Our friends at Ornot are celebrating their ten-year anniversary as an independent cycling apparel and accessory brand. As part of this milestone, founder Matt Quann penned a retrospective about his experience starting an apparel brand in a San Francisco garage, tracing a path through custom frames, hurdles with domestic manufacturing, and a ride where waffles were promised but not delivered. Continue reading below for more from Matt and keep your eyes peeled for some special giveaways along with this exciting occasion!
My name is Matt, and I started Ornot in October of 2013. I wanted to create minimally branded cycling clothing as a direct response to my “team kit” which was plastered with “Muscle Milk” logos. My background as a graphic designer, coupled with years of clients constantly asking to “make the logo bigger,” led me to either minimize the logos or omit them entirely. Because this was my project, I could execute it exactly how I wanted, and that’s still the approach we maintain today. Below are ten of my favorite moments from the past ten years, in chronological order.
#1 What have I done?!
After a year of building Ornot and investing $20,000 in clothing, I was eager to launch in October, even though I only had short-sleeved jerseys and bib shorts. Thankfully, California’s warmth and Australia’s cycling craze came to the rescue. In 2013, with cycling blogs aplenty, I used a video to introduce the brand.
Watching it now, the pacing feels leisurely—how times have changed in 10 years! Post-launch, as orders trickled in, I reveled in packing, writing thank-you notes, and skateboarding the packages to the post office. Juggling freelance motion graphic jobs with Ornot was a challenge. From manual customs forms to customer service and inventory puzzles, each week was a learning curve, and the journey never ceases to surprise.
#2 Prolly a Tour of California
In 2014, the Tour of California was in full swing, featuring a prominent Mt. Diablo stage right in our backyard. That year, Rapha was marking each race with their mobile coffee trailer and they set up a ride led by John Watson, taking the steep fire roads up the backside of Mt. Diablo. This was my first time meeting John and seeing how he worked his magic. Back then he used to not only document bikes, but he would document entire rides as they swiftly moved along. Most of us were still on road bikes with skinny tires which made the steep ride (and walk) up the backside of Diablo “memorable.” At the top, we were greeted by a zillion moths and the Rapha mobile coffee trailer.
It also happened to be an impromptu meet-up of many of the underground drivers making bike stuff cool. People like Jeremy Dunn (aka “Mr. Airport Socks”) Garret Chow (graphic designer for Mash and Specialized), Austin Horse (messlife hero and bike advocate), David Wilcox (aka nicest guy ever who was also driving the Rapha trailer), Mark Alford (Rapha OG), and many more. This was my first time meeting everyone and it was simply a really cool experience. Oh, there was a bike race too. I think a young Peter Sagan was there, but really the race was just an excuse to get out there on a Tuesday.
#3 Grinduro 1.0; Aka the first one; Aka Instagram Comes to Life
In October 2015, the first Grinduro was held in Quincy, CA. Keeping with the “backyard” themes, I felt it was an event not to miss, even though managing the whole weekend seemed challenging with two kids under four at home. However, since it was my birthday weekend, I got a pass. The catch? It was only for a day trip (we were staying in Truckee). The early morning drive to Quincy almost had me second-guessing my decision; it felt like any other early morning bike race.
Register, pin on numbers, visit the plastic portable restroom, get dressed, then line up and “go.” But this “go” was different. It started as a leisurely ride, with ample time to chat because there was no reason to go fast. Grinduro’s “enduro” format really sunk in after the first uphill segment. Everyone regrouped, while snacking and chatting. This relaxed vibe persisted throughout the day, punctuated by a long lunch break before a barfy climb. I suffered a pinch flat (tubes!) on a rocky timed segment, but the day concluded with a rope swing in the river, a photo booth session, and making new friends. Grinduro 2015 was a good time.
#4 Stinner Collaboration – Should I Retire Now, Ornot?
In early 2016, we collaborated with Stinner Frameworks and made two custom bikes. When I was a kid, the thought of having a custom bike seemed unobtainable, so as this project took shape I had to keep pinching myself. We created two bikes with Aaron Stinner, one was a CX bike to be raced that year by one of our cyclocross riders, and the other was a Ti road bike that is mine that I still ride to this day (I rode it yesterday). I’ll keep this one short, so we can have more bike photos!
