Machines for Freedom resides in a part of the cycling market that is grossly under-served: women's cycling clothing. Being a male dominated sport, most apparel has been driven by this market. And, one could say, naturally, "such is the market." Of course, the market will also stay stagnant until there is clothing that female cyclists could actually wear. Yet, as more women are join the sport, it seems only wise for big brands to start making clothing that women might like and wear.
But, there was something missing, still, a stitch in many women's sides, if you will. And, worse yet, if you were a woman not on a race team, the few kit options out there weren't exactly stylish.
Meet a cyclist named Jennifer Hannon, who would go onto start Machines for Freedom a clothing company just for female cyclists. Jenn hadn't been riding all her life, only finding cycling in adulthood. Perhaps it took this outside perspective to see that the norm wasn't acceptable. There was no reason to merely accept the options available sacrificing so much style for a kit that felt but ok.
Machines for Freedom has been seeing success in other ways besides selling apparel (and perhaps the most important way): creating a community of women around the brand who ride together.
Besides the name of her company, our brands have some latent commonalities that might be hard to express. We couldn't feel more proud having Jenn part of the Stinner community. Her new Stinner reflects her own style, doing what is classic a bit differently, taking something so simple and making small changes that alter so much.
We had a bit of a chat with Jenn about her cycling history, style, and what led her to taking a massive risk to start a company, though, a company that is direly needed.
STINNER: How long have you been riding? What got you into it?
Jennifer Hannon: I have been riding for about 6 years. It all started when a friend coerced me to train with her for the Cool Breeze Century in Ventura and by our second weekend training ride I was hooked. Riding quickly became part of my everyday routine, and when I found myself getting up at 5:30am just to squeeze in ride time before work I knew I had found my sport. I have never been a morning person, and here I was getting up before the sun just to stick with my training plan. I barely recognized myself!
STINNER: What did you notice about clothing right away, or the bike market in general?
When I first started riding I remember buying clothes out of necessity. I loved the sport, needed clothes to ride in, but wasn't all that enthused about what I could find. I wasn't part of a race team or club so I didn't have a predetermined kit I was supposed to wear. I had trouble finding kit that fit my sense of style so I ended up buying just enough clothes to get by.
What was the sort of "light bulb" moment that caused you to start a clothing company? What were you doing before and how did you put all your resources into that?
I started to think about kit while working with Steven Carre at Bike Effect on my bike fit. I was having a lot of saddle discomfort so I worked with Steven over the course of several sessions to dial in my saddle selection and placement. We tried a few different saddles, made micro adjustments to my fit, and while all of these things improved comfort there was still room for improvement. I was still having soreness and problems with saddle sores on long rides. Then Bike Effect got this rad piece of software that allows you to pressure map your saddle. You essentially see where the pressure points are to determine if your saddle is in the right position or if there is pressure being applied in places you don't want it to be. Long story short, these pressure maps also helped us see how the chamois did not protect my seat bones. I tried on different shorts, with different chamois, and my seat bones always seemed to be skirting the edge of the pad. It was this discovery process that got my wheels turning. The idea was born out of desire for more comfortable kit, and evolved to explore questions of aesthetic, personal style, and vibe within the community.
What was your design philosophy going in, and how has it evolved? Or what has the focus been since starting the company?
When I started Machines For Freedom, I was really interested in exploring the intersection between femininity and athleticism. I was also interested in finding ways to make technical clothing feel feminine without relying on graphics and color, especially when it comes to basics like bibs.
If you think of something like jeans, for example, it's pretty unlikely that you would ever be confused men’s and women’s. Though the pieces are the same color and fabric, there are key differences in fit and style which indicate which by type they are for. When it comes to cycling kits, however, my husband and I were constantly mixing up our kits because they looked so similar. If you create something designed for a woman's body, there's no reason it should find its way to the wrong side of the closet.
What about Stinner attracted you? How does it relate to your style decisions? And how did you decide on the type of bike you wanted Stinner to build?
I have always loved Stinner's minimal aesthetic and sophisticated sense of color. Really bright colors on bikes have always intimidated me. For one, because I imagine having these bikes for years, decades even, and knowing how my tastes change over the years I tend to gravitate towards simplicity. I also feel added pressure when riding a bright, flashy, bike. Like, I better be fast! I guess I like to keep by bike style pretty low-key, so I have always admired Stinner's paint schemes and color choices. And I love the clean lines of a steel bike! Feels classic.
And when it came time to build the bike, I knew exactly the type of bike I wanted. I already have a snappy carbon bike that I love, but that poor bike has been through the ringer on some pretty epic mixed terrain courses. If I cracked the frame I would be heartbroken so I wanted a bike that was a little sturdier. Going into the process I was a little nervous about steel. I had never ridden steel before and I was worried about weight. At 5'-11" I don't exactly have a petite climber’s frame, but I love to climb and didn't want to feel extra drag. I have to say I am so impressed with the result. I took the bike out for its first spin today and didn't feel weighed down at all.
How has the company evolved and where do you want it to go?
The company has evolved from a singular point of view, my own, to a blend of each person that is intimately involved with Machines For Freedom's growth. Because we are small, there are no cogs in a big, well-oiled, machine. Everyone's personality and creativity plays an integral part in creating the brand story. I think that has been the most interesting part of the process. It's no surprise that people often compare starting a business to raising a child. You have dreams, aspirations, and goals. You instill values and try your best to make decisions that send this young thing down the right path. But no matter how hard you may try, you never have complete control. This thing you have created starts to take on it's own momentum and it’s your job to guide it. As for where I want it to go? I want to see us continue to grow, play, experiment, push boundaries. In general, keep having fun!