On a typical week, about 21,000 Melburnians ride a bike (according to the latest Cycling Census data).
But not all those riders zip themselves up in designer lycra. Many prefer to try and bridge the gap between cycling gear and workwear to save time and money. But workwear, which for women often involves draping – dresses, skirts, coats – can get in the way and tangled up in bike chains.
Into this scene steps To Barwyn and Back. Founding designer and former architect Gemma Baxter – an avid cyclist – launched the label in 2017, seeing potential to fuse functional design with fashion-forward silhouettes.
“There’s a crazy amount of blood, sweat, tears and technology that goes into every single piece in the collection,” says Baxter. “I saw other companies bringing out jeans with reflective stripes and hybrid work [and] workout clothing, but none of it felt right or innovative to me."
Her latest collection is bike-friendly but doesn’t compromise on style. Street-appropriate designs in high-vis, reflective and sun-protective fabrics keep riders safe and looking fresh. Take Barwyn's voluminous Riding Gown, which has a nylon-taslan skirt and bodice, and polyester cords that can be pulled up and toggle-tied to adjust the skirt to a comfortable length for riding and skating. The Racing Dress (which is sold out but will be re-stocked soon) is water repellent, with adjustable waist tabs that transform it into a mini-dress. There’s also a D-ring on one side for keys and extra tabs for a wallet or bumbag. The unisex Street Vest, on the other hand, is boxy in fit, resembling a cropped denim vest, and includes an eyelet in the front pocket for headphones.
To Barwyn and Back also runs workshops where riders can design and add reflective vinyl to their current riding clothes.
Many of the recycled fabrics Baxter works with are locally milled, with antimicrobial, moisture-wicking, water-repellent and quick-drying qualities. The vivify textile, used in construction of both the Racing Dress and Weekend Shorts is made from a custom-dyed polyester that's 64 per cent recycled, sourced from post-consumer drink bottles.
“It’s a versatile fabric with some stretch, quick-dry properties, and it’s moisture-repellent. Plus it feels nice on the skin,” Baxter says.
Other fabrics come from local suppliers and fashion wholesalers that salvage offcuts from larger brands (The Fabric Store is among them).
“When I first started out I just wanted to get as many reflective bits of clothing onto as many people as possible. Being committed to sustainability isn’t always possible for a small brand,” Baxter says, noting she couldn’t access certain fabrics for small runs. “And some suppliers overseas [who] produced the most incredible fabrics simply didn’t get back to my emails or calls. I also couldn’t afford to work with or create custom, technical fibres like merino, being a small brand with few resources.”
But over time, Baxter is learning how she can do things better. Her first step was doing away with packaging altogether, and isn't planning to make any new pieces until she's sold what's already been produced. “There’s not a big enough demand for what I make, and that’s inherently bad – producing things that don’t have a home and therefore aren’t useful. So my small brand is more of a passion project.”
And of course, To Barwyn and Back supports a more sustainable lifestyle by encouraging people to commute by bike – and look good in the process.