but others as well.

Bikelife... weeeellllll.... I grew up in South Burlington, Vermont and my family  and I have always been super active & outdoorsy. We were downhill and cross country skiers in the winter and bikers, hikers, kayakers etc in summer.

In my pre-driver's license years my bike was my freedom machine, and I would ride all over town, whether aimlessly or to meet my friends at the mall or something.  I dabbled in mountain biking on my nearby trails but nothing too serious.

In high school, I got pretty serious about the somewhat esoteric sport of biathlon, and that continued into college, in Marquette Michigan.  A big part of my college team's summer training was mountain biking- we typically did a least one ride per week, and since we are talking about a group of cocky 18-21 year old athletes, things tended to get pretty rowdy and competitive. So I had to learn to get better and faster in a hurry because the other option was to be left completely lost in the woods by myself. And this was well before smartphones. No GPS to help.

So then I worked in a bike/ski/outdoor shop for a couple years, which kept my bike love going.

I got more into road biking while I lived in an area of northern Wisconsin where the mountain biking trails weren't so great.... 

And then I moved to Minneapolis and started working at QBP as a sales rep in Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. Well, that meant lots of bike rides with bike shop folks in really cool places, which was really fun, but also more often than not was me riding with a bunch of guys. It was really tough sometimes! I have done plenty of inopportune bonking, almost passed out once on a really hot, humid ride, and ridden some beautiful roads and trails and seen plenty of great views. 

After about a year of that, I had the opportunity to take my large amount of interest and, at the time relatively small amount of experience in apparel development, and work on building that product category for QBP's brands, which I've been doing for about 6 years now.  KETL is my most recent project and a really important one for me as it is something that really comes from my (and another co-worker's) desire to see something different in the market and to create a product that is really representative of ourselves.  At this point, I am a total bike dork. I ride mountain, road, gravel, fat, urban... I don't care, just get a bike under my ass. But mountain biking is my first love and still my favorite.

Links:

Your #bikelife has been a large part of who you are job-wise, why do you enjoy being involved in the cycling industry?
Oh man!  So many reasons.  For one, being a bike person working in the bike industry, it’s a job that comes with free built-in friends.  There are so many like-minded, cool people in the industry.  I do feel really lucky that I get to work in an industry that I care so much about.  I am not a corporate type of person and there’s no way I could get up every morning and drag myself to a bank or something.

From working at a bike shop to now working at QBP, why do you feel women in the industry play an important role in the growth of cycling?
I’m going to attach this one from a strictly economic viewpoint.  Once you reach a certain level of market share or penetration, growing that share becomes much more difficult, and you spend more for smaller gains.  Well, cycling has pretty solid market penetration among white men at this point, so the easiest, least expensive growth potential is outside that; namely women, trans folks, and people of color.  The cycling industry is not exactly a hotbed of Ivy leaguers with masters degrees looking to get rich… it’s a bunch of people who love biking, making and selling products they understand, care about and want to use.  When you consider it in those terms, the cycling industry’s best way to grow itself is to bring in non-white, non-dudes.

Going back to your bike shop days, what was your role at work and what was your biggest challenge?
The shop I worked at (Hey Downwind Sports Marquette!) was a really cool combo of bike, ski, kayak, hike, camp, climb, clothing… kind of everything you’d want to go play outside.  My primary job was sales & customer service on the floor, and I also helped with Nordic ski clinics and youth mountain bike coaching.  I would say with the massive breadth of product disciplines we carried, my biggest challenge was in trying to maintain product knowledge. The good news is we had reps coming in all the time to give clinics to the staff, which was so helpful in maintaining knowledge and stoke.

Your job at QBP is Consumer Brand Softgoods Manager- what do you love most about your job and what is your biggest challenge?
As someone who has always had such a strong love for bikes, playing outside, and clothes, I can’t think of a more perfect job to have.  I feel really lucky that this weird little niche is even something that exists and that I get to be one of the people who do it. I love that sometimes it’s my job to touch a million fabrics and pick the good ones, and sometimes it’s my job to just go ride my bike with a different glove on each hand or with some new shorts, and sometimes it’s my job to negotiate! (ok I might be weird….)  My job is a combination of creative right brain stuff, and detailed mathy, thinky stuff, and sometimes I’m not really sure where one ends and the other begins.  I’m never, ever bored.  With that in mind, the challenge of the job lies in its complexity.  At any given time, I’ve got products going for three or more different brands, and three different seasons, all at different stages of the process.  Things can get crazy and there’s a lot of mental juggling.  

