As cycling has grown in popularity, the demand for items designed and tailored for a burgeoning women’s market has blossomed. Much of the credit for this rise in (marketing?) consciousness is often credited to entities East of the Rockies (Trek, and Cannondadle on the equipment side, and Georgena Terry in clothing are among the most noted).
However, there is also a significant West Coast contribution to the story. In hardware, Specialized and Irvine-based Felt Bicycles are known for a very solid range of road bikes. And, in clothing, Irvine resident Claudia Ried parlayed a background in design and the experiences from a truly epic mountain bike expedition into what’s become one of the most iconic women’s cycling clothing lines.
We caught up with Claudia at a bike shop, appropriately enough, where she was working with a mechanic to diagnose and put the kibosh on an annoying bottom-bracket creak.
What prompted you to create Shebeest? How did you come up with the name?
Back in 1994 I embarked on a grueling mountain bike ride along the ancient Silk Road, through Kyrgyzstan, Western China and Pakistan. In preparing for the ride, it became obvious to me that there was very little in the way of women’s cycling apparel for either mountain or road on the market. Being a fashion designer, my wheels started to turn! Upon my return from this adventure (and back to New York City), I began developing my concept for both women’s and men’s stylish cycling apparel under the brand name Wildebeest, A.K.A. Wildebeest and She (think Tarzan and Jane, the migrating adventurers!)
In 1996 I moved to the cycling Mecca of Southern California to bring my concept to fruition. My new partner, Jim Finlayson, a BCI (Bicycle Club of Irvine) member, and I, began to organize Thursday night focus-group “soirees” in our home, inviting small groups of women cyclists to come share ideas and view my design concepts. And since it was the women who really wanted and needed sport clothing, we narrowed our focus to female-specific apparel. Creating the brand name was a fluke: it came into my head at one of our soirees, when we were discussing names, and I just blurted out “Shebeest!” The women loved it, and the brand came to life!
What’s your OC affiliation? Did being here have an effect on the creative process?
Moving to SoCal made everything happen. The Thursday night soirees were always a great time, full of lively conversations, with opinions flying…and, as the creator of Shebeest, I soaked it all in. These active women knew what they wanted and liked, and were very influential to the look and feel of the brand, and the relationship continued as the brand blossomed and grew.
Did you have roadblocks, real or virtual, in being a woman trying to break into the cycling business? Is cycling a “good old boys club?”
Yes and No. The timing was right for bringing Shebeest to market; the industry was turning its focus on women cyclists and women’s sport in general. Our relationships with our buyers and vendors were strong, regardless if they were male or female. Our challenge was putting together a strong sales force, which does tend to be a “good old boys club.” Our first few years were the hardest, and I was doing most of the selling myself. Slowly we put together a very small team of sales reps, made up of some very good women and just a few men who understood selling women’s clothing. But, as our business progressed, reps who understood what we were all about began approaching us and life got easier.
Your role with Shebeest has changed since you started it. Tell us what happened, and about your association with the brand today.
Jim and I sold the brand to Veltec Sports in 2005. I remained with the brand as designer and marketing consultant through 2009.
What kind of cyclist are you?
Many kinds! From adventurous mountain biker to enthusiastic road rider, competitive at times, but not a racer. I enjoy cruiser bike riding for fun. I ride road with Santiago Cycling out of Tustin, CA.
Favorite OC ride?
Two come to mind. The classic Santiago Canyon ride is fun and grueling, although I really enjoy riding PCH up to Long Beach, that’s beautiful.
Most inspiring ride you’ve done?
The Silk Road mountain bike trip. It opened my eyes to beautifully remote areas of the world and inspired the concept for Shebeest!
Did you find the offending creak?
Yes, finally. It ended up being a problem with my cleats.