Learn more about Worse for Wear — a new all-women's motorcycle gear and apparel line based in Richmond, Virginia.
It's New, It's Cool, It's Made for Women - Worse for Wear
I've been vocal about the limited selection of women's gear on the market— especially when it comes to gear being made in the USA. However, strides have been made to produce women-specific moto items. I've been fortunate to unearth some of the designers who have taken a leap of faith and created fantastic items for women riders.
More Questions Than Answers
I'm also fortunate to have a super smart boyfriend, Greg. He uses Arduino— an open-source electronics platform —for his motorcycle projects and gadgets. He stumbled upon Worse for Wear, an all-women's motorcycle apparel company, on Arduino's blog. He passed the link along, and the post explains how Worse for Wear founders Laura Smith and Scott Saunders utilize Arduino's technology for their Impact Abrasion Testing machine. It was a really neat article explaining how the machine works and how it effectively tests how much time it takes to sand through a piece of fabric.
I was definitely intrigued by this small company based out of Richmond, Virginia not only because they create gear for women, but also because they are located right here in 'Merica! Also, when I went to the their website it didn't provide a lot of information— just that they were launching their gear in the Spring of 2016. They have other sections on their site, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading their "Our Story" section and a one or two journal entries, I was left with a lot of questions that I really wanted to ask Laura and Scott.
So I did.
For now, when it comes to Worse for Wear's main focus, they are going to concentrate on our lower half by providing high-quality denim. And this is great because it's incredibly hard to find everyday jeans that look hot, so I'm all for moto jeans that not only look good, but fit and protect as well.
So how did Worse for Wear begin and where are they going? As with more than a few great ideas, it starts with yeast and water...
Getting Answers: Interview with Laura Smith
LL: Who came up with the idea of starting Worse for Wear and why? Walk me through the process of how this all came to fruition.
LS: Like all brilliant business ideas, Worse for Wear was born one night while Scott and I were out drinking. I was sitting across from him on a wooden bench at Yellow Jacket Social Club (this was back when we lived in Austin), bitching about my lack of options in women’s motorcycle apparel. I’ve been riding close to 20 years, and in that time I’ve seen the options for women’s apparel grow, but none of it met my requirements. What I was looking for was abrasion resistant apparel that protects me from impact, offers options for water repellency and increased visibility to others while I’m on the road. I wanted all of that plus a proper fit designed for a woman. Additionally, I wanted durable, classically styled gear that was manufactured in the United States. The gear should be comfortable for all-day wear, with special attention paid to how it fits while seated on the bike.
“So make it yourself,” Scott said.
“What? How the hell do you do that?” I sputtered through a mouthful of beer.
“We’ll figure it out. How hard could it be?” he replied.
And that’s how Worse for Wear was born.
Fine tuning the pattern with our pattern maker in Austin, Texas. Photo: Stephen Pruitt @fluxionphotography
LL: Why the name "Worse for Wear?"
LS: You roll up to your destination after a long day of riding, killing the engine as you set your bike on its side stand. It’s just starting to get dark outside. The clouds are cotton candy stained with a purple that’s the same color you’d dyed your hair back in college. You just powered through the last 200 miles to get here before the deer started popping up on the road, dying to get stuck in your headlight. You pull off your gloves and stash them in your tank bag, making note of the dried bug guts you’re gonna have to wash off later. As you reach up to unfasten your helmet, you think about the little Amish girl who waved at you shyly from the back of the buggy you’d passed while riding through Ohio. Your body is pleasantly tired, fingers still vibrating slightly as you hang your helmet from the right side mirror.
As you climb off the bike and reach up to stretch, the day’s ride comes crashing down on you—so many miles, the twists and turns, friendly waves given and received from other riders, trucks passed, fleeting conversations with strangers at rest stops. The pie at that little roadside stand that you wished you had one more piece of right now. You feel more exhausted in this moment than you have in all your life, but also exhilarated and happy to be alive. It was a tough road, but you’d do it again in a heartbeat. That’s Worse for Wear.
LL: Who has the sewing/manufacturing skill set? Both of you? Just one of you? What sort of skills sets do each of you have to make Worse for Wear work?
LS: Scott and I bring a wide range of skills to Worse for Wear. Scott is a sculptor, a maker, and a web application developer. My professional background is in teaching and graphic design, and I’ve been sewing since I was old enough to figure out how to operate my mom’s old Husqvarna Viking machine.
Scott repairing one of the machines that was purchased over the summer. Photo: Laura Smith
More generally though, we’re both mechanically inclined and skilled at breaking down complex operations to figure out how things work. Over the summer, we purchased a dozen industrial sewing machines from a factory in Richmond that used to make children’s dance costumes. The machines were coated in greasy sequin shards and glitter. They came set up with motors we couldn’t use or that no longer worked. Sewing machines can be fussy and sometimes enigmatic—just like people—but if you figure out the way they’re supposed operate, they’re much easier to repair. Within a few days, Scott and I had replaced the motors and got most of the machines tuned up and running again. Many of them have ended up in our factory and will be used to make Worse for Wear apparel.
