We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stacey Martin of Trek Bikes to talk a bit about her work and the bikes that she helps create. If you've seen a women's specific Trek recently, you've seen some of Stacey's work, and if you're into road biking, you'll be seeing quite a bit of her work in the future. It was rather random that we had the opportunity to talk with Stacey at all. She was in town attending the Trek Dirt Series in Whistler. Skiis & Biikes Whistler hosts the two-day skills clinic that is the Dirt Series, and when we heard that the genius in charge of women's bike design was in our house, we bribed her with smoothies to entice her to tell us about the work she does. We're more than a little excited to get a glimpse into the creative process behind the scenes at Trek.
Can you tell us about your position at Trek and what that entails?
I just moved positions, literally on Friday. My official title is Senior Designer and Trend Manager. I’ve been the senior designer doing all women’s product graphics, all the colors and all the graphics for all women’s bikes. As for the trend manager part, to figure out what all the colors and graphics should be I go to Fashion Week in Berlin every year to see what all the trends are. Basically the trends there seem to be a year ahead of what we have here. I go there and look at the colors that people are using and the graphics and prints that people are using, then I come back and put together a whole trend presentation that I give to all the designers. I deliver a select color palette based on trends and the graphic directions that we want to explore and then people run off and go do their thing.
Now instead of women’s product, I will be designing all of the Trek road product. I did some road previously, but only women’s. Now I’m responsible for all things Trek road.
I used to do some team bikes as well. I made some for Cam McCaul, Brandon Semenuk…Andrew Shandro, but that was a long time ago. It was super cool to work with them. I showed them some mood boards—one was a gangster rap board, with all these icy chains and whatnot—but they picked spirit animals in the end. I really wanted to do a photo shoot with all of them in the costume of their spirit animals...maybe someday I’ll get my wish.
Which bikes did you make for them? The leopard bike?
Yeah! It started when I had them pick spirit animals. Semenuk’s was a tabby cat, which I though was hilarious. I ended up making these furry panels but a couple years later it was the whole bike. Shandro’s was a bear, Cam’s was an eagle or hawk or something.
What bike(s) do you ride?
It depends what I’m doing. If I’m riding road, I have a Lexa S. And honestly I like riding that because I really like the design on it. It doesn’t have anything to do with tech, I like the design the best. If I’m riding around town I ride the District, which I modified with huge mustache handlebars and downhill 5050 pedals so I can ride it with high heels. And for mountain I ride a Lush. I loved my Session 9.9 today with the Dirt Series, that’s super fun.
Were you riding a Lush 29er this week?
Yeah that was my first time on a 29er, I used to ride a 26.
What’d you think of the difference?
I felt more confident on some of the rootier technical stuff, but super tight turns and descending…the bike felt a bit bigger for me. I had a hard time in the super tight spots, but that’s just the pros and cons of 29ers I guess.
Can you tell us a bit about your career path? What did you do before you designed bikes for Trek? Did you study design in school?
I majored I graphic design in college, really because I wanted to design snowboards. That was my life goal. I did not get a job doing that, but I did get a job with Burton. Once I graduated I took a year off to snowboard in Breckenridge CO, then moved back to Boston and got a job designing for Reebok, mostly headwear and accessories—I did stuff for the NBA and NFL…but I don’t really care about football, so it wasn’t totally right up my alley. Then to Burton and on to Trek!
We hear through our Trek marketing resources that your team attends a few European fashion shows. How heavily does that event influence your work? Where else do you draw inspiration for the women’s bike designs?
Influenced pretty heavily. A lot of people think that, when we design bikes, we just go for whatever color we think of, or “I think I’ll use triangles today,” but there’s a lot of research and thought that goes into what the bikes should look like. It’s important to know what our consumer likes to buy, likes to wear, what they like to do when they’re not riding their bike. And all that ties into what we think the bike should look like.
I mean, you can get inspiration from everywhere. I usually look to the trends first to make sure our bikes feel relevant and modern, but you can get inspiration from art museums, or riding and clearing your head, seeing what people are wearing and what colors they’re putting together. Stuff like that really helps me.
I always wanted to see a minty green color featured on a bike…
Well you might see a lot of that next year! Minty green is pretty big right now...or, it won't be next year, farther than that. We design so far in advance that sometimes I forget what year it is. Maybe I’ve said too much…
Are you hesitant to use overly feminine colors like pink?
