Meet Your Maker: Performance Couture

I love seeing the push towards chic cycling clothing. Designers with new ideas and a passion for cycling opening people’s eyes to cycling as something that is fun, sexy, and practical; you can feel good and look good. Nona Varnado is one of these designers, coming onto the scene with some fresh ideas and a new look at women’s cycling clothing. I had the opportunity to talk with Nona about her brand Performance Couture recently, and I’m happy to bring you this little interview with talented designer, cyclist, and world traveler, Nona Varnado.


GO MEANS GO: Tell me a little about how you got involved with clothing design, and how Performance Couture got started.

Nona Varnado: The Performance Couture project really happened because there were two simultaneous obsessions: fashion and cycling. Fashion is an overwhelming field with too much of everything, but as a consumer I almost never found pieces that were exciting aesthetically that could be fully lived in.
When I was working in India I had clothes handmade for me for the first time, out of respect for the local culture. They were traditional Indian garments that I had tailored to my measurements and updated to be slightly more modern/western. It was so exciting to enter a rainbow of colors and textiles, to work with design schemes and the human form. I was already thinking of garments that could work in two worlds: the Indian and American. I was thinking about how clothes could be true and authentic in two different paradigms.
Long before that I’d been a ‘lifestyle’ cyclist in NYC. I’ve been a messenger, a commuter, a racer and a recreational cyclist. Because of existing urban bike culture there’s a huge forward momentum in mens specific design from frames to clothes. Women specific cycling design always seems vaguely offensive to me; as if women who ride only want pepto-pink, easter egg colors or a little floral line art on clothing that is only barely modified from the men’s – and then there’s the usual made in china on extremely not earth friendly materials problems.
People of both genders in the cycling community are lovers of detail and design that unites experience and philosophy. I’m convinced there’s a lot of room for clothing to be a catalyst for good.

GMG: What’s your inspiration in design?

NV: People who have taken a chance, started small and made amazing, practical things that local communities all over the world have embraced. I’m thinking about: local shops like King Kog and Continuum Cycles in NYC; bag makers like R.E.Load, Bagjack, Bagaboo and Fabric Horse; clothing from Outlier and Swrve. Practical things that remind us that good design improves life and stylish things are a daily pleasure that we can feel good about.
As far as straight up fashion design goes, I think the Stella McCartney collection for Adidas and Y3 is something that I always go back to. I love checking out new anatomical design ideas combined with technical fabrics and doing the double check: would this look totally gorgeous? Can I sweat in it?

GMG: Describe the bike you ride most.

NV: Ha! That depends on where I am. I travel a lot and have been at the mercy of the international bike community for the last year. I got lucky in Berlin and San Francisco, but I’m dreaming for the day that I can afford the Dahon Tournado, a full size folding road bike with totally sweet components/styling. At home in NYC I usually ride a beater pink fixie or my long time companion, a Cannondale Cyclocross.

GMG: What’s a typical Sunday ride for you?

NV: In New York the typical ride is always Nyack, a local roadie training loop that’s A LOT more challenging on a track bike. I love taking the train out to the Hamptons and doing some fast miles out to Montauk on the well-maintained rolling roads. It’s a great ride alone or with a group.

GMG: What do you do when you aren’t working on Performance Couture?

NV: Online marketing/development and events management. I’m 29 so I’ve had the good luck of starting my career in the old school way of doing business, but growing up consuming new technology so I tend to work for start-ups who need to create new ways of reaching people. Plus after a certain point employers realize that you’re the creative one who can pull off wild ideas. Now I have to find jobs like that because I’ll never fit in with bean counters!

GMG: Where can people buy Performance Couture?

NV: – the online shop. Buying direct helps me out because setting up local distribution is a very time consuming and expensive process, particularly when small shops can’t afford to keep a large inventory or take a risk on an unknown.
We’re looking for local shops to carry stuff, as it gets picked up it will be listed on the website. So far pushbike SF carries several pieces. They co-sponsored the SF Style Ride, the Performance Couture launch. The plan is to repeat the Style Ride in NYC, DC, Boston and Seattle and hopefully pick up distribution, meet people and have a good time riding around stylishly.

GMG: Where is the clothing made?

NV: Right now everything is made in NYC. I’ve worked with awesome pattern makers and stitchers in California and it’s very possible that any larger production will be moved there.
My feeling with clothing manufacture is that it is important to establish real relationships, to know that workers are being treated fairly, that ethical decisions are being made and production is as local as possible to avoid the pollution of transport. Fashion, even at LVHM levels, is still about 1:1 relationships, particularly when it comes to manufacturing. I think that being forced to start slowly and be flexible about production has made me develop a deep appreciation for individual crafts people and that is not limited to the United States.
I’ve lived in rural Romania, which has a historically strong garment production culture. Look at the tags on your H&M product or indie hemp fiber t-shirt, it is very likely made in Romania (or Bulgaria) with Italian or Scandinavian management. That’s the world we live in and the important thing to me is to be there, to monitor that people are not being taken advantage of, that there is quality and love in the process and the end product.
I’m probably getting decades ahead of myself, but I’ve got family there, so if Performance Couture ever develops a European following, I know where to look for stitchers!

GMG: Do you plan to expand your line to include men’s clothing?

NV: Yes! I’m working on the prototypes for men’s wool shirts/jersey’s. There are a lot of companies doing great stuff with men’s clothes, and I’m not out to duplicate or compete with people who are already doing it. I’ve got a men’s hipster (aka. kidney warmer or cycling belt), but my prototype stitcher accidentally made the men’s samples with the women’s ribbon fasteners… and that kinda killed it. Men need manly, practical details – like the Chrome car buckle. Revised version TBA.
The mens pieces that I would like to expand to (womens as well) require extremely expensive technical fabrics and construction, which is almost impossible for a small operation. If I can survive until next season I want to come out with these awesome rain jackets for both men & women.

GMG: What is your spirit animal? (mine is a possum)

NV: Birds, all kinds. Anything that can flap its wings real fast and take off!

Stay tuned for more designs from Nona and Performance Couture. Men can expect something around Christmas, and the spring 2010 line looks promising as well. Follow the Performance Couture BLOG, the FACEBOOK PAGE and the TWITTER!  Also keep your eyes peeled for more Style Rides around the world. Thanks to Nona for her time, and GMG readers can expect a review of some Performance Couture products in the near future.

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