Storytellers: Colleen - The photographer August 24 2018, 0 Comments

Lexi Miller isn't a person.  Lexi Miller is the story of all of us.  Lexi Miller, the persona represents that part of me, and of you who gets up early on a Saturday to ride.  She's that part of you that's training for a triathlon. She's that part of you that finally got the nerve to buy a bike and see what this cycling stuff is all about.  She's that part of you who has been cycling for decades and just can't seem to shake the love of the sport.  Lexi Miller, the brand, is a conduit through which we can all share our stories around cycling, what got us here and what keeps us here.

Recently, Colleen Duffley emailed me and threw out the idea of hosting a trunk show in Dallas.  She mentioned that as a fashion photographer, brand marketer and athlete, she really appreciated what we were doing in the cycling space.  She casually let out that she had been to the Olympic trials (nbd).  She has a story to tell, indeed!  

Here it is.  I hope you enjoy getting to know Colleen as much as I have.  And I hope you can join us both in Dallas on September 1!  Click HERE for details.

xo Alexis

Alexis:

Can you tell me when and how you got into cycling?

Colleen:         

I'm a photographer, and I had an idea for a shot of a girl on a bike with her hair blowing back so I went to a bike shop and borrowed a bike.  The shop loved the shots and asked if they could use them for advertising.  They said "What if we trade you a bike for use of the images?"  That’s how it all started.. I started riding with them in the mornings before work and I was instantly addicted to Cycling.  That shot ended up being pretty popular and actually changed the course of my life.

I started doing rides with a group. I remember them saying, “We're doing a 20 mile ride.”  I thought, “Who can ride 20 miles on their bike?” And then all of a sudden 20 miles turned in to hundreds of miles and then I got into doing triathlons. The bike leg was my strongest so I tried my hat in bike racing.   I was pretty good at it , started winning early on.  I thought, this is really fluky, but was having so much fun.

I think maybe from being a photographer and using my legs to lift heavy equipment all the time, that made me strong. That and my mom was a dancer so I inherited her legs. I have been an athlete my whole life: softball, volleyball, basketball, and I had some scholarships for basketball and softball.  As a 5’6’ girl in the 80’s  I thought of course this is never going to be a career choice for me.  So I pursued my loved of photography. It was a great choice for me. Women didn’t have the same opportunities in sports as they do now.  Oh to be a young athlete now... Women’s sports have come a long way. Thank god.

One day, I got a phone call from the Olympic training center and they said "We’ve noticed you’ve been winning a lot of races.  Were you a junior rider?"  And I was like, no actually I didn't get my bike until I was 28. They invited me to train at the Olympic training center with the national team for the ‘92 Olympics.  I was probably one of oldest riders there.  I was training with the likes of Lance Armstrong ,Bobby Julich and George Hincapie.  It was such an amazing experience.

I was traveling and shooting and did the trials and I was in the main pack with a photo finish for the ‘92 Olympics.  The coaches thought if I didn’t travel 220 days (shooting) I could have had a chance for Barcelona. But I was married at the time, had a house, and a great career in photography. 

I moved to Texas where there was a coach that was going to help me and I was shooting for a Neiman Marcus catalogs which is a great account.  So I was training for the ‘96 Olympics and working full time and shooting major advertising accounts.  I was working seven days a week.  I competed in the ‘96 Olympic trials, went back to the Olympic training center several times to train with the team before the '96 trails. I made it to the finals for ‘96 but didn't make the team.  My training, and competing at that level was a dream of a lifetime.  It also helped me as a business owner.  Discipline, perseverance and where with all ... all of that is just part of being an athlete … at any level and great lessons for life.

I fell in love with cycling.  I was obsessed with it and still am.  Like all true love … it never dies.  I just love the sport.  I think it's one of those lifetime sports.  My bike is like an old friend to me.  In times of stress my bike is my safe place, my therapy.

I travel a lot internationally, and I used to take my bike with me everywhere. More often now I take my running shoes.  I got into ultra running and do ultra trail running.  I ran seven marathons in seven days in the Congo to benefit women and children of the DRC. That was really life changing.  We are so lucky as American women.  We have freedom and amazing opportunities.  I was also the oldest athlete to do that -- seems to be a reoccurring theme.  I just turned 55 and I hope to be cycling, running and having many more adventures for a lifetime.

Alexis:                    

That’s such an awesome story.  I mean all of it: how you got into it and that you're still doing it.  So about hills?  You do or you don't like hills?

Colleen:                

I love hills. They were always my strong point.  Now that I’m back in Dallas with my new studio, I plan to ride the hills and get back into climbing shape.  I love the challenge of a hill.  I used to travel with my bike all the time and love to see the world that way.  Even though I'm not competing and I don't know that I would want to compete again I still love seeing the world on two wheels.  It's the best way to connect with people.  And I think once an athlete always an athlete.  I'm doing L’Eroica in Italy this fall in October.  The ride is on vintage bikes, and my bikes are vintage because they're 20 years old.  I haven't bought any cycling equipment in years because, well, I love my bikes and it feels like going home when I get on the seat of a bike that I have ridden so much.  It's like an old friend.

