Vélo-à-Porter started as a blog in January 2015. After four years of bicycling to work in dresses, heels and makeup, I realised that people were interested in how I made it work.
I had scoured the internet for stylish pannier bags and accessories. Then I found the Yakkay helmets. I ordered several from Denmark via China. The state police stopped me many times in 2015 because they didn't recognise the Yakkay cover as a helmet. Eventually armed with an AUS/NZ sticker, the helmet became legal. The police also began to recognise who I was after that year because of a blog that I wrote riding with the state bicycle police.
Consequently, I began to think of how to design a bicycle helmet cover for helmets that are legal here in Australia. I don't agree with the Australian mandatory helmet law. I believe that it is possible to ride safely to work and at a reasonable speed on the roads without a helmet. Furthermore, studies in the UK have shown that drivers often pass closer to helmeted bicyclists.
However, my philosophy is also to work within the rules that exist. When I went to Europe in June 2017, I saw that many in Paris, London and Copenhagen, chose to wear helmets on the roads. The most popular were the Nutcase Street and Bern Helmets.
I set out to find a way to make a stylish cover to disguise the bicycle helmet. I also wanted to provide riders with sun and rain cover protection. Most importantly, I wanted to inspire more women to bicycle by providing a stylish option to wearing a bicycle helmet.
For this inaugural collection of Cover by Velo-a-Porter, designing a flattering shape for a bicycle helmet was a design challenge of seemingly epic proportions.
That being said, many have commented that spending a year in development of Cover is a very short period of time. However, the first three months were a series of crushing challenges.
The first was finding someone who could help me bring the idea of Cover to life. Fashion designers, dressmakers, factory owners and fashion development gurus had no idea what I was talking about. None were bicyclists and certainly no one understood how I could bicycle to work in dresses and heels. I hadn't yet decided on the Nutcase and the Bern helmets. I found my way by borrowing Michelle's helmet and tried a few different ideas with a fashion designer in Paddington. All of my ideas failed.
No, no, no! Ack!
Consequently, I took matters into my own hands by taking a series of private lessons with Natascha at Make & Learn. I learned the techniques of draping and patternmaking. I also had refresher lessons on using a sewing machine. She had me start on a Juki industrial machine. It made sewing much more efficient. It was a welcome change from the sewing machines I used in year 7 at Highview Middle School in Minnesota.
Exhausting but fun learning some new skills!
We developed a cloche shape together. However, I changed the brim to be much more bicyclist-friendly. The original narrow brim reduced my field of vision which is a scary prospect for most on a bicycle.
Early prototype cloche shape.
By this time, I had found Laura at Bobbin & Ink in Stanmore. I also decided to try designing for the very popular Nutcase Street helmet. At Bobbin & Ink, I spent nine months working and reworking the pattern for the helmet to the best fit possible. I tried different fabrics and learned how they affected the shape of the original pattern. I redesigned the brim to flare out and provide a greater field of vision. I also realised that I needed lining to protect the seams. And as I am a great fan of beautiful lingerie, I thought a lace lining would be perfect. Like lingerie, only you know that it's there doing a very important job. Ultimately, I was able to make a series of prototypes that disguise the helmet as a hat.
Working on a prototype version of Cover at Bobbin & Ink in Stanmore.
I wanted to use fabrics that are breathable, durable and beautiful. Consequently, I knew that I would need to use primarily wool, cotton and linen fabrics. This first production version is mostly wool with some synthetic to help it retain its shape. I'll be manufacturing small collections and when the remnant fabrics run out, that's it for the year. I'll also be offering a degree of customisation with some of the remnant fabrics that I pick up from around Sydney. You can see a good example of this in the Yasmin Cover.
I have a team of testers called Cover(girls) on Facebook. They have been invaluable for providing me with feedback on design, packaging and everything else. I hope that when more women purchase Cover, they will be inspired to join.
Cover is manufactured in Sydney, Australia. Many have asked me if I plant to manufacture in China. The answer is no. The design process is long and the possibility of quality issues great.
Instead of Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections, I plan to design for the year as my customers are based in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. As it is February in Sydney now, we are sweltering in heat and humidity. Meanwhile, I know that the Northern Hemisphere is suffering through one of the coldest, snow-filled winters.
I'm also planning to offer a degree of customisation to you.
Please let me know what you think of Cover and send any comments and questions my way via this site. I'm also very active on Instagram and Facebook. You can follow my daily adventures there!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Instagram and Facebook!