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Sawako Furuno’s helmets are distinguished by their sportier version of equestrian style, their delicate patterns, and their materials, which include dressy black faux crocodile.
Among a growing crop of stylish bicycle helmets, Sawako Furuno’s are distinguished by their sportier version of equestrian style, their delicate patterns, and their materials, which include dressy black faux crocodile.
It all makes sense when you consider her background. Furuno, who grew up in a suburb of Yokohama, Japan, earned a master’s degree in architecture from Oxford Brookes University in the UK and worked in that field before founding her eponymous company in 2008.
The 38-year old mother of two young daughters recently moved with her husband from London to New York City, where pedaling around town on her plum-colored Bobbin Bramble helps fuel her inspiration:
Susi Wunsch: So, what happens when you encounter a person in the bike lanes who is wearing one of your helmets?
Sawako Furuno: I stalk them [laughs]. I try to get a photo for social media, but I usually reach them when they are turning and only capture their back. The helmets are gorgeous, so I get really excited.
SW: What inspired you to make fashionable bicycle helmets?
SF: In London, I was commuting every day. Being style-conscious, I did not want to look uncool with sports helmets. The helmet was going to be part of my everyday outfit. Hence, I made them myself.
SW: Successful entrepreneurs often say there is no “right time” to start a business. What led you to take the plunge?
SF: I liked architecture, I still like it. But it wasn’t necessarily my passion. I started to moonlight in 2008. My bosses were very supportive. Then I got pregnant. So that’s how I left architecture for now, thanks to my children, but kept my passion. It’s hard work that I can really put my effort into.
SW: Have you always been into fashion?
SF: I always had an interest, but I was such a bad dresser until high school. My mom was very strict about how much to spend on clothes; it was all about studies. Then architecture opened up everything in terms of design and fashion. I got interested in texture and color and always wore shoes that were a little weird.
SW: Who is your ideal customer?
SF: I think the two most important words are confidence and stylishness. I don’t think my customer is necessarily just cycle chic – it’s more about people who want to be confident in their style and on the road.
SW: How would you describe the differences between the cycling scene in London and New York City?
SF: I think cycling was a little more developed in Europe, perhaps because of the influence of Holland and Scandinavian countries. Of course I knew that, but since I moved here I really feel exhilaration around cycling. I do feel that people are optimistic, which is very nice.
SW: How has the move influenced your designs?
SF: New Yorkers are very strong. Here, if you want something you just give it a go. So in terms of colors. the helmets are either really vivid or they’re black and white. That’s the inspiration and the additional color pallet that I got from New York.
SW: What’s next for your line?
SF: I plan to branch out to kids helmets. My daughter hates wearing my helmet. I need to develop something lighter and with an easier-to-deal-with strap for kids. My oldest daughter is 4, so I have a very fussy Guinea pig.
SW: How do you balance being a busy mom in New York City with running a business?
SF: I have this project that lets me connect with people in a way other than just being a mother, which is amazing. So I’m grateful that I have that balance. I feel like I won’t quite have it right until I achieve greater business success, but as a person I feel quite fulfilled. And I think its good for children to see us doing something we are passionate about.
Responses are condensed and edited.
Susi Wunsch is a passionate advocate for women’s cycling, Wunsch founded the NYC-based cycling lifestyle website velojoy.com and writes about two-wheeled transportation for a variety of publications.