The Bold Babe Series: Laura Smith - Worse for Wear
1. Where are you originally from and where do you live now?
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and spent the first 30 years of my life there, until I moved to southern California for a couple of years, then 7 years in Austin, Texas and now finally two years in Richmond, Virginia. Growing up in Cincinnati was a really interesting time, especially for me getting into motorcycling because I didn't really have any friends who rode at all.
2. How did you get into riding motorcycles?
I started dating this guy who rode motorcycles and I thought it was really cool. It was an activity that I had never really considered prior to meeting him and learning about it. He rode like a maniac, so I wanted to take my life into my own hands. So, we found a bike that was kind of a beater - an '82 Suzuki GS 450L, and that was the bike I learned on. I remember the first day that I took it out, I took it around a parking lot, and I ran into a parked car. There was literally one car in the parking lot and I ran into it. That was probably the most embarrassing moment learning to ride. Since then I've had about 17 motorcycles and have been riding for 20 years.
3. What was your favorite bike out of those 17?
My current one, a 2008 BMW R1200 GS that I just bought a month ago and have been riding it between snow and rain storms. The other one, I had a long time ago and I just recently repurchased another iteration of it. It's a 1986 Yamaha SRX 600, it's a four stroke single, so it's a thumper. It was imported into the US just in 1986. It kind of looks like a naked sports bike. It's kickstart only, and kind of hard to turn over. Takes me about 10-12 kicks right now, but i'm working on it!
4. Did you know any female riders when you started to ride?
I ended up teaching all of my friends to ride on that little Suzuki because I didn't really know any female riders at the time. Women were usually riding on the back and not riding on their own bikes.
5. What job did you have before starting Worse for Wear?
User Experience Design Consultant for Adobe. I've spent 20 years in software development, so this whole idea of switching over into apparel design and manufacturing was completely new to me and my boyfriend Scott, who was starting Worse for Wear with me. We thought, where do we even dive in? We decided I should go back to school and learn about textiles in protective apparel vs. just fashion apparel. I went to the University of Texas and took some classes on textile design.
6. What are some similarities you found going from your Adobe job, to designing technical riding apparel for women?
It is extremely different when you're talking about software design and development to something you can put on and wear. But some of the stuff carried over into how we were going to develop our apparel. The similarities are within the user interviews, the case studies, developing personas to figure out who are you making this for, and what are the problems they have with the current offerings that are out there. Then of course figuring out how to solve that problem.
7. Can you remember the moment you decided that you were actually going to pursue Worse for Wear?
It was essentially a night of drinking down at the Yellow Jacket with Scott. We were accustomed to the idea of making things ourselves, Scott was getting interested in making things like backpacks and other sorts of storage accessories for motorcycles and I had wanted to continue the idea of apparel. He had purchased an industrial sewing machine for his backpacks, so we kind of just said fuck it, let's do it.
8. What was the process after that?
That conversation at the Yellow Jacket was in 2012, and I didn't leave Adobe until September of 2015. I went back to school and started pursuing Worse for Wear while working at Adobe.
We got our first samples made in October of 2015. We had already chosen the fabric but just needed to refine the fit and make sure that the jeans fit just as well sitting down as they did standing up. After that we started banging out samples and making sure the pattern could be constructed properly, and reinforcing all the points that needed reinforcing for safety purposes. While we were doing this, we were designing our factory. We started production at the end of April of 2016.
9. What have you noticed about the female riding gear market over the last few years?
There's that saying "a rising tide lifts all boats" and I feel like the other entrepreneurs who have started women's motorcycle apparel companies in the last few years, it seems like we all had that same idea at the same time, and decided to act upon it around the same time. I'm not sure if there was a major change in the industry, or we all just kind of got sick of the same old shit and decided to act upon it. But it has been a wonderful coincidence that we exist at the same time as Black Arrow Label, ATWYLD, Strange Vacation, Stellar Motor Brand, and GoGo Gear, all these other kind of smaller, niche companies that are popping up to serve the women's motorcycle apparel market which has just been terribly underserved up until this point. I'm glad that we're all here.
10. Do you think the growth in female ridership coincides with the growth in the female companies?
I feel like the companies that are coming out and the levels at which they can produce product are coming out at about a similar rate as new women are hopping on bikes and starting to ride. I feel like we're at a pretty good balance right now.
11. What is the hardest thing about running your own company?
The hardest thing about having my own business is coming up with a task list everyday. When I worked at Adobe I was in an individual contributor role where you have people assign meetings to you and your clients decide what your day-to-day activities are. It's that Monday through Friday, 8-5 thing where you're gonna work, then go to happy hour and get kinda blitzed and not think about work again until the next day.
But being a small business owner and an entrepreneur, you're thinking about this stuff all the time. I go to bed at night thinking about, “How am I going to grade that vest pattern?" That's not what I should be thinking about when i'm going to bed, but it's always at the back of my mind. What's the next product we're going to bring out, who do I need to talk to today to move the business forward, what’s the next event I need to go to so I can show off our product? I'm sure as we progress, things will start to balance out, especially when I can bring other people on board.
12. What is the most rewarding part about owning your own company?
Being able to go to events and teach women about the importance of protective apparel. Talking to them about our product, and even competitors' products, and the difference between something that has armor vs. no armor and being able to educate the women. I know i've done my job if they leave our booth with a greater knowledge and understanding of what’s going to protect them in an accident.
13. What are you excited about right now?
A couple new items coming out this year, we're going to continue making use of our abrasion resistant denim that we use in our jeans. We have a vest and also a trucker style denim jacket that will both come with armor. Expecting all of that to be out by the end of April, beginning of may. We will also be bringing out our denim in black which we've had lots of requests for.
14. Any final advice for women wanting to start their own venture?
Make sure you don't ever lose sight of the passion that brought you to start your business in the first place. It's very easy for entrepreneurs to get caught up in the day to day details and all of the other things that take you away from your core passion of your job. Those little things are the things I hire someone else to do for me so I can continue to focus on the big picture.
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