When we think of influential people, we often default to Time 100 types — Oprah, President Obama, Steve Jobs. No doubt the leader of the free world has clout. But what about the guy making your bike commute more comfortable, creating fabrics and garments that can replace your typical urban attire with performance-oriented equivalents while keeping your crotch area breathable? This guy moves mountains in our world, and he’s Alex Valdman, Design Director at Easton-Bell Sports, the man behind the Giro New Road collection. Valdman is a third-generation garment maker, founder of his own clothing label, HomeRoom, and one of the key designers behind the Levi’s Commuter line. We caught up with him to talk about his work with Giro, his perfect last meal and his inspirations.
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Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. What separates the men or women from the boys and girls are tools and what they can build with them. Everyone should have a decent understanding of a craft.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Running a business and designing new seasons as it all overlaps. Chaos.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I’m extremely excited about the current project at Giro and what the team is creating. We are halfway done with our spring ’16 collection and are starting to proto some early concept pieces in Italy this week.
I’m inspired by working with masters that specialize in all the components that I use to create.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. Merino underwear.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: I’m inspired by working with masters that specialize in all the components that I use to create, whether it is someone who has spent 25 years designing fit for competitive cycling, a merino knitter with a lifetime of knowledge or a head of a company that has governed a brand successfully for most of their career. These are the people that inspire progress, and from that we move the needle further.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. Nothing at the moment. I’ve been stuck on getting through my stack of magazines. Most of them are Japanese. I have no idea what they say. But the layouts and photography are great. The last book I read was on vacation, Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. I make a mean ramen.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. Meat. Cheese. Beer.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. Don’t change anything.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As someone who made a difference.
Q. Talk about urban functionality with cycling clothing. Is this a new idea? Where and when does it come from?
A. Urban functionality in clothing as we know it in America comes from repurposing mountaineering and work wear to withstand the rigors of weather and durability that is essential for commuting on two wheels. My point of view on this from the start has been that cycling is much more native to the town environment than mountaineering. But for decades there were very few well-made garment systems that could provide a cyclist with weather protection, moisture management, temperature regulation, durability, quality and, most importantly, blend in with the rest of their wardrobe.
Q. What are the main challenges to creating ideal clothing for commuters and how have you overcome them?
A. The most exciting part of creating enhanced clothing is starting from the yarn up to develop a technical fabric that is disguised as a non-technical textile. This has been the key to enhancing the comfort and function of garments that aren’t usually considered to have those attributes.
Q. Tell us about the proprietary fabrics you’ve created and take us through the process of making them.
A. We spec and develop a good amount of fabrics in our line, which is a luxury as a designer. You get exactly what you feel is missing in the world. One of my favorite pieces that came out this season is the mechanic jacket. It’s a waterproof-cotton-faced 3 layer that’s constructed to withstand years of abuse. We started by custom building a mid-weight left-hand twill with fine compact yarns, but still maintained strong ridge lines. We then tested several lamination options to achieve the result that we were seeking.
Q. Where is the frontier of design in cycling apparel and technology? What are the next challenges you’re looking to take on with Giro New Road?
A. The frontier in cycling apparel has many destinations. It really depends on the experience and what you’re participating in. Every activity has a different set of needs. It’s imperative to respect the expectations that racing versus riding versus commuting have. But there is one common denominator between these activities, and that’s making the clothes disappear on the body so as to not distract from the cycling experience.
Q. Safety is an issue for cyclists in cities. Is that something you’re thinking about in clothing design?
A. Absolutely. We use a lot of abrasion-resistant fabrics that have personally saved some skin. The New Road collection has options for the person that wants to be visible and also options for the person that may have other components that they use for visibility such as lights. We also recognize that not everyone necessarily wants his or her clothing to be reflective on the bike.