FLAB Turns 10: Interview with the Boss Lady
What is your favourite part about your job?
Some of our customers are really confident and come to us because they love the name and just want some kit that fits, others have had a tough time - society isn’t very nice to fat people. We call them the 180’s. Often they’re frustrated and easily upset and can come across as angry or difficult but they just need a hug, some kindness and some help getting gear that will help them cycle. They are our most rewarding customers. Selling cycle wear and posting nice stuff on social media seems fairly inconsequential, but it’s been really important to a lot of people and it’s been a privilege to have been part of so many inspiring and incredible stories.
What is your go-to week night tea?
I adopt a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ approach to meal times - it can go either way TBH.
What do you see as your biggest accomplishment in the past 10 years?
We disrupted the industry and for the first time made cycling accessible to people who’d been shunned by the sport. We were the first brand to use fun copy in our messaging and imagery of real people (our customers) of all shapes and sizes laughing and having fun together on their bikes. We showed that cycling could be a fun pastime that anyone could enjoy. Within months of us launching we could see the whole industry responding, with other brands offering bigger sizes and adopting a friendlier marketing approach.
We’re a small, independent brand, but as you’d expect from a fat lad, we made a hell of a big splash and that lasting ripple is our legacy.
Someone recently told me that FLAB has done more for cycling in the UK than all the other brands and organisations put together. It was a HUGE compliment from a man who’s been heavily involved in the industry for decades and who is deeply respected by it, so I was humbled by his comment even though I know that what he said has genuine merit.
What is your favourite office treat?
We have a Betty’s tea room in Ilkley with a vast counter of goodies and treats. Their vanilla slices and fondant fancies are delicious. I don’t know how they manage to get so much unctuousness into such a small thing! And then there’s the Fat Rascals - do I really have to pick just one?
What is one thing you wish you knew before you started Fat Lad?
The success of FLAB has been a double edged sword and that presents me with dilemmas on a regular basis. This isn’t what I want to do when I grow up but on a positive, I’ve learned a lot about people, attitudes, society and life - all of which I find fascinating and I’ve learned a lot about myself because of FLAB and it’s all part of my journey and what makes me think the way I do, now.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
They say behind every successful man there’s a woman and Fat Lad is no exception. Although Richard came up with the brand and concept and has naturally been the face of Fat Lad, I’ve been running the business for most of the past 10 years and I think that being a woman with a predominantly female team, in a male dominated industry, is what makes Fat Lad so different to every other brand. Fat Lad is very much an embodiment of me and my values as well as those which Richard and I share.
What is one major challenge that you have faced in the last ten years?
The biggest challenge we’ve ever had has been the name or at least the hidden prejudice that people have to fat and therefore the name.
Fat Lad At The Back was Richard’s nickname, he was fat and he was often at the back. We thought it was cool and fun and didn’t expect anyone to be offended, but of course they were. What was more surprising was the number of thin people who were offended on behalf of fat people - like fat people need an indignant, thin knight to fight their corner.
It didn’t matter that we were empowering people and helping them get on their bikes, or creating a positive, fun community of like minded and like sized cyclist. They weren’t interested and just wanted to shut us down accusing us of being fatphobic, fattist, fat shaming - you name it, we got it all.
There’s still so much prejudice hidden behind this type of political correctness. When someone has a problem with the name it says more about their attitude to fat than it does us and I have a fairly low tolerance for that kind of person these days.
What are you watching on TV right now?
We’ve just finished The Secret Lives of Elephants on Discovery. It’s amazing, and we’re starting on The Secret Lives of Whales. I’ve always found it arrogant how humans set the criteria for intelligence and then compare every other animal to us. I’m sure that whales are swimming around the ocean thinking, yes man is very intelligent but they can’t circumnavigate the oceans without a machine and oh, by the way look at this incredibly intelligent species making this unmitigated disaster of the world.
How does Fat Lad stand out from other companies?
We’re just so Yorkshire - bold, funny, cheerful, a tad eccentric and a bit in your face.
I've had the luxury of running FLAB as a lifestyle business so it’s never had to be just about selling jerseys. That’s massively impacted my approach to the community and the way I’ve developed the business. On the face of it there are millions of more successful companies if your criteria is profit, but if you give any weight to the positive impact you’re having on the people who come into contact with your brand, then I’d say we are up there with the best in the world. Running a socially responsible company and making a difference is important to both Richard and me and I think it’s a modern way of doing business and an approach that we’ll see more of in the future as people become increasingly disheartened with the way that big business operates and its effects on the planet and it’s employees.
Where is FLAB going next?
FLAB isn’t like any other brand and it feels that we are as much an institution and part of a community as we are a cycle wear business. It’s not a typical way of thinking about things and knowing what path we should forge in the future is a tricky one.
Ultimately I’d love FLAB to be a first of its kind’ cycling community owned cooperative’, enabling us to build on the positive community, advocate more for Fat cyclists and continue to be a sustainable business. It’s an unusual concept one might even say disruptive - so who knows, it might just happen!