The other day I found an old Joann Fabrics bag with a few yards of leopard print dancewear fabric that I bought over five years ago. The original project? Get me a pair of mountain biking shorts. I had been riding in leggings for years because nothing from a mountain bike brand fit me. I was tired of being uncomfortable and felt out of place.
I don’t consider myself a seamstress – sewing makes me want to break things – but I was frustrated by the lack of clothes for a sport I was obsessed with. It couldn’t be that hard to design shorts, could it? Well, that leopard print fabric is still uncut, if that tells you anything. I had a good laugh finding it stuffed in a corner of my house, as it reminded me of how long my now year-old mountain bike clothing brand, cosmic dirtwas being made, and how he was destined to be bigger than me.
I have always been outdoors. I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon in a family that spent their free time camping, hiking, rafting, biking, and cross-country skiing. As an adult, I moved to Bellingham, Washington, and became totally fascinated with mountain biking. Anyone who has ridden this town will tell you that the access and trails are nearly unmatched. The sport quickly became my whole life, but I still felt like an outlier, like the sport didn’t love me back.
My years of frustration came to a head in November 2020. I read an article purporting to be a roundup of kits for “plus size mountain bikers”, only to find that the term described two women who wear size XL, which corresponds to a 14 or 16. In fact, size 16 is medium for American women, and framing that size as plus leaves out many of us humans who range from size 16 to 30 and up.
I haven’t been an XL since I was 19 and 100 pounds lighter than I am now. I’ve been active all my life and never adapted to women’s clothing designed for the sports I play. And yet, here is an article—one of many I had seen—using the big size mid-size body tag, like people like me just don’t exist in the world of action sports.
So I took my anger out on the internet and spent a few days screaming on my Instagram story about the state of the outerwear. I talked about my experience in the cycling industry, how hard it was to find clothes that suited people like me, which brands suited me and which brands I didn’t like at all. I discovered that I was not alone: so many people had questions for me, and I ended up doing a Q&A session on topics such as cycling suitable for large bodies and how to motivate yourself to ride with people faster than you. I discovered that I had organically created a small community of people like me, who also didn’t feel seen.
Someone asked me if I had ever started a cycling clothing brand. “I don’t have the time or the money,” I replied. “But if you have any of those things, let’s talk about it.” I laughed it off. But here’s the thing with social media: you have no idea who’s watching.
The other half of New York-based Cosmic Dirt, Heather Kinal, slid into my DMs that day and quickly became my angel investor, business partner, and close friend. Heather is an avid biker and former shop co-owner, and while she’s the opposite of the body spectrum, she had similar gripes about bike wear. Nothing was what she wanted either. As co-owner and accountant of a large food distribution company (and founder of Rooted MTB Festival in New York), she had business experience that I didn’t have. The first time we spoke, we tried to figure out how any of us could trust someone across the country with a company like this. I was afraid to invest the time and effort into designing something I cared about, only to see the funding or the business fail. Heather was worried about spending time and money on someone who wasn’t going to really deliver on her promises. Game, set, game.
We started a Google Doc with ideas almost immediately. We originally planned to be an American custom mountain biking apparel company with custom women’s apparel. We quickly realized how difficult it would be to scale, so we scrapped our original plan to make it bigger and better.
We still manufacture in the USA, but decided to design clothes that fit a wide variety of people for mass production. We removed the “for women” part because clothes don’t care what your gender is, and neither do we. We don’t want to tell our customers who they are. We prefer to spend our time telling you who we we are and what is important to us.
Many brands spend their time trying to tell you what you need and who their ideal customer is, which leaves out a lot of wonderful humans. Other brands claim to be inclusive but offer nothing above an extra large. Many companies will claim they are for anyone and every body, but the truth is that it is almost impossible. I want to be the first to tell you, we try our best and we’re not perfect.
We currently have a range of graphic t-shirts, water bottles, hats and other accessories and are developing a full range of technical clothing for sizes XS to 4X (which currently does not exist in any cycling clothing) . We also organize a Kickstarter Campaign, and we have just announced the launch of a product that excites me: MTB pants. Our 14 team ambassadors (women, trans and non-binary, all kinds of cyclists, not just mountain bikers) exemplify what we believe it means to be inclusive, welcoming and, above all, yourself.
Through it all, I had to overcome some pretty serious mental obstacles. I didn’t expect to be a big activist or a warrior for inclusivity. I grew up as a middle class white kid in predominantly white PNW towns with a conservative family and, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I didn’t really understand what it looked or felt like. diversity, or why it was important, for a long time. But I remember one day I looked at my Pinterest board and realized it was full of skinny models in clothes I could never wear because they were made by brands that didn’t wear my size. It was one of the first times I realized how much damage lack of representation can do to an impressionable mind, and I deleted the whole board.
Running this business at least eases my inner demons a little. I spent a lot of my life feeling like an outsider who didn’t belong in a sport I loved because of my size. But giving up isn’t really my style; I’m too stubborn for that. I feel more confident that I deserve to take the place I am in. And by learning to make room for myself, I learned to make room for others.
I couldn’t have predicted how many other people felt the same as me. Turns out more than half the world is tired of being pushed into a closet, dressing in potato sacks, and not trying to play sports because they don’t fit. I’m inundated with messages from people saying our brand makes them feel like they’ve been seen in the cycling world for the first time. We are building a community of people who want more inclusion from the bike and outdoor industries. I learned how important it is to listen, be open-minded, and create safe spaces for people who might not fit the mold the outdoor industry has been selling products in for so many years. long time. The big brands must mobilize and do the same.
I still have a lot to learn, and I want to recognize that I am a product of my environment and my privileges, not of my own making: I grew up in an active family with access to the outdoors, I call athletes my neighbors and friends, and might choose to work for a small wage in the outdoor industry. In some ways, however, the challenges I faced due to my height could parallel the challenges others might face due to their skin color, gender, or sexuality. I feel responsible for taking as many opportunities as possible that have been given to me to make a difference for others. This is where Cosmic Dirt comes in.
I’ve said it more than once, Cosmic Dirt is like a mushroom, growing below the surface where you can’t really see it, fertilized by a pile of shit, and one day we’re going to pop up above it all. Keep your eyes on us.