Maria Olsson

The women behind the product

In the first in our series of interviews with the Rapha design team, we talk to lead womenswear designer Maria Olsson on her love of bad weather and her role in developing the Long Sleeve Shadow Jersey - our pioneering, foul weather jersey.

“I grew up in a small town in western Sweden, where any travelling was done under my own steam; to get to football practice or to dance class I had to get on a bike, so I was outside from a young age.

In Sweden a lot of people live for the outdoors and we get taught to love bad weather. After all, winter can last from November until May. As a child I remember feeling energised by being outside; a rainy day didn’t keep us inside, it offered us a chance to spend the day splashing around in puddles.

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Like many Swedish children I started cross-country skiing when I was six or seven but growing up I never had the latest kit – my ski gear had belonged to my mum – but the clothing we wore was solid and fit for purpose. It’s true what they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Working on the Women’s Long Sleeve Shadow Jersey was an exciting proposition. We were creating a jersey that would allow you to keep riding in the very worst weather, and we were making it out of the best fabric on the market. Unlike many wet weather garments, the material we use in the Shadow collection uses a woven, rather than knitted, fabric, which keeps the wind out and the rain at bay. Each individual yarn used in the fabric is treated with a durable water repellent treatment (DWR), which causes rainwater to bead and roll off.

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It’s this weave structure that makes the fabric breathable – there are tiny air holes between the fibres that let excess body heat out. The weave also allows the fabric to stretch and mould around your body to create a streamlined fit.

As a designer I focus on the fit and performance of a garment before anything else but when you’re designing products for women it’s really easy to get hung up on the differences between the sexes, rather than the similarities. Creating a jersey for a woman rather than a man only requires a subtly different approach, such as slightly narrower shoulders but at the same pitch or angle, wider hips and a tapered waist.

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Because I live and breathe the sport, I knew instinctively how I wanted the Long Sleeve Shadow Jersey to fit. It’s a performance piece and I wanted to use minimal seams, so I took inspiration from our work with professional riders. I also referenced vintage tailoring, which is mostly close fitting. The most difficult thing about developing a garment for women is the area around the bust. It’s about finding a compromise that suits a range of sizes. To do this we use fabrics that can stretch or ‘give’ and panelling to create the shape.

I started cycling myself around five years ago and like many people I started by riding to work; my commute was a 40km round trip. This sparked my interest and I looked for a challenge, so I entered Vätternrundan, a 300km cycle event in Sweden. The event was in June, so I trained all winter in snow and on icy roads on four-season tyres.

Taking part in the Rapha Women’s Prestige* provided the real inspiration to ride more. It took place in the Italian Dolomites in 2013 and that was when I learnt that I really love climbing. It’s such a thrill to stand on top of the mountain that’s just nearly broken you and look back down the road into the valley below. My next big challenge is the Cent Cols Challenge Eastern Pyrenees – 100 cols in 10 days in the mountains between France and Spain. It’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done but at least I know I can handle the bad weather.”

*A Rapha Prestige is an unsupported and unmarshalled team adventure across stunning terrain. In 2016 26 Prestige rides took place across the globe. Look out for details on Rapha Prestige rides in 2017.