#5 I Want a Bag With a Phone Holster
By 2016, I’d gotten the hang of making stretchy bike clothing and set my sights on designing a bar bag. After a lot of research and some false starts, I collaborated with Jess Chan, an in-house designer at our chosen bag production company and later founder of Tunitas Creative.
After a slow start, our bags became fairly popular and for a time, many even thought of us primarily as a bag company. When the pandemic halted our bag production, we used the setback as an opportunity to revamp our entire lineup.
#6 Moving On Up!
Did I mention that we ran Ornot out of my home in the upper Haight for the first five years? There were three of us that were hard at work every day, in the basement of my house. The same one I slept in every night, and the same one my two little kids lived in. The photo studio was a small white wall next to a desk, the fulfillment center was shelving next to our car, the coffee machine was on the workbench, and when people would come for meetings, they would enter through the garage door.
In 2017, we moved out. It was a big step because it also coincided with moving all of our inventory to a warehouse. Financially the company wasn’t quite ready, but external factors deemed it necessary. We landed in a small office space across from the iconic cable car barn on Nob Hill. The space was small, so when people would come to shop they were instantly greeted by all three of us at our desks staring at them and then quickly hopping up to say “Hi”, and show them some clothing. This was a nice stepping stone and proof of concept for office/showroom space. It also gave us some pretty amazing backdrops for city photography.
#7 More Bikes! Or, Chapter 2
We were introduced to Mike Pride after he started his new company, Chapter 2. He was interested in a collaboration project and we ran with it. They had a new disc road frame that was “aero”, but all we saw was the massive tire clearance (32mm+), and all we could think about was #roadbikesoffroad.
We designed an entire collection, including the matching colorway of the bike. Then we took it a step further and sold the frames as a pre-order and amassed a group of friends to ride them at BWR San Diego. That next spring, we all packed into the van and headed south. Our aim was to go on an eating frenzy of waffles along the route until we learned that they don’t actually have waffles along the ride. We were quite bummed, but we still did a very long bike ride.
#8 Wear It On Your Bike, Ornot
In 2017, I began scheming a way to make “non-stretchy bike clothing” (ie. clothing you could wear on a bike, Ornot). Because we manufacture here in the USA, it meant starting over from scratch. Our “stretchy bike clothing” manufacturer wasn’t equipped to produce this casual clothing, so we had to find new USA-based sewing facilities, new fabric mills, new trims, new patterns, and a myriad of other small minutiae. Through the years we took notes, gathered references and slowly built this new line of clothing and production capability. It didn’t take off immediately, but we stuck with it, and now it’s something we are also proud of. This is where we have been able to experiment the most with unique patterns and different fabrics, many of which are deadstock.
#9 WFH Forever, Ornot
Who doesn’t have a Covid story? In April 2022, we decided that it was time to come out of hiding and get back into the office/showroom game. Having done it before, we knew what we wanted. Our search had us land in the Inner Richmond, just 10 min from the Golden Gate Bridge. Now anyone can come and visit us right around the corner from the world-famous Arsicault pastries. Be prepared though, you may walk into an impromptu fitting, photoshoot, fabric discussion, production drop off, or really, us just ogling over someone’s bike. We also happen to be pretty good at making an espresso (just ask!). Our actual “office” is lofted above the showroom so you may overhear a conversation about zipper length or pocket placements.
#10 Aftercake Ornot; A Welcoming, Chill, Mixed Terrain Ride Around SF
A requirement for our store was proximity to good riding. Fortunately, we scored on this. We’re less than half a mile from the San Francisco Presidio and have cultivated a unique shop ride called #aftercakeornot. The name derived from the “Fat Cake” ride which ends at 8:20 on Tuesday mornings just a few doors down from our store. Our Aftercake ride is a bit of an anomaly here in SF because we do a mixed terrain loop here in the city and it’s chill, with a lot of stops to catch up with friends and take in the views.
The ride actually used to be our “Tuesday AM work ride”, but we figured that we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. If anyone plans to visit SF, put this ride on your list. It’s like a guided tour of SF’s best views and hidden trails.
And there it is 10 random instances from the past 10 years. I can’t wait to do it all over again in another 10 years…
We’re doing a giveaway with ORNOT to celebrate a decade of rad clothing. Just enter your email below for a chance to win their Decade Kit!