We caught up with Alex, to discuss the inspiration behind award-winning, Scotland-based biking and outdoor clothing brand FINDRA. What does it take to build a business from a passion? Read on to find out...
What were you doing before FINDRA?
Before FINDRA I was the Design Manager of the Scottish knitwear company Peter Scott, which was owned by South Korean retail company Eland. My role was to oversee the design product development and marketing of the in house brand of luxury Golf clothing range. I also worked on some of the knitwear design ranges for the South Korean and Chinese market. I often travelled internationally to understand the various global markets I designed for.
Tell us about your background - did you train in the textiles industry, or as a designer? What skills did you have that made you believe that 'you could do this'?
I am a trained designer. I graduated from Heriot Watt University with 1st class honour’s degree in Industrial Design and Textiles then I gained my Masters from the Royal College of Art. I specialised in knitted textiles and I’ve always been very creative but also really interested in the textile industry itself and the construction of textiles. So I have quite a strong understanding and knowledge base of the textile and manufacturing processes involved with garment construction.
My skills stem from both the creative side of me and the strong knowledge of the textile industry and understanding of raw materials. I identified a gap in the market and believed that I could bring something that was an improvement, so I had a very clear vision of what the brand could be about. The desire to use natural raw materials like merino wool was really important and from my background, I could source that and then use my skills that were based on how to make garments and how to design them.
How did your love of biking and adventure spark the motivation behind FINDRA?
I got into biking when I was about 35 and I’d always been keen on biking when I was younger but I probably stopped when I was about 16, as most young girls do unfortunately. When I started mountain biking, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of getting on a bike again but off I went and I absolutely loved it! It was just the natural high of it and I felt so liberated by it. I loved getting on a bike, cycling up through the woods to the top of the hill and having a great time coming down. But also, I was really inspired by the women that I cycled with. We were all probably in our mid-30s to mid-40s and I found that quite inspiring. Here was a group of women at a certain stage of their lives who were looking for something for them and mountain biking’s not for the faint hearted. I thought that that was an amazing thing to do. The confidence and the enjoyment that you got from it was such a special thing for me.
From there I thought ‘right well I love this’ and I wanted to buy some decent kit to wear. Off I went to the shop and when I looked around, what I saw from a design and visual aesthetic, was that the women’s clothing was a bit of an afterthought of the men’s. First, that’s really disappointing. Secondly, because the fact that the clothes were disappointing I felt that the existing brands were letting down these amazing women. So, my love of the outdoors, my enjoyment of mountain biking and my background in design all came together to inspire me to set up FINDRA and the women I cycled with inspired that too.
What is it like having your work and outdoor passions so closely linked? Good and bad points?
The bad bit is that since I’ve set up a business in the outdoors I don’t get out on my bike! Obviously starting and growing a business is all consuming so therefore your downtime is a lot less. Work becomes very intense and it can be difficult to switch off from the demands of the business. The challenge isn’t just finding the time; it’s making myself make that time. There’s always something to do when you are running a start up business so you’ve got to be very disciplined. Over the years I have realised that it’s crucial to find ways to relax and get outdoors. Its important for me to not lose site of what inspired me in the first place. Getting out on my bike or going for a walk or run give me that time to think and space to breath and reconnect with myself. Nature inspires me, and invigorates me, and helps me cope with the demands of life and gain perspective. So that’s the negative – finding the time to do what you love; the thing which made you start all of this in the first place.
The positives are that I’ve met some amazing people and have been inspired by women and men who have achieved some phenomenal things. Hearing their stories of adventure big or small inspires and motivation me and allows me to see what is possible for others and myself. The other big positive that came from creating FINDRA is the enormous sense of pride I feel when wearing my own designs, and when I see others wearing them too. There is so much satisfaction that comes from creating something that solves a problem and improves an experience and that’s what I feel FINDRA offers, practical stylish functional clothing that takes you from the mountain to the café or the pub! Hearing great feedback from customers and knowing how much they love what we do makes is a great privilege and makes me very proud and happy!
Do you ever get sick of thinking about cycling?!
What are the key things FINDRA 'stands for' as a company?
FINDRA stands for, friendliness, innovation, nature, determination, being responsible and reasonable and always showing attention to detail. These are our key brand values. Our brand and business values are closely linked. We’re a friendly, approachable brand and our customers are at the heart of our business. We aim to be innovative in our approach to design, business and problem solving. We like to work with natural or recycled raw materials, we source sustainable and ethical supply chains, and only work with the best people who treat their people respectfully and fairly. We are supportive of each other as a team and of those we meet and sell to on our journey. Attention to detail is so important and this is an approach that we take across all areas of the business from design to the way we present FINDRA in our shops and how we communicate to our customer’s ambassadors and suppliers.