Tell us about KETL and what your hopes are for the brand-
KETL is a really exciting one for me!  I got together with another coworker because we shared a pretty strong vision for a brand and a group of products that we felt were missing, both in the market and in our own gear closets.  KETL has a few main tenets: We are focused on creating really high-quality, functional, great looking mountain bike clothes, and doing so with women & men on equal footing. My biggest hope for the brand is just that it makes a difference for riders. If I hear people saying these are their favorite pieces, then I’m happy.
With the KETL line, do you have a particular product that is your absolute favorite?
It’s a bit hard to pick a favorite, but one product I’m extra excited about and proud of is the women’s liner bibs with IPF, which is our solution for on-trail pit stops.  I had this idea rolling around in my brain for quite a while about this kind-of three panel, crossover, trap-door system.  Getting from the abstract idea, through the talking, gesturing, explaining to designers, through design, pattern, fitting, testing, re-fitting… it definitely took some time and effort, but the result is something that works really well.  Super cool to see it come to life.

Who would be interested in the KETL line?
Anyone mountain biker who is ready to get a little more out of their clothes.  I think our customer is someone who is a pretty avid rider, who has progressed past the beginner stage, and knows what they’re looking for out of their bike.  That is where I think you really start thinking about your clothes and whether they’re contributing to or detracting from your experience.  

What do you love most about having a hands-on approach to making a clothing brand?
Mwwwwaaaahahahahaaaa!  (that was my evil laugh…) Exerting my personal viewpoint on others!  To say that a nicer and perhaps more accurate way, it’s pretty dang rewarding to go through the process of having an idea, getting people behind that idea, turning it into an actual physical product, and then seeing that product be used and appreciated.  It’s a bit of a long play, but it ends in a concrete, observable outcome.

What would you say was your biggest challenge or best lesson you learned with creating the KETL brand?
I’d say the biggest challenge in creating and launching a brand is the volume and breadth of details… big stuff through minutiae, there is a TON to consider, think about and remember.  I recall pretty close to launch when we were going through website edits.  This is after all the tiny product details, making sure every snap and button are right, every I dotted, t crossed…. I went through the following little moment of panic:  I realized on our contact page there had just been a placeholder phone number. Then I realized we hadn’t gotten an 800 number yet… then I realized I hadn’t considered WHO WAS GOING TO ANSWER THE PHONE??!!  

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what inspired you to keep at it?
Those were probably when I was 12 or so growing up in Vermont, and honestly, I don’t recall learning too many lessons… I just dorked around the trails at Catamount (trails in VT where I grew up) on my mom’s rigid Specialized Hard Rock without any great deal of thought about any of it.  I just liked mud.  The mud kept me coming back.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I guess the worst one for me, particularly on a mental/emotional level, was when I was 14 or so, biking back home from meeting a friend at the mall (a very 14 thing to do)… I was riding on the shoulder of a busy road when an aggressive dog came out from a house and started coming after me.  Without even thinking about it or looking behind me, I swerved out into traffic and was taken out by a Honda civic.  Luckily my injury wasn’t serious, just a big lumpy technicolor bruise on my knee, but that made me super nervous riding around cars for a long time after, and riding in heavy traffic still tweaks me out a little.  I guess if anything, after a short break, the most important thing is that I recognized my part in the accident, and got back out there and kept riding.  You better believe I look over my shoulder before I swerve out though .

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Everything!  When I started getting a little more serious about mountain biking was in college, and I would go on rides with teammates who were so much faster and more skilled than I was, and they had no mercy in terms of waiting, so I had to improve in a hurry.  Probably the two toughest things were hopping over obstacles like logs, and clearing rock gardens.  I’m still not a fan of certain rock gardens.  But what I did, and what I do, is just always try to expand my comfort zone a little more on each ride.  If there was a log that was just a little bigger, that I hadn’t had the guts to try on the previous ride, I’d make myself try it on the next.  Just incremental steps up in difficulty.  I think a lot of the time you’re dealing with a mental block more than a skill deficiency, and if you take the time to stop, check out an intimidating feature, think about how you’re going to clear it, then commit and go for it, you find it wasn’t such a big deal.  If you’re not sure about the skill part, grab a friend who is more experienced and ask them to work with you a little on skills. This year I’m planning to spend some time on manuals & drops.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that feeling when you’re on the absolute edge of biffing, and you somehow pull out of it by the seat of your pants.  That extreme terror followed by extreme relief.

I love the feeling at the end of a really challenging, limit-pushing ride when you are completely exhausted and your legs feel like noodles and all you want to do is eat everything and lay on the couch, but also you feel like you totally crushed that ride and you can take on the world… tomorrow.

I love being outside enjoying the air, pushing myself (or not, depending on the day), and feeling strong.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Mountain Bike- Salsa Redpoint Carbon X01.  This bike is ridiculously fun. Coming from a 26” wheel mountain bike and being of small stature, I was convinced I would hate this bike, but one demo did me in.  It is fast, fun, and confidence-inspiring. I feel like I can hang it out there a little more because I know the bike is going to maintain stability.

