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Stylish by Bike

Nona Varnado is the creative lead at the performance fashion design company that bears her name. Nona's  background in design, fashion, online & integrated media strategy, communications technology and implementation, social networking and bicycle advocacy ( from a feminine perspective at place her on the forefront of the new generation of urban living advocacy. Learn more about her at


Performance Fashion by Designer Nona Varnado

Above: Andrea White-Kjoss, President & COO of Bikestation in a Nona Varnado creation. All images Allan Crawford.

Click image above to see a slideshow of Nona's original creations!

WoBSoCal: Nona, why did you decide to focus on performance apparel rather than traditional "fashion?"

Nona: It really got started with a few midtown Manhattan office jobs. I would faithfully commute into work and have to hide in the bathroom to change into something appropriate, then do it in reverse on my way to the gym, a date or whatever. I'll never forget being called out by the accounting intern for being seen wearing spandex (in winter) before a very fancy company meeting. In general I did what I think most women do; find some athletic brands that make pretty things and then curate a "multi-use" wardrobe. That can be fun, but it can also be a huge pain and leave out certain functional details that make cycling more enjoyable and without a go-to brand that collection of things tends to look more like a mash-up and less a easy, beautiful set of everyday clothes.

WoBSoCal: What need did you see in the performance market that wasn't being addressed well?

Nona: I think the big missing piece is that fashion should be beautiful and fun; and sometimes being sporty and wanting those clothes to do something like athletic wear forces you to compromise that easy, happy feeling. In the same way I think that the moment a woman puts together a great outfit for a date or the office and then realizes it's not going to work on a bike - you've just lost the desire to ride at all. That's where I think performance fashion has the ability to streamline buying habits (buying 1 instead of 2) and to help women remove the barriers to riding a bike anywhere while making it feel special. 

WoBSoCal: Tell us about the types of fabrics you choose. What makes a fabric the right choice for performance apparel?

Nona: I'm completely obsessed with materials and textiles, particularly their ecological impacts and the new innovations happening to make usually awful polluters shape up. The first consideration is always - what is going to be the most comfortable and the most beautiful? I work with Schoeller AG and other companies that have a commitment to producing environmentally responsible performance fabrics, but in my heart I suspect that natural fibers -cotton & wool- are some of the best answers. Like wines, blends are an art form.

Spandex itself is petroleum based, a fact usually overlooked by the 'green' cycling industry and sometimes even recycled PET polyesters can be more harmful than a new polyester. It takes a lot of time to understand and source things responsibly. Even in 2012 unless you're willing to pay astronomical prices and still compromise on looks - performance and eco-friendly are generally mutually exclusive. Waterproof and reflective materials, for example. You just have to hope that industry develops alternatives faster and be more efficient about what you must use.

On Left: Andrea White Kjoss. On Right: April Economides of Green Octopus Consulting.

WoBSoCal: In this first image we have pieces for both ends of the weather spectrum. Tell us about what Andrea is wearing on the left and April on the right.

Nona: Andrea is wearing the NV Riding Cape. It was the first successful sample using a recycled PET plastic fabric made in the USA called "Performance Tweed" originally commissioned by Rickshaw Bags out of San Francisco. They asked me if it was possible to use the material in an apparel application and I came up with an extremely low-waste design that includes reflective details and a hood. It's completely water and windproof and pretty heavy due to the material, which is great in cold or bad weather. The sample has a plush velvet liner with a smartphone pocket on the inside, decorative epaulets on the shoulders, hook and button enclosures. I'm hoping the retail will be $195 but the potential cost range is between $195-245. As of Jan 1 we haven't gone into production, but should be very soon. Because everything is made here in NYC our production times are usually a month and are then immediately available.

