Martina Brimmer is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Seattle-based bicycle bag and pannier company, Swift Industries.
This week, she’s taking over the Misadventures Instagram feed, to give us all a behind-the-scenes peek at how Swift Industries make their bags, and how the tenets of wilderness travel influence her business philosophy.
But before you hop over to Instagram, read on to discover how Martina got started in the cycling industry — and what it’s like to be a female-identified entrepreneur in the cycling sphere.
When did your interest in bicycles and cycling begin?
When I was a sophomore in college, my beat up Volvo station wagon croaked, so I pulled my childhood bicycle out of the garage. That bike unlocked an unparalleled sense of independence and fit my wandering ways like a glove. I never looked back!
What do you love about cycling? What differentiates it, for you, from other modes of transport, or other outdoor pursuits?
Bicycles are my main mode of transportation and my favorite way to travel. I love experiencing the seasons (yup, all of them!) by bicycle, and the pace of riding connects me to my environments. It’s exhilarating to be enveloped by the beat of a city, the seasons, and the amazing smells that distinguish one place from another; not to mention feeling my body working hard to get me where I’m going.
I’ve always been mesmerized by self contained travel, and I love roughing it. When we think cycling, we usually imagine roadies and racing. But here at Swift, we’ve added dirtbag travelling to the equation and it just so happens that bikes are the perfect vehicle for exploration.
Whenever possible, we pack up our bicycles with camping gear and skip town. From farm roads to forest service roads and single track, the diversity of adventures one can access by bicycle is amazing, and bikes are the perfect catalyst to other pastimes like fly-fishing and ornithology. No matter where I go with my loaded bicycle, locals always want to hear what I’m up to, which opens up the best exchanges with total strangers.
How about Swift Industries? What was the inspiration? How did you go from inspiration to reality?
From the very first pannier, the goal has been to bring a fresh aesthetic to bicycle touring and commuting bags with uncompromised function and durability. Libertine colors and our customer’s ability to select elements of their own bags are signatures of the Swift Industries’ experience.
In 2008, I started Swift Industries with my sweetheart, now husband, Jason Goodman. We were two kids with a sewing machine, some chicken scratch sketches, and an insatiable obsession with bicycles. With our Seattle basement as a workshop and Cascadia as our backyard, Swift Industries was born. In the beginning we really roughed it—we were dirtbag adventurers and our company was homespun, vibrant, and delightfully unconventional. As cyclists around the world have caught wind of Swift Industries we’ve loved navigating slow-growth, bringing in a team of amazing seamstresses, and working long, hard hours to get people arriving by bicycle.
What’s the day-to-day of your job look like?
Every day at Swift Industries turns on different parts of my brain. One day you’ll find me charting our company’s course for the next season, another day I can be found working with textiles and sample sewing new designs. It’s likely I’ll have met with our financial support team, serviced a faltering sewing machine (I’m a whip at mechanical problem solving, who knew!), and organized a happy hour for Female Identified Adventurers at Swift HQ in there too.
How would you describe the experience of being a female entrepreneur in the cycling and outdoor industries?
It feels important to start this one off by telling you all that when I’m talking about women, I’m also speaking about the trans-women who are a vital part of our communities. I also want to acknowledge that trans-women face even more acute challenges when they navigate entrepreneurship and visibility than biologically female business leaders. But here, when I am referring to women, I’m thinking about all folks who identify as female.
I’m ready for big changes in the cycling and outdoor industries: I don’t only want to be approached by the media when they want to do a segment that highlights female entrepreneurs: I want my work, and that of my female peers’ to be hailed for the ambition, intelligence, and the solutions we bring to the table, and I want my gender to be recognized as a vital attribute to my success and credibility.
What I’ve noticed is that women want to acknowledge our victories as a group or team accomplishment. When we’re speaking about our success, we often diffuse individual acclaim and speak to the team and environments that made a milestone possible. Often, I think men read this as timid or lacking in confidence, which is a crying shame. Alternately, if a woman owns her work as a lone wolf, she’s often loudly criticised by men and women as too brash, bold or arrogant. It’s a really tough paradox to navigate, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I’m tired of men assuming expertise in my field. Men literally come, unsolicited, into the company I have built from the ground up, and tell me all about my business. Most offer advice, many don’t ask what my vision is or what my successes have been, or how they can support us. Ironically, it makes me put up walls that prevent asking for the help, perspective and guidance I need to run a vibrant company.
We all have a lot of un/relearning on our plates, but I know we can do it! These are behaviors seeded in deeply ingrained social systems, but it’s time to wake up.
I’m so proud to be surrounded and supported by amazing people, who ask the right questions and are totally in awe of the women in their lives.
What successes, failures, or lessons learned since you founded the company stand out for you?
I was 25 years old when I started my business.
I’ve experienced huge milestones as I’ve built my identity as a young, female entrepreneur. I started as a maker, evolved into a designer, and am now the leader of a beautifully complex business. I’ve discovered a latent aptitude for creative thinking and problem solving through systems-thinking that I never imagined was in me, and I love it.
I see the influence that my work is having on my industries, and it’s an incredible feeling to watch my style and approach to business visibly permeate and shape the cycling and outdoor industries.
Mistakes? When you’re figuring out how to grow a business for the first time, they happen every day. Not a day goes by when I don’t apologize to someone, because I’m learning and I’m encountering a new issue or personality for the first time. I’m not interested in people who claim they don’t mess up or falter. I gravitate toward the people who speak to how their mistakes have shaped their paths to being better people, more compassionate leaders, and better at their work.
It turns out that running a business draws on the same skills and drive as backcountry and endurance travel. The biggest challenge is being engaged in the moment but pacing for the long-haul. Just like an ambitious outdoor adventure, growing a business has taught me that one needs to be resolute but open to the unknown, comfortable with discomfort, insatiably curious and relentlessly optimistic. Oh, and you have to love what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with!
Looking forward, what are your goals for Swift Industries in the next couple years?
We are bubbling with designs and ideas for Swift Industries! Stay tuned…we’ve been pulling long hours at the drafting tables to bring you some fresh bicycle bag designs.
One of our favorite elements of our company is how much time we spend within our customer community, and we’re chomping at the bit to host more adventures and classes.
Stay tuned! There are amazing things on the horizon.
What’s on your adventure bucket list?! Any upcoming tours or trips?
Japan, here we come!