Road Bike- Ridley Asteria ISP with Fulcrum Racing 1 Wheels & SRAM Force Group. This is my light, speedy girl.  I’ve had it for years- it fits me perfectly, never lets me down mechanically, and it has a super sweet cornea-searing custom paint job.

Gravel, tour, etc bike- Surly Straggler 650B.  This is a totally stock build as I actually was a prototype tester (one time when being small was actually beneficial in bikes-  YUSSS.).  This bike is sweet- it is reliable, comfy, and goes everywhere. I did Almanzo on this bike, I did a week-long mixed surface rando tour in Sweden on this bike, I towed a 40-lb single wheel trailer for an overnight behind this bike because we needed wine and the big tent obviously.  I’ve ridden road, trail, path… you name it.  It’s my Swiss army knife.

City bike- Another Surly Straggler 650B, set up single speed with a flat bar, hamburger bell and hamburger seat bag.  Just a super fun city bike, which I built because I’m spoiled and I hate having to change pedals.

Fat bike- Salsa Beargrease Carbon X7.  It’s the blurple fade color- I took the front derailleur off and made it a 1x10 because really, no reason for 2 front rings in the Midwest. It is pleasantly light as fatbikes go, and rides so much like a regular mountain bike.

Fatbikes! Why should folks consider them a viable product?
Because snow is a thing in many climates, and riding on a trainer kinda sucks.  It used to be that Nordic skiing was the go-to winter alternative to biking, but with unreliable snow conditions, that’s tough in funky years and shoulder seasons.  With the right tires you can fatbike in just about any conditions, and riding groomed singletrack is ridiculously fun.  

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? 
I think that depends on the woman.  A lot of people want to lump all women together as one big group, but we are a diverse set of people with a diverse set of needs and influences.  That said, I’ll generalize a few things that I see and hear:
-Not being sure where to start- Cycling comes with a bit of an upfront investment, and if you’re curious about it but not really sure what you need, what you’re interested in, etc… it can be a bit overwhelming to figure it all out.
-Ye Olde boys club- This has been discussed to death, but a lot of bike shops are pretty dude-heavy establishments, and may not feel super welcoming.  I think it’s intimidating when you want to go learn about something new, and the place to do that feels like this foreign land where you are the weirdo.  I think about it in terms of, let’s say I decided I was really interested in video games.  The thought of going into a store for that and asking a bunch of rudimentary questions gives me hives.
-Time- There are studies out there showing that on average, women have something like 70% of the household and child-rearing responsibility vs. men’s 30%, on top of everyone having full-time jobs.  I have time to ride in large part because I don’t have kids and my house is a mess, but I see the 70/30 thing in action with friends and it sucks.  

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
When it comes to participation, friend recruitment is huge. This could apply to any activity and gender.  People frequently get into a new sport because their social circle recruits and encourages them.  Invite a friend on a ride, and be a resource for friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who are new to the sport.  

Within the industry, there are things happening that are encouraging, like the women’s UBI scholarships, and QBP’s WTF internship program.  It is incumbent upon industry leaders to keep working at recruitment, not just hiring women who are “there” right now but setting up the pipeline for the next 3, 5, 10 years.  

And for women like myself already in the industry, we have the ability to work on changing it from within, to keep pushing the industry to grow and progress, and to push to get ourselves and our female colleagues into leadership roles.

I think you’ve gotta find your friendly local visionary and support them however you can. I look at the amazing force that is Anna Schwinn, and I wish she could be cloned like 50 times over. Here’s a woman who is personally responsible for reviving women’s track cycling in Minneapolis, which was a huge feat in itself, but did she stop there and pat herself on the back?  Hell no. She figured out how to replicate that success and used her experience to help other women in other cities start teams.  She is personally responsible for getting well over 100 women into racing, and now she’s doing it with trans riders.  And along the way she’s fought a lot of hard battles, pissed a lot of people off, and taken a lot of grief, because what she was doing mattered and it was right.  She deserves a grant for existing and doing her thing.  So I want everyone to look around their community, find their Anna, and support that person in any way possible because those are the people who create big change.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I would love to tell you it’s altruistic but it’s not.  

I encourage the women I know to ride because I want more riding buddies.  Riding with the boys is fun too, but I love hitting the trails with my girls and I want to do that more.

I’m also inspired to encourage more women to ride out of sheer economics- the more women ride, the more they need stuff. That means I get to develop more, cool, women’s products; it makes my job more fun.  
                                                           
Tell us a random fact about yourself! 
I have a group of friends who do something we call Riri rides—it’s a non-competitive, easy pace ride with a bunch of ladies and dance music (heavily featuring Rihanna, hence the name)- we get outside and ride and have a blast together, and are always inviting new people to join.  I would like to encourage all of your readers to start their own Riri ride.  You can even use our playlist, curated by my friend Leah. 

It’s on Spotify, called #ririrides.  That’s also the Instagram tag.  Go, blast, ride, tag. Get your #ririrides on. 

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