Bertie (my beloved English-green Brompton bike) and I were delighted to hear that Levi’s Commuter had finally released a woman range. Hurrah!
That is a sound decision considering the number of bike-commuting women is going up slowly but surely every year in Europe.
Jittery as a June bug, I rushed to the Levi’s website to check the products. Was I going to find a rare jewel in the abundant sea of fashion?
Oops… I very soon realized there wasn’t anything to get excited about.
…(First drum roll in the background)… There are five products: a denim jacket, a pair of jeans, a chambray shirt (so far not a surprise) and OMG a short sleeve shirt and a windbreaker! Are you kidding me?
Five products only in one colour each. What did you expect? It’s definitely not enough to create a need and settle the line in the future.
But I surely know the story.
Picture the Levi’s Head Office in San Francisco.
You have an excited CEO very enthusiastic about the Woman commuter line presentation.
As a matter of fact, the Designer in charge has built up mood boards of depicted scenes of urban life with cool young women riding in great style from every hot city in the World. “I strongly believe bikes are horses of the XXIst century, thus it should belong to Levi’s”, he says, touché. The assigned merchandiser has also presented a duly detailed market research highlighting huge market shares to take.
Everyone comes out of the meeting longing to see the 3D collection feeling freshness could bring from the dead a woman’s business struggling in a saturated market.
Past that 1st exciting meeting, the CEO comes face to face with reality: globally too many references for a very tight market. That is, an outrageous development cost. Sound the alarm! Drastic decisions have to be made. Let’s toss some ranges in the trash, the least profitable ones. And the Women’s Commuter range is unfortunately one of them.
But because the merchandiser has a big mouth (he strongly believes in woman’s commuting outfits and he’s pretty right) and because the CEO has fond memories of pretty women on bikes, decision is made to keep five references. But how do you breathe new life with five products? Hard work for our designer!
Now let’s talk about the colour palette. That’s a bit ironic considering there are very few colours!
Apart from the staple denim blue, we have …(another drum roll in the background)… 2 colours, mysteriously named Pumice and Travertine. Let’s call it sand so we all get it.
Give me one single good fashion reason to wear such colours.
Nude is trendy? Just go and check the volumes behind such colours and you’ll get an idea: not efficient!
The only reason you’d be wearing it is when you’re exploring the bush in Southern Africa searching for the Big 5. Your objective is to be as invisible as possible not to upset any of these wild creatures. They can get fussy quite easily with vibrant colours. So you’re wearing what is called an “environment-friendly” colour and that is exactly what your Pumice and Travertine are.
My question to you now is: do you think urban pavements are friendly to cyclists? If there is one place where you don’t want to be invisible, it is the PAVEMENT. You do want to upset these wild creatures called cars. And please don’t mention the reflective details. That is not enough.
So my recommendation is, excuse my French, I don’t want to sound offensive: DON’T DO IT or DO IT BETTER.
There are so many opportunities with the woman’s commuting apparel.
I don’t know a single woman rider who wants to wear that sleeveless reflective yellow jacket. Because it’s ugly. But as you’re riding, you know how safe you would feel wearing it.
There are other technical gimmicks that are essential: our lower back has to be covered, we need breathable material, and we need windproof and waterproof outerwear.
But we also need style because we are fashion and lifestyle-conscious riders.
Rapha has an entire range of woman products. They’re undoubtedly and amazingly functional but they make you look like a Tour de France cyclist. And we don’t want to look like pro cyclists.
We want style and great looks. Look at the number of women riding bikes in skirts and high heels. Quite impressive! I wish I had the same confidence with Bertie!
Play with colours. Think of cool inspiring outfits. Remember the pieces we wear while we ride are the pieces we will be wearing at work or while chilling with friends.
These outfits will be our daytime ones. They really have to look great.
So why did you end up designing basic non-aspirational products?
Just because someone considered this market a niche, you thought it wasn’t worth the trouble?
But a niche can become GRAND…