That’s a tough question. Pink is the toughest color to use on a women’s product in my opinion. I think some people love pink and if you use it they’re like “yeah embrace it,” and some people think that if you use it you’re being condescending, so that’s really tough.
For me, I try to use colors that feel feminine, but not too girly. I think that’s proven to be a bit more successful than just slapping a whole lot of pink on there. If I do use it though, I usually pair it with some edgier color so it takes the femininity down a notch—so the people who like pink are happy and the people who hate pink, don’t have to deal with only that color.
How important is it to be a trendsetter vs a trend follower?
Well you never...well actually, let me think about this for a second. I think it depends on the product. You want to find a happy medium between the two. Bikes are expensive, so if they’re way too trendy, people are afraid to spend a lot of money on something that will go out of style so fast. But on the flip side, you want it to be a little bit trendy so it doesn’t look lame and boring.
Aside, (the song Lights, by Journey is playing in the background). I love this song!! I used to sing in an 80s cover band, and Journey is my favorite. In the summer I drive a 1979 Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am. It’s black and gold with the big eagle on the hood.
Really? Cool! You don’t happen to have a photo of it do you?
Given the inherent risks of being a trendsetter, have there been any designs over the years that were particularly unpopular?
*If so, what did you learn from that experience and how has it affected design since then?
That’s a hard one for me to answer because I don’t have access to all the sales numbers, but I would say, in general designs that seem unpopular are too feminine; Overtly feminine is sometimes less popular.
I learned that over the years, colors and graphics are so subjective and so important to the product. People will buy something just because of the way it looks…and I’m totally that person. I’ll pay more money just to get something that I think looks good. You have to be excited about it. That’s why the trend thing is such a fine line. They’re doing something fun with a product, so it’s got to make them feel good just by looking at it.
What is the design process like? Is it more collaborative, or do you have a lot of freedom and responsibility as an individual?
I would say it’s a good balance of both. It’s collaborative in the sense that we have a weekly design review where everyone talks about their designs and we help each other get through if we’re stuck in a design rut or something. Everybody’s feedback, thoughts and suggestions can be very helpful. But it’s also individual because we each have our own categories and projects, so it’s separate but together.
What would you say is the biggest difference between the women’s and men’s designs?
Well, a lot of the women’s product now has completely different frame geometry. We’re trying to make it really different: names, geometry, components depending on price point. We still have a few bikes…there are some road bikes for example—like the men’s versus women’s Domane—that are pretty similar, with differences in color, saddle and bars.
Is that an effort to change the paradigm of biking? Like men’s clothing is inherently different from women’s clothing, so bikes should be gender specific too?
It’s different to address the needs of female riders, there are certainly exceptions to every rule, but often men and women have different needs. A small and light woman has different needs from a tall and heavy man. We want to provide the differences that make her perform the best on her bike.
Do you think there will be a women’s specific session?
I don’t know, but if there were I would buy one. Even if it just had pretty colors or a skeleton unicorn, I’d be all over that.
What was the first bike you designed? And what is your favorite so far?
God what was the first bike I designed? It was 6 years ago. I’m thinking it might have been a cruiser bike actually, a yellow cruiser bike with bird silhouettes and wave swirls on it.
That’s hard, hmmm, favorite? My favorite might be some of the ones that are coming out for 2015, which I can’t really tell you about. But I did do the Trek World Racing bikes with a red on red feather camo; those were pretty awesome. The camo was made up of feathers and blood splatter.
What can you tell us about the 2015 line? Anything coming up that’s going to be especially sharp?
I probably can’t tell you about it yet, but I could say something about the new Silques that are coming out. They’ve been getting pretty rave reviews. And there’s something hidden on every bike I design, just for a little fun factor. If you look closely you’ll find it.
We met you rather serendipitously at the Trek Dirt Series in Whistler. What did you think of the camp? How do you feel about mountain biking before and after?
I love it. This is my second one. It’s just so great because you learn so much and improve so fast that it’s impossible to leave not liking mountain biking. I think a lot of cycling is mental, like fear of “I’m not good enough to do this,” or “I can’t ______,” so someone there telling you that you can, and telling you when to touch your brakes and whatnot helps so much. It’s super rad.
I’ve always really liked mountain biking, but at the camp I get to go downhilling, which is like eating ice cream for me…and I really love ice cream. It’s like eating ice cream for dinner while journey plays a concert in my back yard.