I'd like to really pick up my mileage, because at 55 I feel like I can get a better fitness level and not beat up my body as much as running.  Seven marathons in the Congo kind of beats up a 55 year old body more than 100 mile bike ride does.  I feel I will always love endurance sports.

Alexis:                    

Mm-hmm. So, onto the apparel since you've been in the sport for so long. I think it's interesting that you have a racing background and that what I designed appeals to you, because it is not that aggressive look of bib shorts and full zip jerseys.  There's such a perception, I think, of the design and the apparel and what it means to be “serious” about the sport.  So I think it's awesome that you have this “serious” background and that what I design resonates with you!  And you can see the function in it and see that it's also beautiful.  In your words, what did you see when you saw Lexi Miller for the first time?  What appealed to you and what made you think, I want to try that?

Colleen:                

Well, there was not an option before in clothing.  It was the same as men's clothing, just smaller.  I'm in the fashion industry and at the end of the day I'm a woman that cares about fit, style and function.  I love it that the clothes are very functional, they look very athletic and sporty, but yet they still fit things the way a woman's clothes should fit.  I'm feminine and I like looking feminine while still being hardcore.            

Being an athlete shouldn't take away from your femininity.  I think that's important.  Women are not used to having those options.  Look what Lululemon did for athletic apparel.  I can wear it after a workout into the grocery store and not feel like I have athletic wear on. To me Lexi Miller is the Lululemon of cycling.

How great that finally, you don't feel weird in your cycling clothes. You don't have to be wearing your husband’s or your brother's cycling clothes.  They feel like they are made for women.  You can finish a ride and have a coffee at a café and not feel out of place.

Alexis:                    

Yeah. That's so funny that you said that--the Lululemon for cycling thing because that's exactly what I wanted because I live in Lululemon.  I love the way it fits.  I love the quality of the textiles and just the look of it and the design and everything.  I think a lot of other women who are getting into cycling wish they could just wear their tank top and their leggings on a ride, and then they realize it's a different kind of fabric. You need a chamois. You need pockets.  So I just love that that really came through for you. And just as an aside, does it all matter to you where apparel is made? Does that ever impact your decision making?

Colleen:                

I want to support American companies, and I want to support smaller companies,   Especially if ethically designed and produced. I think that should be important to all of us.  I think it's great to support women designers. I don’t know that many people that are designing cycling clothes are, A) women and B) actually cyclists, too. You can tell that you know the material, then knowing you're an athlete…I think that's important and obvious, as well.

Alexis:                    

Yeah. For sure. So, when you got the items in your hands and felt them, how did that compare to what you saw online and your expectations?  And, how did it feel in your hands and when you put it on?

Colleen:                

I think it's even better in person.  It exceeded my expectations when I got it. 

Alexis:                    

The one thing that's so hard to get across is literally how the fabric feels. I mean it's so tough to convey that.  But maybe you know how to do that because you're a photographer.

So I'm just curious, what is your thought on bib shorts?  I just don't like the extra effort if I don’t think it is worthwhile.  I don't like having to wear a base layer. I don't want anything extra on my shoulders. I already got a sports bra, I've got a jersey. And for me, my thought is if you design a pair of shorts that sit on your hips, you don’t need anything else to hold them up.  Men need suspenders because they don't have hips. Women have hips that hold our shorts in place. Why bother with the extra encumbrance of suspenders, essentially?  What's your thought on that?

Colleen:                

I never liked bibs even when I was racing.  I was sponsored and would get stuff sent, and I never wore bibs because to me….it's just too much effort.

Alexis:                    

Got it.  So, when I was designing the shorts, I was torn between two fabrics. I had the one that's compressive, the one that the body of the short is made of, and then the one that's around the legs and the waist has more spandex and more stretch.  And I sewed a pair with each fabric. I was kind of torn, so I used both.  Compression where you need it, and holds your chamois in place, it gives you that nice hugged sensation on your quads and hamstrings, and then a softer fabric around your thighs and your waist where you don't need that.  So, after getting the shorts and trying them on, was that something that you noticed right away when you pulled them on?

Colleen:                

I could definitely tell the difference.  Some bike shorts have that elastic at the leg and even when you are fit, your skin kind of pooches out. That’s not attractive. Lexi miller shorts don't do that.  I think the way you have that little dip on the waistband, is flattering.  If you feel good in it, you're going to want to wear it more.  And if you feel like you look better in it, you're for sure going to want to be in it more..

Alexis:                    

Right, right. Okay well I think that that's it.  It's such a cool story that you're literally at the intersection of all the things: fashion and cycling and photography, and how it all came together in your life and how Lexi Miller resonated with you and I'm just so excited that everything came together like this.  It's pretty cool. 

So back to the whole George Hincapie and Lance Armstrong thing. If you ran into them somewhere, would you guys remember each other?

Colleen:                

I’m sure they would.  When you train with people at that level there is a sort of a bond.

Alexis:                    

That's pretty cool.  Well, thanks so much for your time Colleen.  I'm so excited to go to Dallas and to get to ride with you and host our pop-up on September 1st!

Colleen:

Me too.  I’m really excited for what the Lexi Miller brand does for the sport.  As a life time athlete and a creative person…it’s a great mix of style, function and performance.  It’s definitely my go to in cycling apparel.