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Creative Women at Work: Alex Feechan from Findrå

— by Alyson Walsh

Photography by Phil Wilkinson

 

‘Letting Ourselves Go‘ was an empowering discussion on women’s cycling that I attended last year. Designer Alex Feechan had come down from Scotland to sit on the panel at ace London  cycle café Look Mum No Hands. – and we have been trying to have a proper chat about her award-winning activewear brand Findrå, ever since. Feechan studied for a degree in Industrial Design and Textiles at the Scottish College of Textiles (now part of Heriot-Watt University), an MA in Knitted Textiles at the Royal College of Art, London and upon completing her second degree spent over twenty years working as a designer within the fashion industry. Inspired by a love of mountain biking and her dismay at the lack of stylish and practical outdoor clothing available for women; Findrå launched in 2014 from Alex’s kitchen table.. The collection is designed from a studio in the Tweed Valley and most of the manufacturing is done in the UK. Steadfastly sticking to the principle that form follows function, Findrå uses colour, print and merino wool to bring women’s outdoor kit to life. I had a quick chat with Alex about life, style, sustainability and managing her business.

 

TNMA: What encouraged you to launch a business?

AF: In my spare time I did lots of cycling and mountain-biking. I used to bike with a group of strong women in their 30s and 40s. We would go out to buy some gear and the fabrics were horrible. At the time, 90% of cycle clothes were designed for men and any womenswear felt like an after-thought designed with the ‘shrink it and pink it’ mentality. I didn’t want to wear pieces designed for men, and neither did the other women in the group. We knew what we wanted and it wasn’t this hideous kit. We were just grabbing bits of sportswear and pieces we used for other things and making do.

I had been travelling internationally and it was hectic, juggling my career with my family life and three sons, but it was an amazing experience. My career had taken me all over the world and I gained great insight into what is involved in designing for international markets. For me, form follows function as a design principle – no one was making good-looking, hard-working outdoor clothes for women and so I thought of creating merino wool layers (that weren’t pink!) so that me and my bike group could feel good about ourselves. Cycling in Scotland (where you can have all four seasons in a day) I wanted to design layers and a system that was so lightweight it would work for all weather conditions.

TNMA: Where does the name Findrå come from?

AF: A couple of places. My maiden name is ‘Finnigan’ which is Celtic for fair female one. So that is the ‘Fin.’ Then in Scandi folklore ‘Rå’ are beautiful, strong, mythical creatures who look after the landscape. Then the ‘å’ was inspired by the circles on a bike.

TNMA: Where do you look for inspiration?

AF: I’m inspired by Scandinavian simplicity and the Scottish landscape as a backdrop. The history of Scotland is one of ruggedness, culture and people. People have strong characters here, they’re quite brave – which is a Celtic trait – but also friendly, warm and practical. Our clothing is for anyone who loves getting outdoors, people with busy lives who want to enjoy a healthy lifestyle in their free time.

 

TNMA: How do you find running a business?

AF: Running the business means juggling lots of balls. It’s full on. And the buck stops with you. Coming from a background in design – there was so much I didn’t know or have a clue about. And you have to get comfortable with that feeling of being uncomfortable. There have been times when it’s been really hard. It’s been a steep learning curve and I’ve realised that I don’t have all the answers, and that it’s important to talk to someone with experience who can help you navigate through. You don’t ever really switch off and you make a lot of sacrifices…That said, I do feel very lucky. I work five minutes from my house. I choose to live in Scotland. I knew there would be career limitations but I’ve been able to carve out my own path which is huge, compared to the minuses. I’m very fortunate to have been able to bring my ideas to life.

TNMA: Do you still have time to cycle?

AF: Not as much as I’d like! Running a business can be all-consuming, you have to be physically and mentally strong and if you’re not careful you start to lose sight of why you are doing it in the first place. This year I made a New Year’s Resolution to exercise more, eat healthily and achieve more balance, and now I am much more productive.

TNMA: What is important to you when designing?

AF: We love the outdoors but respect the planet, so sustainability is important to us. Merino is a much more sustainable way of creating sports clothing than polyester, which doesn’t decompose. Wool fibres are breathable and react to the body’s changing temperature, keeping you warm in the cold and cool in warmer weather. Merino is temperature regulating, odour resistant, has wicking properties and is eco-friendly and sustainable. We use sheep’s wool from ethical Australian farmers, which is spun into a fine yarn in Italy. Scottish wool by comparison has completely different fibre – it doesn’t have all the properties we need. The seamless products are all made in the UK, so around 60 per cent of the product range is made in the UK, otherwise we source and work with the best ethical suppliers we can find overseas.

TNMA: What’s coming up?

AF:  You do what you can to be sustainable and innovative – last year we launched menswear and this year we have launched a jacket made of recycled plastic bottles. This is a big step for us, as we usually focus on merino wool and base layers. It’s taken around two years to develop as it took a while to get the fabrics right – and I’ve been wearing it for around 6-9 months, I always like to conduct a wearer trial on our products

Shop the latest Findrå collection HERE.

Read more Creative Women at Work features HERE.

 

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