Emma Grella, Kate Palethorpe and Anna Thomson are the co-founders of Fondo. What started as a creative passion project to address the current market gap for modern and trendy women’s cycling kit, has metamorphosed into an entrepreneurial business that supports women cycling at all levels.
Dalton Koss HQ talks to Emma, Kate and Anna about their desire to grow Fondo while simultaneously improving women’s cycling across the globe.
We all met while working for a food company. Anna and Emma were in the marketing team, while Kate was in product development. Someone came up with the idea to enter Around the Bay in a Day as a team. Coincidently the three of us had just started riding bikes. We entered the event and bonded over the riding learning curve, laughing at our first attempts of riding in cleats.
Our first cycling kit purchases consisted mostly of drab patterns and heavy text logos. As we continued riding we noticed there wasn’t any fashionable cycling kit for ladies that wasn’t pink. This is how Fondo started. Instead of lamenting the lack of fashionable, fun and sexy women’s kit we created a new line that moved beyond pink lycra and florals. We discussed the concept for about 12 months before we actually took the jump into manufacturing.
When we started Fondo it was almost by accident. The three of us were at a crossroad with our careers. We were, and still are, working full time day jobs while we manage and grow Fondo in our spare time. When we initiated Fondo it was as simple as lets just do this. We became creative entrepreneurs overnight. Moving from the conceptual design of the kit to manufacturing has been the hardest part in realising Fondo. A lot of time went into researching cycling clothes manufacturing. We found that many of the companies that manufactured cycling kit were not flexible, preferring to stick with their designs rather then meet the needs of a new customer. As Fondo, we wanted flexibility to design our own kit and not rely on other designs. That was the whole point of Fondo, to design something new, fresh and appealing to women across all age groups.
We eventually found a manufacturer that was willing to design our kit but unfortunately this company didn’t take us seriously. There was the usual discrimination that women’s cycling constitutes a small market. The manufacturer wanted to use their own branding and had different ideas as to what our product should look like. It was a difficult 6 months; we knew what we wanted but didn’t know how to get there.
Using our networks, we eventually found another manufacturer who was based in Italy, one who produced good quality products and had an excellent reputation. Our account manager was also a woman and she understood what Fondo was trying to do and supported us in realising our company. She was very patient and explained all the manufacturing nuances that one doesn’t know if you are not in the manufacturing industry. By being flexible, our designer was open to our ideas and most importantly provided us with an excellent chamois for our kit (a must for anyone who wants to be comfortable in the saddle!). All of the sudden our concept became tangible.
When we received our first prototype, we were very excited – it was amazing! Emma made a trip to Italy to oversee the manufacturing process. It was a wonderful experience and was very reassuring for Fondo being a small and new business. The owner of the company, a wonderful older Italian man, spoke to Emma during her visit. Keeping in mind that this company makes kit for pro peloton teams, the owner was highly supportive and encouraging of our work emphasising that we are the new and young generation filled with fantastic ideas that need to be realised. Receiving these words made us realise that Fondo was at the right manufacturing company.
Having a go is the key; we would not have done this as individuals. We had to put our own time and capital into Fondo. Since we started Fondo, we have received a lot of support. Fondo has also reciprocated by giving a lot of support to women’s cycling. To hear our customers and networks confirming how well Fondo is doing is really nice and satisfying. As we continue to ride we know what we like and want for Fondo. We listen to women and our customers and tailor our designs to address the issues they raise. Fondo injects fashion for women who are into cycling and are fashion conscience. Although Fondo took time to develop, we are doing what we love and delivering a product to fill this large gap in the market place.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; just keep going. Don’t let your fears stop you.
Developing Fondo from a passion project into a successful business taught us some key lessons including:
- Communication: with three co-founders of Fondo we have to make decisions collaboratively. Everyone needs to be kept in the loop across all decision-making.
- Honesty, Integrity and Trust: You need to trust in each other and have the confidence to make decisions.