Scott runs some test fabric through the buttonhole machine to check for alignment. Photo: Laura Smith
The idea that we were going to make our apparel in a factory that we would design from the ground up was daunting at first, but has been a wonderful learning experience. We are humbled every day by the skills we learn from other industry professionals. The people we’ve met in the garment industry have been so helpful, guiding us on everything from fabric and trim sourcing, to pattern development, purchasing industrial sewing machines and upgrading the electric in our building to support a 2,000sf manufacturing space. We’re proud to say we’ve already been able to give back to the apparel community by helping other fledgling brands get started in the industry.
LL: What kind of gear/apparel are you guys interested in making? I'm assuming at minimum jeans, jackets, and t-shirts? Is there anything else?
LS: If there’s one thing we've learned from other apparel designers, it’s to start small and focus if you want to be successful. It’s quite a task to make a single garment from scratch, so creating a collection of 10-12 garments can quickly become overwhelming.
Laura sewing up a sample to check for fit. Photo: Scott Saunders
All of the decisions that need to be made for each garment—purpose, style, color, size range, fabrics and trims, construction process—become a large project to manage. For our first product, we decided to focus on a straight leg, mid-rise style of women’s riding jeans. Our denim comes with built-in abrasion resistance, so there’s no heavy liner or sacrificial outer layer to the garment. They come in two colors, indigo and black, and have removable, adjustable CE Approved impact protectors at the knees and hips. We’re offering them in sizes based on your natural waist measurement, which eliminates the mystery of numbered women’s apparel sizes. If your waist measures 31", that’s the size you order. By concentrating on a single style, we can fine tune our processes and make sure our customer satisfaction is solid before we expand to offer additional products.
We do have a few other products in the R&D phase right now, but I’m afraid that's a conversation for another time.
Click on to Page 2 to continue reading Laura Smith's interview.
It's New, It's Cool, It's Made for Women - Worse for Wear
LL: What's been the hardest thing so far in starting an all-women's motorcycle apparel company?
LS: The biggest challenge we’ve encountered in starting this company has been the sheer number of new things to figure out. We designed the jeans, of course, but also the factory where we’ll sew them, the website and other channels to sell them, and so on.
Every day there are more decisions to be made: Which thread colors should we pick? What types of seams provide the greatest strength in places where you need it most? Is it more efficient to place the buttonhole machine next to the bartack machine or next to the single needle walking foot machine? How do we represent our product and brand on our hangtags and all of our other marketing collateral? Will we use boxes or bags for shipping, and what size should they be? There are so many details to work through that it can start to be really overwhelming. It’s super fun though! We love being able to control every step in the process to make sure we’re not compromising on quality. As it turns out, the challenging part is also the part we like best. Really, if it wasn’t challenging, we wouldn’t be as interested.
LL: How are you guys planning to position yourself in the market? Meaning, do you feel like you have companies out there that you're competing head on against?
LS: Our plan right now is to make really good jeans that provide superior riding protection and help you look great both on and off the bike. If you examine their fit, form, and function, no one else is making riding jeans quite like ours. There are a number of other companies selling motorcycle apparel for women, but we don’t view them as our competitors. There’s a lot of room for growth in the market right now. The more options there are for women— in style, fit, and protection —the better off we all are.
LL: What are Worse for Wear's long-term goals? What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
LS: One thing we’re asked a lot is whether we’ll start making gear for men. We’re not planning to do that. We make quality motorcycle apparel for women who ride. Women are underserved in this market, and they deserve more choices. We’re concentrating on that, in order to do the best job we can.
The next step in our plan is to expand our product line. We'll keep our production in the United States, sourcing our materials as locally as possible without sacrificing quality. We have developed relationships with U.S. fabric mills to design custom technical fabrics for use in future products. Ideally, we’d like to bring more jobs to our area and contribute to the revival of U.S. apparel manufacturing. Right now, though, we’re doing this ourselves, and we won’t compromise on quality for sake of a hastily planned expansion. We’re not planning on selling our souls to become a big-name apparel company. We would much rather focus on doing things right than grow too fast and lose touch with what makes this meaningful to us.
Where is Worse for Wear headed in the next five years? We’d love to share our passion for motorcycling by giving back to the riding community. We’re looking into teaching women’s-only motorcycle safety classes, partnering with local bike shops to educate new riders about motorcycle maintenance, and more. Motorcycling for us is more than just a weekend activity—t’s a way of life. Considering the increase in the number of women riding motorcycles in the last 10 years, it’s clear our collective passion for riding is here to stay. We want to support this growing community every way we can.
Laura hanging out with Diana (Worse for Wear's new Marketing Director) and a friend's 1993 Harley Davidson FXR. Photo: John Saponara @jsapfoto
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