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A Sad Farewell to Machines for Freedom

By Megan Flottorp

We got some unfortunate news when we learned that Specialized had decided to close its inclusive women’s cycle clothing brand, Machines for Freedom. This is after MfF spent a decade pushing for accessibility and inclusivity in our beloved sport, offering high-performance cycling gear for all shapes and sizes.

Acquired by Specialized in 2018, Machines for Freedom began as the brainchild of Jenn Kriske five years prior. After concluding that the options available for women’s distance cycling gear weren’t cutting it, Kristke took matters into her own hands and started designing women’s-specific road biking clothing. And not only did they create designs to accommodate all body shapes but they also used models of various sizes in their promotional material, so you could actually see what the gear might look like on your body type. It was a breath of fresh air in an advertising climate that offers us little in the way of realistic body shapes.

The sad news that they will no longer be this force for good was revealed on the MfF Instagram page by Kriske who continued to run the company after Specialized bought it. The tone was sombre.

“It is with a heavy heart that I make this announcement,” she said. “After eight incredible years, the difficult decision was made to shutter the Machines For Freedom brand. I am tremendously grateful for everything this brand and this community has accomplished in that time. Our influence in the industry is undeniable, and our industry-leading fit process changed the game for women riders in all shapes and sizes.”

Shortly after, Cyclingnews published a statement from Specialized stating that it would “always be grateful to Machines For Freedom and the way it inspired the brand to reimagine how to better serve women riders.

“While dissolving the brand was a tough decision on both parties, the lessons learned during this partnership will continue to influence and guide the way Specialized makes women’s products for the years to come,” the company added.

Although the specific reasons behind the brand’s closure were not specified, it follows an unfortunate trend in the cycling and retail industry writ large that illustrates how challenging it is for smaller players and even large brands to offer diverse options.

In a context where the pandemic-fuelled cycling boom is winding down, we are starting to see companies forced to make some hard decisions. This recent announcement follows one made several weeks ago that Specialized would be laying off around 8 per cent of its workforce globally, in what CEO Scott Maguire described as an “incredibly difficult decision.”

In another blow to the women’s cycling community, earlier this month, the UK-based women’s cycle clothing business VeloVixen revealed they have ceased production. A brand loved by many that has spawned an active online community, the brand’s co-founders, Liz and Phil Bingham, explained that it was simply no longer feasible to continue. Their statement provides some insight into the challenges smaller brands are currently facing,

“Whilst there is no single reason for our situation, some of the factors include: the hugely increased cost of products; energy price hikes and their widespread damage; changes in customer behaviour with ever-growing returns rates and appetite for discounts; far more expensive advertising rates; and the broader cost-of-living crisis,” they said.

We are disappointed to see both of these brands go, and it is with these considerations in mind that we remember it is more important than ever to spend our cycling budgets wisely. It can be tempting to reach for the most convenient(and cheapest) but whenever possible (and if our wallets allow), we should do our best to support the brands we care about and that make concerted efforts to empower the cycling community.

And, of course, the progress fuelled by these companies will not be forgotten, nor will the spaces they have helped build be abandoned. Jenn Kriske says it best in her departing remarks: “While the brand will no longer exist, the community – and what we built together – will. What we built is bigger than any single brand or company, and I am eternally grateful to be a part of it.

“Machines For Freedom is bigger than cycling,” Kriske added. “Always has been. Always will be.”