More than just another cycling brand

When you think about women’s cycling apparel what’s the first brand you think of? For many females in the sport the first brand that comes to mind is Fondo. Fondo, while still a relatively new brand, has become synonymous with women’s cycling and is now branching out into the tri space. AT’s Margaret Mielczarek speaks with the founders to get the lowdown on this iconic women’s sporting brand.

Australian Triathlete (AT): What is the story behind Fondo – how did the brand come about?
Fondo: Emma Grella, Kate Palethorpe and Anna Thomson founded Fondo three years ago. Back then, we were colleagues and started cycling at about the same time. We used to complain about the lack of good quality and great looking cycling apparel for women, so we took matters into our own hands.

AT: Over the years, it certainly seems like Fondo has grown into more than just a popular cycling brand – it’s a community and lifestyle. Tell us about that.
Fondo: Our local cycling community has been super supportive of the brand, so we try to give back as much as possible. We host free women’s rides and support local events such as the High Country Women’s Cycling Festival in April and Bicycle Network’s women’s program. We also have a women’s cycling team, which supports developing cyclists across all levels. We wouldn’t be the brand we are today without their support.

AT: What is the philosophy behind Fondo?
Fondo: Our aim is to develop the most comfortable and best quality performance apparel for women – apparel that looks great too. We want to motivate women
to have a go at whatever they’re aiming for and (hopefully) help them achieve their goals.

AT: What is the story behind the name? How did you come up with the logo?
Fondo: The word ‘Fondo’ means bottom in Italian, and we’re all about comfy bottoms!

AT: How would you describe your designs? How have the designs evolved over the years? Who/what is your inspiration?
Fondo: We’re known for our bold kit designs but we’ve recently introduced a more ‘mellow’ range of separates – jerseys and knicks – to appeal to a broader market. Our current range features a fresh purple colour way for our signature Disco kit, as well as two jerseys in shades of lilac and purple, and charcoal bib knicks (complete with a glitter logo on the butt!). We like to think our designs are the right balance of feminine and edgy. You won’t find boring black knicks and block colour tops in our range!

AT: Describe the design-to-production process. Given the growth of the brand over the years how has this process changed over time?
Fondo: When planning a new range, such as a winter jacket, we develop a list of ‘must have’ features based on our own experiences. Essentially, we list what we liked and disliked in other products, and what we wish we had. We then work with our manufacturer to turn our list of features into a product. This usually involves fabric swatches and a few prototypes, which we test until we’re happy with it. In terms of patterns, we’re all involved in the process and we take inspiration from all over – from floor tiles to photographs of landscapes! Once we’ve agreed on some concepts, we then choose our range colours. Our graphic designer then turns our ideas into concepts and we fine-tune these together. For every kit design we launch, there are half a dozen we reject.

AT: What do you think is the most important thing when designing training and performance gear?
Fondo: We trial everything ourselves. When developing a new product, such as a winter jacket, example, we source samples up to a year in advance and take it through a rigorous testing process.

AT: What are three things you would like to tell people about the brand? What makes Fondo stand out from its competitors?
Fondo: We’re 100% for women – we’re not a men’s brand making a smaller or ’girlier’ version of their product. We’re athletes too, so we understand what works and what doesn’t. Everything we do is specifically for women in sport – people like us. We believe we have the comfiest kits. So many customers own numerous kits – some have bought three or four of the same kit because they love it so much! But don’t just take our word for it … try it for yourself. We all have day jobs – we’re not as big as we look! Fondo is something we all do in our spare time, because we love it and want to give female athletes access to amazing performance apparel.

AT: What have your main business challenges been so far – as the business has grown – and how have you overcome them?
Fondo: The cycling apparel market is much tougher than it was three years ago, when we launched, with many great brands doing women’s cycling apparel. While competition is tougher on us, it’s great for female cyclists who are now spoilt for choice.

AT: How has the brand evolved and what are your goals for the future? Fondo is currently a women-specific cycling performance and apparel brand. Have you thought about branching out to menswear also?
Fondo: We definitely toyed with the idea of doing a men’s range because it’s such a big growth opportunity. Eventually, we decided to focus on what we know and decided to do it really well – performance apparel for women.

AT: You’ve recently branched out into the tri space with you new Ibiza triathlon suit. Tell us about that and what made you make that decision? Fondo has been around for a while, why has it taken so long to branch out into the tri space?
Fondo: It took us a couple of years to get the confidence to try something new. We’re still very young and small, so we spent a bit of time learning about things like order volumes, stockists, and the manufacture process before we felt ready to take the plunge (pun intended) into the triathlon market.

AT: How does the Fondo tri suit stand out from its competitors?
Fondo: We’ve applied everything we learnt about cycling to a tri-suit. Compression where it counts, flat lock stitching, laser-cut bands, storage, quality Italian fabrics, a women’s-specific cut, and a gorgeous design.

AT: What has been your proudest moment working with the Fondo brand?
Fondo: Two moments stand out – the first time seeing someone we didn’t know riding in our kit and the launch of our women’s race team two years ago.

AT: What’s your favourite piece from the Fondo line?
Fondo: The Disco kit was the boldest in our first range and our firm favourite.
We were nervous bringing it out because it was so loud but people loved it as much as we did and it sold out quickly. This has since become our signature design and we’ve brought out two new versions of it – the aquamarine coloured ‘Ibiza’ kit and the purple ‘Tahiti’ kit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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