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In a quiet, leafy street near Earls Court, west London, a nondescript garage is abuzz with activity. The din is coming from a wing that houses the studio of Karta Healy, a thirty-something design entrepreneur and bike enthusiast. His studio is full of prototypes for his funky new cycling line, TWOnFRO, which promises to answer those nagging sartorial issues that go with biking, among them the question of how to look chic and stay safe.
Healy, who trained as an industrial designer at Central St Martins, has come up with such devilishly clever pieces as a tuxedo jacket which turns inside out, from traditional black to a reflective coated surface that glows in the dark. There are also cropped trousers, shirts, caps, knee pads, a cape, a skirt and a whole line-up of accessories such as reflector discs with magnets that you can just throw on to the frame of your bike. All the fabrics and materials are recycled from old parachute silks, which Healy studiously sources in China.
“As a cyclist, you move in and out of social situations,” he says. “On the bike, to the office, perhaps to a club or pub before heading home. TWOnFRO makes it possible to adapt, to make the transitions. These are all reversible garments, which won’t spell out ‘cyclist’, while keeping the rider dry, comfortable, stylish and visible.”
Sarah LeFerl, owner of cult Parisian style boutique Colette, was so enamoured with the line that Healy debuted during February’s Paris Fashion Week that she asked Healy to curate an entire show based on the love of bikes and recycled goods. “Do you Cycle? Do you Recycle? We Cycle!” goes the teasing publicity for the show, which opens this week and runs until June 20.
“It’s based on the love of the bicycle and creative recycling. A global movement that reduces landfills and brings waste to life,” says Healy, who has scoured the planet to produce products from lighting to clothing made out of everything from Japanese sake bottles to seatbelts and old skateboards. His own customised bikes, created from old bike parts, are a delight.
Healy is not the only biking evangelist. Topshop Oxford Circus has become a hunting ground for fashion-savvy urbanites frustrated by the ugly or overtly flashy line-up of clothing available in bike stores. Cyclodelic is a concession of bike accessories in the store set up by Amy Fleuriot, a London College of Fashion graduate.
“I’m a keen cyclist myself, and the range was developed in response to the lack of stylish yet functional products for women,” says Fleuriot, who rides a bright green-and-gold fixed wheel bicycle which she built herself. “It’s great for around the city but I’ve also done some long rides on it, such as London to Brighton and the Dunwich Dynamo – a 120-mile ride through the night from Hackney to the Suffolk Coast. I also have a bespoke gold ladies-frame trick-track bike that was customised by Ted at Fixed Gear London and I’m building up a super bling road bike for longer rides and races.”
Her choice in bike design is equally colourful. Accessories include rucksacks with a reflective wheel-print flap and bright leather trim, bright cylindrical saddle bag and printed silk scarves and cuffs. The clothing line, which launches in September, is bright, water-resistant and colour-fast. Styles include batwing sleeve tops with reflective detail, a windproof jacket and a tailored waterproof coat for smart commuting in all weathers.
“The accessories have been designed to look ‘normal’ when off the bike,” she says, “and the clothing will also be smart enough to wear into the office but also function on the bike.” There are panniers in orange and purple with metallic hardware. “Bike Bling for Geared up girls,” is Fleuriot’s mission.
The organisers of National Bike week, which starts on Saturday, have garnered a strong fashion following with Paul Smith, Giles Deacon and Vivienne Westwood all pledging their support and promoting the cause. For Deacon, biking is a way of keeping fit and offsetting the carbon miles he uses as part of his job.
Westwood is a lifelong convert. Seeing her on a bike, you would think that she was gently pedalling through idyllic country paths, so relaxed is her style. “Cycling is so convenient,” she says. “Because I never ride very fast, I don’t need a change of clothes – if necessary I walk up the hills. Sometimes I carry high-heeled shoes with me in the basket if I’m going somewhere.”
Having spent my first biking weeks in a construction worker’s fluoro-yellow gilet – beyond ugly – I quickly graduated to a Prada Sport yellow zip anorak. I can now be assured that at my next black-tie event, I can arrive in my Puma green satin trainers (heels and clutch in basket), Sophia Kokosalaki stretch LBD, bright orange MAC lipstick and a TWOnFRO tuxedo.