- Courage: move beyond your fear by just doing it. Two sayings we apply at Fondo are: “This time next year you wish you started today” and “It is always to beg for forgiveness then permission”.
- Inquisitive: always be inquisitive, ask questions. It is the only way to become knowledgeable.
- Respect: be respectful to everyone around you no matter if they are your customer, colleague, family member or friend.
- Passion: love what you do. Being passionate moves beyond fun as it gives you that edge. Fondo doesn’t feel like a job. It is fun. We never thought we would be those people who love their work.
There have been a few challenges growing Fondo from a passion project into a business. When we started to design the Fondo kit, we wanted women to freely mix and match tops and bottoms, a bit like finding the right bikini for your body shape. However this makes ordering challenging – it can be difficult to know what sizes to order when we haven’t been in business long enough to experience any trends.
Overseas manufacturing is also a challenge. Waiting for designs and stock can be stressful at times, specifically where there is high customer demand and no product to fulfil that need. Additionally, we have to be mindful of northern hemisphere holidays, for example, the whole of Italy shuts down in August, meaning Fondo has to timetable and organise production and manufacturing to avoid being caught out. As mentioned earlier, finding a reputable and good quality manufacturer took time.
All of Fondo’s co-founders work full time in day jobs, so we need to be organised and ensure we meet at least once a week to make decisions and discuss our next steps. Fondo’s success has come from networking, both face-to-face and online. We have learnt to be open. There is always someone who has a connection and can assist. Never underestimate the power of a conversation. Fondo receives a lot of support from the local community especially from the many wonderful female cyclists. The women’s cycling market in Australia continues to grow. Fondo has opportunities in this market place and being a business led by women for women strengthens our brand in this space.
Two years ago, we joined a ride at Tour Down Under. Most of the women were left behind as the men sped off into the distance. We learnt a lot from this experience so when Fondo hosted a ride to Wilunga Hill for the 2015 Tour Down Under, we ensured no one was dropped whether they were female or male. Fondo’s customers came from across Australia, totalling around 75 riders. It was wonderful to meet our customers. There was a steep hill, but we all made it shouting and encouraging each other along the way. There is nothing more powerful then getting a group of women together to egg each other along. We all rejoiced and connected through the love of cycling.
Our next greatest challenge will be moving Fondo into the international market space. We have just launched a Fondo Ambassador program to advocate and promote our business internationally. Catching up once a week to discuss these initiatives is important for growing Fondo beyond our Australian shores. These weekly meetings form part of our business discipline; it is our Board Meeting. It can be risky going into business with your friends but we put our friendship before Fondo. We all have different skills sets. It helps to cover all aspects of the business. Emma is Fondo’s self appointed Chief Financial Officer, Kate is Fondo’s legal team and Anna leads and manages Fondo’s marketing, PR, networking and brand ambassador. We believe that women and physical activity will receive investment in the long term.
At Fondo, we all believe in looking after our health and wellbeing. We do a lot of cycling, practice yoga and meditation and support exercise in general. This keeps Fondo going. All of us need to have reflection time in a relaxing environment. Creating the second Fondo range was draining and hard. There was a lot of pressure, high expectation and we didn’t want to release something poor or second rate. We did a whole range and then scrapped it because we weren’t happy with the idea. We are releasing a new Fondo range very soon; we are incredibly excited.
We keep an eye on fashion trends and work with people who can help achieve Fondo’s vision. We stay true to Fondo’s philosophy and founding principles. There has been a conversation about designing a men’s range, based on feedback from male cyclists, but at the moment we really want to focus on women.
We need to create new visions for Fondo’s product line. What is next and how do we achieve this? If we don’t continue to create, we run the risk of doing the same thing. Once you are in a business there are always new opportunities. It is important for all of us to step out, carefully address each opportunity and then focus on delivering just one creative idea. It is important for us to keep having a go until one of the ideas is successful.
To learn more about Fondo and how to be part of their monthly women’s rides, please click on the links below:
Fondo website: http://fondo.com.au
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: FondoCycling