We are a company that designs and sells great product but we are also more than that. One of our big aims is to encourage motivate and empower others to get outdoors and experience how good it feels to reap the rewards of being in nature. We want to support others to try things and not worry about how long or far they go.
Why so much merino?
Because it really is the absolute best raw material to use and wear when taking part in any outdoor activities. It is a true wonder fibre. Wool fibres are breathable and react to the body’s changing temperature, keeping you warm in the cold and cool in warmer weather. One key difference between merino and synthetic fibres is that merino ‘holds’ moisture, wicking moisture away from the body while still retaining its natural thermo regulating properties. Merino is also odour resistant. Protein molecules naturally present in the wool break down odour-forming bacteria, which means your merino wool clothing doesn’t have to be washed as often as synthetic material therefore making it more eco friendly and sustainable.
Tell us about FINDRA's athletes. How important is it for you to have these incredibly strong, inspirational women behind your brand?
Our brand ambassadors come from grass roots right through to people who go around the world and for me it’s important to be able to showcase people at all levels because that’s what FINDRA’s all about. Whilst the Lee Craigie's and the Jenny Tough's of this world are amazing and what they achieve is hugely inspirational, I find that women like Julia Hobson and Polly Clark who teach other women to mountain bike and give a huge amount back are as important. Dee Hollingsbee teaches kids to bike, she’s very grass roots level in the Scottish Borders where FINDRA started.
Then there’s the everyday adventure women out there like Jo Moseley and Penny Zannikos. It’s important that we have a wide range of ambassadors that show women and men that it doesn’t matter what level you are doing these things at. The important thing is getting out there and actually doing it. From a product point of view, they’re fantastic assets in terms of testing the kit. They feed back to us what works, what doesn’t work. For me its important to have the kit really put through its paces and tested to ensure we are designing and producing the best possible products and out ambassadors are great at getting out there and getting their FINDRA dirty!
Personal favourite from everything you've designed?
I’m going to say the new FINDRA Stroma jacket! As a knitwear designer. I have extensive knowledge of what’s involved in the design and manufacture of knitted product. Working on more technical textiles and designs pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to think and design in a different way and I like that. The Stroma jacket has taken two years to design, develop and launch. Its so exciting to add an outer layer to the FINDRA range, designed using the same approach as we have taken to designing our base layers and accessories.
The Stroma jacket is simple and understated; we have used a fantastic innovative recycled 4 way stretch waterproof jacket, which is so lightweight and so easy to pack down small. With lots of little functional details that are there to benefit the wearer and make their time outdoors more enjoyable the Stroma for me is a great reflection of all that FINDRA stands for.
What's the focus of the next collection?
For this year, it’s about continuing to build on the success we have already achieved with our base layers and merino range. Designing and developing new innovative pieces, going beyond the merino base layers and reemphasizing the focus of lightweight items that are practical, stylish and functional. With the addition of the men’s range in 2018 we want to continue to create and offer great products that our customers love and enjoy wearing.
For you personally - what are your adventure goals of 2019?
I am really looking forward to achieving more of a balance in 2019 and spending more time outdoors - living in the Scottish borders mean adventure is on my doorstep. At the end of 2018 I got my first gravel bike and I am very excited to head off into the hills and explore some lovely off road trails in the tweed valley.
Best adventure moment of 2018?
The business was the big adventure last year. It was a really crucial time and took precedent, especially with opening the new shop in Edinburgh!
What are you most proud of from the journey so far?
Building something from scratch – that goes for the brand, product range and the team. Creating something which didn’t exist, taking that leap of faith and giving the crazy idea of building a brand a go! And I’m proud of the fact that it’s still here and growing year on year.
What is the 'absolute dream' - a) for FINDRA? and b) for your own adventures and biking (or other sports!)?
The absolute dream for FINDRA is to spread the FINDRA love and build an international brand and for people all over the world to be wearing, enjoying and benefitting from FINDRA. For myself, I want to get balance in life and get out on my bike more so that I am sane enough to make the dream happen!
Thanks so much Alex and the FINDRA team! Check out their website here, or visit them in Innerleithen or Edinburgh.