As we’ve discussed before, finding plus-size cycling gear can be challenging at best and downright demotivating at worst. Fat Lad At The Back (FLAB) is one of the brands trying to change that. Despite being rejected by Dragon’s Den (for its controversial name), Richard and Lynn Bye were determined to bring their vision to life. In 2014, they succeeded when they secured a nation-wide distribution deal for the brand which is proudly known by its Co-Founder’s former nickname.
They started with a men’s line, but women started asking ‘what about us?’ so Lynn turned her attention to the women’s range. She designed a completely female-focussed collection, which took into consideration women’s curves, women’s comfort and which would flatter every size or shape of the female rider. This week, we talked to her about the brand’s provocative name, the importance of community, FLAB’s strategy of inclusion, and what we can expect from them in the future.
FLAB has obviously established itself as a force in the industry but what has been most surprising about how it’s been received?
We have an edgy name, which some people completely misunderstood and thought we were being mean to fat people. We’ve definitely had some hate mail – irate men and women who can’t believe that we would have such a bitchy/offensive/cruel name. Ironically, many of the upset were thin people, being offended on behalf of fat people, which, frankly, says more about their attitude to FAT than it does about our name.
I’m fully aware of the pressure women are under to be perfect but some people have really failed to get that the brand is actually challenging the stereotype. I think some people just take to the keyboard without looking at who we are and finding out about what we do.
Not everyone gets our self-deprecating humour but wearing the jersey means you’re owning the joke. “So what if I’m a fat lass on a bike, now what have you got to say to me!?”
On the other hand, there’s also been lots of support. What has been the most rewarding part of seeing FLAB grow and the community that has developed around it?
We knew we wanted a brand with a community at its heart and growing that has come with its challenges. We are still a small company in a highly competitive industry and there’s always too much to do and not enough time or manpower, but the community has been an important part of our development.
Richard and I are humbled by some of the comments people have made to us. I can’t tell you the number of times we have heard ‘I bought a bike, but I only went out on it once because I felt so stupid in the wrong gear/or people were really cruel and I was called horrible names.’
The brand has genuinely empowered people to get on their bikes, make positive life changes and enjoy a healthier, happier life.
People come to Fat Lad/Lass at varying stages of their own personal journey and we’re with them through their trials, tribulations, enjoying their successes and supporting their failures.
We actively encourage people of all abilities to cycle together – getting more experienced cyclists to mentor beginners and the less experienced. We also bring many people from the community together at our annual Big Fat Bike Ride – a cycling Sportive we hold every year in our home town of Ilkley.
Why do you think other brands shy away from making bigger sizes despite the fact that there seems to be a demand?
Other brands have definitely responded to us. Many now offer 1 or 2 larger sizes but no one has the size range we offer.
Finding factories prepared to make larger sizes is a challenge in itself and the cost for manufacturing, transportation, and storage is around 30% higher which makes pricing difficult if you want to offer a full collection of sizing.
We’ve never pitched our gear at the ‘winner’ which is very unusual for a sportswear brand. If you look at the marketing campaigns of other brands, you see ‘thin perfect people’ who fit the stereotype of a cyclist or fitness fan and messaging about being the best. I think it’s hard to suddenly target ‘average normal people’ without undermining your existing customers who probably empathise with the perfect stereotype.
Speaking of which, what is your advertising strategy?
Just be real. We use customers in all our photoshoots – the happy smiling faces, wearing gear that actually fits regardless of your size, what you see is all real.
What are you most proud of accomplishing at FLAB?
When I started creating the women’s range, I looked at what was available and NONE of it took into consideration a women’s body shape. I have a background in fashion and styling, so I had an idea of what women should be wearing to make them feel comfortable and confident on the bike. I asked a focus group of women’s cyclists what they thought and with their feedback, I developed clothing which fits a women’s body shape perfectly and has proper curve through the bust, waist, and hip.
Our trousers are inspired by my most comfortable pair of high-waist jeans and have a high waist panel that fits snuggly and comfortably, supports your tummy and doesn’t cut you in half. Our tops and jackets are all longer in the body, so riders don’t feel exposed when they get off their bikes and our designs use clever tricks to draw the eye away from the ‘bits women say they don’t like’ and up towards the face and top of the torso. Absolutely everything has to look great on all the sizes we offer.
What’s next for FLAB?
People have started to copy our templates and deliver the same message about comfort and styling but we are working hard to stay ahead of the game. We’ve been joined by a talented young designer, so we are introducing lovely new patterns and colours into the range, more garments without the “F” word branding, so it has wider appeal and we are developing new items such as women’s bib shorts and MTB shorts in 2019.
We wish Lynn, Richard, and the rest of the team the best of luck as they continue making beautiful cycling gear that riders of all shapes and sizes can feel great in!