Images: Richard Lewisohn
Alicia Bamford felt the full, addictive force of cycling up mountains in 2010, when she joined a group called the Fireflies on a gruelling nine-day 1,000 km charity ride from Évian to Cannes via Les Grande Alpes. She was immediately struck by those awe-inspiring peaks, as the route took her on a journey up and over the most revered and difficult climbs of the Tour de France — summiting an average of three mountains each day. More importantly, it was a journey of self-discovery, of having to push beyond her known limits to reach the top and into a new state of mind. At the summit of her first mountain she knew she wanted to share this experience with other women and inspire them to get out there and ride.
Conquering that first mountain, Col de la Colombière, gave her an intense range of emotions, which contributed significantly to the conception of the women’s cycling brand, Queen of the Mountains which launched today on KickStarter.
From that moment Alicia went on to even more challenging and exciting cycling adventures. She had more pinnacle moments on mountaintops and in so doing, gained important life experiences both on and off the road that she wants to bring into the brand.
Whilst clocking up the miles touring and racing over the years, Alicia started to notice that there were certain things missing from her cycling kit that she thought women’s road cycling needed which went beyond just a well-fitted jersey.
“I wanted a brand that spoke specifically to women, that put them at the forefront and that captured the emotion of cycling — that feeling of freedom and exhilaration. It is that moment when you’re almost at the top of a climb and you can sense that you’re going to make it, you can almost see the summit and taste your own personal victory, you think, ‘Wow, I think I’ve got this!’ You get tingles and goosebumps all over. It’s a completely euphoric feeling! And that is what I want the brand to capture and to represent — those personal ‘Queen of the Mountains’ moments. I want to inspire more women to ride, to empower them to strive towards that feeling, both on and off the bike. And for women not to doubt themselves.”
As a result of this, Alicia’s idea to start a fresh new cycling brand for women started to take shape. After nine years in the corporate world working as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and then later at Diageo within the M&A team, Alicia was fostering the ambition to run her own business and was gaining strong experience to enable it.
The stars were starting to align and all she needed was the courage to take the leap and make it happen. With a little mountain philosophy and good faith, the business plan was written and Queen of the Mountains was born.
The process of building a brand began with extensive research on the position of women’s cycling to uncover what it was lacking and what could be done to improve it. One area was to reveal what the barriers were that discouraged women from getting on a bike.
“I had an assumption that part of the reason women were put off cycling was to do with the clothing available to them and not feeling confident whilst wearing it. The findings proved me right. Therefore one of my primary aims for the brand was to stop a lack of the right clothing being a barrier. I want women to ride more and not less because of the clothing, and I also want to build a community so women can really feel a part of the brand and the development of each piece. This is a core part of the brand and therefore we’ll continuously be taking on feedback from customers with this first collection.”
Alicia was also encouraged when her research revealed that women’s cycling was showing positive signs of growth and with the right support from a brand like Queen of the Mountains providing women with the best kit, community and support, she identified huge potential for it to be a success.
“I see things are starting to change in the UK and also abroad. There is a significant rise in the number of women cycling and women becoming more active in general, which is just fantastic. You can see it from the participation numbers at events and also just out on the roads — there is huge growth, and we want to contribute towards encouraging more women to become active and ride.”
The early stages of creating the first Spring/Summer 2016 collection saw Alicia selecting the pieces in her cycling wardrobe that she loved and analysing how they could be improved to make “the ultimate piece”. It was a process of thorough examination, tweaking, testing and precision to ensure that all the important elements in performance road wear for women were accounted for.
“I spent a long time researching the fabrics because each fabric sits and wears differently in different conditions and in different positions (on and off the bike). Once I had the ideal pattern I worked through several prototypes in different fabrics to find the right combination.”
And of course, at the heart of the brand are the mountains. Alicia wants to ensure they are somehow represented in each piece.
“Each collection will have a nod to a particular mountain or mountain range, taking inspiration from the flora, fauna and surroundings as well as the feeling and emotion from cycling up them.”
As she builds the brand, Alicia continues to get out on her bike as much as possible. Launching a business like Queen of the Mountains, having an outlet and a means to encourage the creative flow is essential, and cycling has an almost clarifying effect on this ideas process.
“I have quite a lot of creative thoughts on the bike. It is those moments when you have the space and time to be still and things just end up coming to you. Sometimes I don’t know where they come from, you just get into a bit of a flow of thought and I love that about riding.”
The next twelve months are set to be incredibly exciting for Queen of the Mountains with the brand launch this month through KickStarter and a host of events and cycling retreats lined up for the spring and summer. Alicia will be applying her own brand philosophy to each step of the journey to ultimately inspire more women to get out on their bikes.
“It’s about setting out to climb your own mountain, setting your own challenge, whatever that is for you. It’s about doing it for yourself and feeling that sense of achievement on the way up and when you get to the top.”
Queen of the Mountains is launches today through a KickStarter Campaign where you can order the Spring/Summer 2016 range and support the project. There are also a host of cycling events, such as regular Tuesday morning laps around Regent’s Park and a monthly bike-to-brunch to places like the New Forest and Brighton. You can find out more about them here.