By Caleb Bushner
A well-executed wardrobe helps us look good and feel good. But, there’s more to it than that, and that’s why we’re here, right? I’d like to introduce a new boutique offering awesome garments that not only complement the wearer, but also help the wearer lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Seattle’s Aldan Shank and Juliette Delfs are a couple of my friends from Business School and they’ve started a unique shop called Hub & Bespoke. Their aim is to outfit the rainy city’s residents with cycling attire that shows you can commute by bike without having to look like a spandex jockey – clothing that encourages people to engage in a behavior that improves the environment and promotes health and sexiness (leave the oversized biceps to the Jersey Shore – chicks dig strong legs, fellas). I wanted to hear more about how the shop’s been doing, so I got in touch with Aldan and here’s the conversation that emerged.
CB: Aldan, where did you get the inspiration to start your shop?
AS: My business partner Juliette and I both wanted to start a company that would get more people riding bikes. When we asked people why they didn’t ride, many mentioned fashion-related reasons. They’d talk about helmet hair, or not wanting to look like a cyclist or change clothes all the time. So we thought about developing a clothing line to address these concerns, but then we realized it would be hard to convince retailers to carry the pieces. Would we approach bike shops? Regular clothing boutiques? Neither was a perfect fit, so we decided to create the shop ourselves and curate items that support the story of biking in style for transportation.
How have people responded to the idea of adding style to cycling?
Really well! We get a great mix of people in the shop, from non-cyclists to die-hard sold-my-car-twenty-years-ago types. Almost everyone says, “Oh, what a great idea! Definitely something we need.” It seems like wherever people fall on the bike riding spectrum, most people intuitively “get” the idea we’re conveying: that it’s possible to use your bike for trips around town and look nice doing it. People get the value and simplicity of that.
Tell me more about that mix of people: has it been different between men and women?”
I’d say it’s different for men vs. women. Most of the guys who come in and make purchases already cycle. They’re looking for clothes that function well and won’t blow out from riding, but that they can also wear into the office or on a date. For women, we do see a number of regular commuters, but mostly we get ladies who don’t ride yet or who ride only occasionally. Their purchases are often driven by the fashion component; the fact that you can ride in the clothes is a sort of a bonus rather than a driving factor. We’re figuring this out and making changes as we go to ensure we’re achieving what we set out to accomplish.
What have you found to be the most sought-after elements for the sartorial cyclist?
We have a few items that consistently do well. Swrve and Outlier pants for men are big hits – guys love how they’re designed for riding but also look sharp. Tights are popular among women, especially the fleece-lined ones this time of year. Bern helmets have a clean look that works for those who shy away from the sporty racer profile. And we have a very popular men’s riding jacket by Nau. It’s cut like a blazer but has a number of design features that make it suitable for riding. Often when a guy tries it on, he walks out with it.
What constitutes “sustainable style” to you?
I’d say style that is enduring, maybe even classic, and definitely not a fad. Much like bikes! There’s also the other sense of the word “sustainable,” alluding to environmental and social consciousness. This is trickier but I think for us it’s less about talking up sustainability efforts and more about just doing the right thing, even when no one’s looking or when no one will hear about it. It shouldn’t just be marketing fodder.
Where do you think are the greatest challenges and opportunities for sustainable style?
This is difficult to answer because sustainability can show up in so many ways. For us there’s the challenge of weighing the environmental impact of some of our items versus the potential benefit created by their use. For instance, we have some products–handmade leather bags, for example–that are sourced and manufactured domestically. They’re beautiful. And they’re pricey enough that most of our customers won’t buy them. Compare that to a stylish helmet that sells well and is reasonably priced, but is made in China. Which is better? The bag obviously has a lower environmental footprint, but the popular helmet might get more people out riding their bikes instead of driving cars (we hope). The lines get fuzzy quickly, but I guess the opportunity lies in the potential to spark questions, particularly about whether or not what we’re buying or selling adds whole-systems value in a way that warrants its production.
Where do you think it’s going next?
There are a few trends that hint at a return to basics. Wool has made a comeback in a big way as an active-wear fabric. This is great not only because it’s a renewable resource replacing petroleum-based synthetics, but also because it often performs better in terms of body heat regulation, moisture wicking and odor control. It’s not even that much more expensive anymore due to increased demand. Maybe that’s where sustainable style is going next: to fewer compromises as manufacturers create updated and elegant product solutions.
Anything else to share?
We’re really excited that people have taken an interest in Hub and Bespoke, and that we can be part of the sustainable style solution for cyclists and cyclists-to-be. Thanks for having me!
About the author:
Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in Portland, OR.