April is wearing the NV Womens Jersey. It's everything that a cyclist would expect in a performance jersey: fast drying, sweat wicking spandex, with back pockets and a cut that's lower in the back to make serious riding comfortable. This isn't the jersey you'll see on 99.99% of all bicycle riders - it's a custom made garment. I've never used a pattern template or had anything produced by a known cycling company. It's not that 'Champion Systems' and those companies products are bad - I'm just doing something different. I make patterns based on the bodies of women I ride with. The first version in 2010 has had two major updates all based on rider feedback: it's longer, more generously cut and the exact types of materials have been refined to be super comfortable and more durable. MSRP: $125.

WoBSoCal: Help us understand the fascinating juxtaposition with women-bicycles-safety and fashion. Help us understand why fashion is crucial to bicycling making further strides in popularity with women across the country.

Nona: It's been documented in almost every newspaper in the country that young girls don't want to do anything that isn't attractive and cool. And that most grown women don't want to do anything that they see as dangerous. All of that really comes out of the way that cycling has existed in this country: it's acceptable to ride a bike everywhere until about ten years of age, or as adults only Type A personalities in road spandex, or recreational mountain bikers on weekends. All categories being male dominated.

Where do women and girls fit into that? Everywhere. Women and girls now in unprecedented numbers can chose to race competitively, but where most of us are isn't racing or recreation. For better or worse, a huge trend that's generally referred to as 'cycle chic' has brought cycling as transportation to the public eye through blogs, bikes in fashion advertising, designer's runway shows, celebrity media and local trendsetters (you know who they are). The good thing about that is that it takes away the stigma of a bicycle being what you have if you can't afford a car and turns it into a desirable luxury. The bad thing is that it delays important practical discussions on how to go from here to that lovely image in a shop window or newspaper.

WoBSoCal: Tell us about your recent OC/LA/Long Beach visit. How did you find the bicycle culture in the different areas of Southern California? What surprised you?

Nona: The biggest bicycling surprise I've ever had was visiting Orange County two years ago and seeing a guy in tight black clothes on a black fixed gear with neon green tri-spoke wheels cruising through four lanes of stopped rush hour traffic. That's when I started realizing that many of the successive trends that I've I've seen in NYC (and other cities in Europe & Asia) are not only possible - they're actively happening in SoCal. My entire life I've avoided Southern California because I hate car culture. It's stressful, expensive, terrible for the environment and I hate sitting still that long.

In New York City, I've enjoyed the early fixed gear street racing scene that happened several years back, track racing at our terrible "ghetto-drome," the rise of cyclocross racing, the joys of being part of a herd of roadies riding up our main route, but the most interesting experiences have been non-competitive. Tons of funky clubs and tiny neighborhood groups forming to get people to start riding or start exploring the world around them. Now we have tweed rides and style rides and people dressed up like a parade for any number of reasons. It's delightful. NYC (like SoCal) is used to strange things, people and movies being filmed in our backyards so it's easy for us to take all these strange herds in stride.

Where we have huge problems is in local government and community boards - a problem that I was flabbergasted to see wasn't much of an issue in LA or Long Beach! It was amazing to see the solidarity that local government has for cycling in Southern California and sad that in my own city we've made so much progress, but are so held back by the powers that be. And that's what I talked about over and over with cyclists and cycling advocates in LA and Long Beach. That riding around is super fun, even within the existing car infrastructure, and that everyone feels really optimistic that their community boards and leaders are going to support what might be the most important environmental and human issue facing Southern California.

On a personal level the advocates and business owners I talked to missed living in cities with bicycling infrastructure and culture already established, but are so committed to making a real impact that they've dedicated themselves to being here. And that's really inspiring.

Inspired by Nona's creations? She's currently looking for the right partners and financial solution to taking her collection to stores nation wide from it's previous state as a small run seasonal and made to order business. Contact her at

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    Women on Bikes SoCal - Stylish by Bike - Performance Fashion by Designer Nona Varnado

Reader Comments (1)

Oh my dear, I love this new trend so much! It makes women on the bikes look fashionable. Now we do not need to choose between style and comfort any more, we can combine them and look awesome. Besides this trend with bikes is extremely healthy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 3:05AM | Unregistered Commentertyping speed test

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