Business: Iva Jean
Owner: Ann DeOtte
Seattle can be an intimidating place to start bike commuting. There are safe routes to find, weather and geographical elements to deal with, and then there’s the gear. Oh, the gear. In Seattle there seems to be an abundance of black spandex and neo-green jackets, expensive road bikes, and all season-equipped road warriors.
So when Ann DeOtte first decided to start bike commuting she was intimidated.
“It was 2007. The Bike Master Plan was being created and at Berger Partnership Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, bicycling was a topic we talked about every day. I started to get an interest in the bike culture, but more from a civic and sustainability standpoint. It seemed so romantic,” DeOtte recalled.
She did the math and decided to trade in her car for a $100 vintage Motobecane.
“I realized I didn’t need my car — I could bike and bus. And I wanted to live on Capitol Hill and not pay an extra $500 for parking. So it was also a financial decision. It just made sense, it wasn’t some grand gesture,” DeOtte said.
But just getting on a bike to ride to work was harder said than done.
“When I started to bike, I thought I needed a fancy bike and all this bike gear. But I didn’t want to wear it because I am an aesthetically conscious female,” DeOtte said. “I wanted to be able to ride my bike to meet my friends and not be the only one in head-to-toe spandex.”
“At some point, I realized that this is Seattle; most people don’t have to dress up all that much to go to work. So I started biking in normal clothes,” she said. “Today, I’m a fair-weather, normal-clothes, no-shame-putting-my-bike-on-the-bus kind of biker.”
In 2009, DeOtte went on a trip to Europe, visiting Copenhagen, London and Berlin.
“I spent a month in Europe taking in the bike culture. It was really empowering to see women, men and families of all ages riding their bikes in everyday clothes. It was a real aha-moment for me,” she said.
Inspired by the European bike culture, DeOtte decided to bring that lifestyle back with her to Seattle and share it with others.
Then one day, DeOtte got caught in a rain shower. While this is not unusual in Seattle, she realized that a Gore-Tex jacket simply wasn’t enough.
“I thought, ‘If only I could just cover more than my torso’,” DeOtte recalled.
She did some research online and found that none of the existing rain jackets and ponchos worked for her.
“I couldn’t find any well-designed ponchos that weren’t so big and made from nasty nylon. The designs I found wasn’t anything I wanted to wear. I wanted more function and a product that wasn’t just for biking,” she said.
From there, she got together with some local designers and started to develop the first product in her Iva Jean clothing line: the Rain Cape.
“I started Iva Jean to provide products and resources that encourage women to incorporate biking into their everyday lives,” DeOtte stated. “There are so many women who need one more nudge and one less barrier to get on a bike. I’m doing this because I want more women to bike and this is one way to do it.”
DeOtte named her company after her grandmother, who was a big part of her life growing up.
“She was always creating and making things. She’s the one who took me to craft stores and taught me how to make stuff,” she explained. “Also, I knew I wanted to use a unique woman’s name to give the brand a more holistic image of a person, not just about biking. I see myself more as an industrial designer instead of a fashion designer. I don’t intend to design trendy or seasonal; I want my garments to be timeless. I want people to buy less and buy better.”
DeOtte’s designs –like the Rain Cape, the two-way reflective vest and the reveal skirt –focus on practicality, safety, and style on and off the bike.
“I got a lot of flak when I first designed the cape because it was gray. But it has a lot of reflectivity. I know safety is very important to women and to my market,” she said. “It’s possible to incorporate safety seamlessly and elegantly.”
DeOtte said she’s only focusing on women’s apparel for now because “no one else is paying attention [to women]. We’re still a small market but men and women have different needs. We care a lot more about community, safety and aesthetics. I know how I ride and want to inspire more women to ride.”
In addition to providing women with stylish, quality products, DeOtte hopes to create a community of women who bike.
“When more and more people see others riding, they realize that they can do it, too. It’s about community, teaching and sharing” she said. “When I first started, I was biking with friends who were already biking. They showed me how to get to work. It wasn’t rocket science but it was great to have someone with me showing me which route to take to work and how to put my bike on the bus.”
Iva Jean launched their first product, the Rain Cape, in fall of 2011. The product, as well as the company itself, have since been featured in the Huffington Post, Forbes, Momentum Magazine, and the Seattle Met, among others.
All products are small production and made right here in Seattle. DeOtte recently left her day job to give Iva Jean her undivided attention, rolling out new products and aiming to reach more cities and more aspiring riders.
In December, Iva Jean got financial support from 252 backers on Kickstarter for her new line of products, assuring continued growth and a sustainable business model for Iva Jean.
“It’s going well,” she said. “Here’s to hoping!”
Bikenomics is a feature series to spotlight the greater Seattle area’s growing bike businesses. Know a business that should be featured? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.