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Cleverhood owner and founder Susan Mocarski discusses the development of the much loved urban rain cape.
It was a very rainy trip to Copenhagen that got Susan Mocarski thinking about rainwear for cyclists.
“It rained the entire time,” Mocarski remembers. “The stores were closed for a holiday, and I had no protection from the cold rain.”
Biking in the rain wasn’t a big deal to Mocarski: It was biking and then walking that caused problems. Most rain gear couldn’t handle that.
As an artist and graphic designer, Mocarski is often dreaming up ways to redesign the products she uses regularly. And so she started to rethink the traditional poncho shape.
“Designing in your head is a constant thing. On this trip, I had a lot of time to think about [rain gear design] as I was walking in the rain,” she says. At the time, she thought “if I need it, surely other people need it.”
So her company, Cleverhood, was born in Providence, Rhode Island in the fall of 2010.
Her product, often lovingly referred to as the ‘Hood, is an all-season coverup that protects a cyclist without hindering movement or peripheral vision. The waterproof material stretches from hood to thigh, with handy thumb-loops for secure riding on windy days and a chest pocket that zips to prevent phone-in-the-back-pocket fretting. Guys and gals can bike around town sporting houndstooth and camouflage patterns or choose from a healthy assortment of solids. Most of Cleverhood’s capes cost about $250.
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“We get really nice letters,” Mocarski says, noting that a “bizarre proportion” of Cleverhood’s customers are architects and engineers.
“We get notes that turn into meaningful design discussions, which is fun and intimidating at the same time,” she admits. “Maybe this harkens to the type of people who bike in cities: They want to have thoughtful discussions. It feels like a community project at this point.”
That kind of relationship between Cleverhood’s design process and its manufacturers is critical to success.
“We’ve made several changes, some because more bikers are using upright bikes,” she says. While the sloped stance of the 10-speed bike was common among consumers for a while, an upright stance calls for thumb loops that are placed a bit higher on the garment.
After Cleverhood’s patternmaker updates the design, a new iteration of the ‘Hood can be produced in Oakland, California in about six week’s time. If the ‘Hood was produced overseas, that process would take three times as long.
“There are still some fabulous manufacturers here in America,” Mocarski says, though she’s had to go increasingly farther from home to keep manufacturing in the United States. The company’s first manufacturer, in Newark, New Jersey, closed, as did their next manufacturer in Delaware. “It’s been sad to see these three- and four-generation companies fold,” Mocarski says. “We want there to be jobs for everyone, not just jobs for designers.”
Wearable tech is huge right now, and though reflective threads run through each Cleverhood’s fabric, Mocarski sees the ‘Hood as a low-tech item. “We’re trying to figure out how to do this simply but complement the lifestyle of someone riding in all weather,” she says. The ‘Hood was designed with today’s connected cyclists in mind, but its bells and whistles, for the foreseeable future, will all be analog.
“I never thought of myself as a part of the Spandex, clicky-shoe crowd,” she says as she admits getting into long-distance speed biking. “I’m not any good,” she laughs. “But it’s a lot of fun.”
But the heart of Cleverhood is in the city.
“This garment was inspired by livable cities,” she says.
She paraphrased a quote from Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, a major advocate for sustainability and mobility: “We can control a lot of things—transport, etc.—but we can’t change the weather.”
Rain keeps people from biking regularly, Mocarski says. But a good piece of rainwear can keep them on the road, rain or shine.
Gadgets will come and go, but Cleverhood is sticking to solid outerwear as its claim to fame.
“We’re moving back to city centers and town centers to get out of our cars. If [Cleverhood] can continue to accommodate this beautiful trend, that’s all we can aspire to,” she says. “We’ll continue to do it in a smart way.”
Urbanful is a digital magazine and marketplace celebrating city living. From hacking your commute to bringing you the latest city trends, we’re all about those things that make city living great. Read more at Urbanful.org.