I met Leslie on the trail, always happy to be riding, and always a positive attitude as she learned new skills as a beginner rider. She told me a little about her business that she started, but it wasn't until I got skin cancer that I became seriously interested in finding out more.
I decided to interview Leslie and try out her product, and here is what I learned.
What got you started?
I was working in the tech field and wanted to do something different. I played golf and would spend up to 5-6 hours in the sun. Golf clothing available at the time, about 10 years ago, provided no sun protection or performance features such as wicking, stretch materials or golf-specific design details, and they had no style and poor fit. These materials were simply not as popular in golf versus other sports such as cycling, tennis, running, or yoga. I wanted to have the protection while out playing golf in the sun for hours, then people started using the golf wear for cycling, hiking and tennis and that's when I decided to start adding designs for these sports as well. At the time, few people in the US were worried about sun protection. In Australia, due to the ozone hole there, skin cancer rates are 1 out of every 2 people and kids actually are required wear hats with neck covering when playing on the playground at school. Sun protection clothing had become popular and available there since the 1990s. The United States has become more aware now (about 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime) and therefore sun protection clothing materials are more available and popular.
What was the biggest challenge in creating your product?
Although getting my initial designs, samples and testing done was pretty quick, It took time, 1 year, to get my first production even though we manufacture everything locally (in Northern California). Finding and ordering and getting the correct quality in the appropriate fabrics, sourcing prints, getting the colors correctly dyed, finding and managing production sewing shops that specialize in technical fabrics, (which is more complicated than sewing everyday clothing). Things often go wrong in apparel manufacturing– lots of things can go wrong! Nothing goes as planned. Managing your materials and production is not always consistent and there are many details specific to sewing technical fabrics that need to be carefully managed, such as needle type, resting the fabric before cutting due to stretching due to rolling a lycra-blend fabric on rolls at the mill, stretch thread type, tension, stitch size etc.
What are you most proud of?
These products have given athletes on chemotherapy, who cannot be in the sun for medical reasons, the opportunity to still play outside, has given people who cannot wear sunscreen for medical reason to still be able to be outside doing what they enjoy. I have received so many "thank you's" from adults and children alike, who can now continue to play and work outside. This has changed many people's lives for the better.
Who are the products for and why are they valuable? What are the products?
The products are ideal for anyone who spends time outdoors and wants sun protection in breathable, moisture-wicking sports clothing. The fabrics we use mechanically block and reflect UVA and UVB radiation-- they don't get their UV protection from being chemically treated, so the sun protection doesn't wash out, wear out or decrease when wet (something that happens with cotton and wool fabrics). Our products are UV protective at the highest available UVA and UVB rating: UPF 50+ which means less than 2% of the UVA and UVB spectrum radiation passes through the fabric. (By comparison, a regular cotton T-shirt provides about UPF 5 to UPF 8 protection, so about 20% of UVA and UVB radiation comes through, and twice that amount, 40%, comes through when the t-shirt is wet because the fibers stretch out). With these UPF 50+ fabrics we make many products, including sun sleeves, arm warmers, sun sleeves with top of hand coverage, neck gators, hand covers only, leg coolers, leg warmers, a shrug which covers arms and shoulders, T-shirts, collared shirts, skorts, shorts, pants, pedal pushers. Some are dressy, and some are basics. The accessories are unisex and most of the apparel is for women.
What is the primary goal of your business?
To encourage others to ride, hike, golf, whatever their outdoor sport may be, with mindfulness. To help others obtain the knowledge and the power to enjoy their outdoor sport without getting sun damaged skin. Her website, www.iconicsport.com, offers lots of information and links on how to better protect yourself from the sun, where and how to sample sunscreens, get the most protective hats, and how to detect skin cancer.
Shortly before interviewing Leslie, I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my face. Being an avid mountain biker and outdoor enthusiast, I became frightened. After chatting with Leslie, becoming better informed through her website, and trying out her products, I can say that I feel safe while mountain biking out in the sun! Thankfully, surgery removed all of the cancer and I am now cancer free. But, I now wear sunscreen every day, and Leslie's Iconic Sport line of products during all mountain bike rides.
Thank you Leslie!
Krista Gray wearing Iconic Sport sleeves and leggings
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