Alexis Ring, founder of Lexi Miller, a women’s cycling apparel company, was determined to go to law school by the time she’d entered fourth grade. She can’t really say why.
“I just thought you need to be a doctor or a lawyer or some powerful business person. You wear suits and you work in tall buildings and that’s what you do in life,” she said.
So after graduating from college, Alexis applied to the top ten law schools in the country. She didn’t get in to any of them.
“I deferred my plan for a year to do some traveling and work in Sydney for a consulting company. That plan got derailed because my friend and I couldn’t get our work permits until November and we wanted to leave in September. But we could get work permits for New Zealand, so we decided to go there first.”
Alexis flew out of New York on September 5, 2001. Six days later, the whole world had changed.
“Being in New Zealand then was so weird. It was this dramatic time living in this very peaceful country in a simple, beautiful, mountain- and lakeside town. I settled down in Queenstown and got a job working in a restaurant. It just kind of changed my perspective, and I came home wanting to find that kind of environment.”
After returning to New Jersey, Alexis decided the suburbs of NYC were not the place to recapture the zen of Queenstown, so she moved to Lake Tahoe to be a ski bum for a year. She learned that she had been accepted to law school in San Francisco.
“I got through my first year of law school and just hated it. It was nothing like I thought it would be, there was nothing creative about it. Honestly, I did terribly. I thought, ‘I can retake a couple of classes and be just miserable. But what’s the point? What am I going to do with this? Have a job and be miserable?’”
The man Alexis was dating at the time, a professional skier 17 years her senior, proved an unlikely but fateful source of career advice. He asked her why she didn’t choose to do something creative, like being an interior designer.
Alexis’s initial response was not positive.
“I was like, what are you even talking about? I don’t understand.”
But she looked into programs and learned the degree she would get to be an interior designer was called interior architecture and design.
“I thought, okay, that at least sounds a little bit serious. It satisfied the organizational, linear thinking side of my brain and also the creative part.”
Fast forward to 2006. Alexis had dropped out of law school, graduated from art school with a second bachelor’s degree, and was working in her dream job, small residential interior design. So why launch a women’s cycling apparel company when you have an awesome job you love?
Because in 2009, the recession hit. Work dried up overnight. Around the same time, Alexis was advised to give up running due to a back problem. So she took up spin, and then cycling.
“There were a lot of guys cycling in the Bay area, but it took a while to find women who rode. And I was always having trouble finding apparel that fit well and looked good. I kept thinking, ‘How is it that I feel and look so terrible wearing these clothes when I’m actually pretty fit?”
She was lamenting the situation to a friend who asked why she didn’t just make her own clothes. That friend introduced her to a woman who had started a company that made board shorts for female surfers.
“So I had this meeting where I was pretty much given a step-by-step list of the people I’d need to find to make these clothes. And I realized there was overlap with interior design. When you build a house, you need an architect and a contractor. In apparel, the architect is the pattern maker and the contractor is the factory.”
Alexis had received advice from a great boss during her interior design days: Ninety percent of design is administrative; ten percent is creative.
“I already knew how to design a product working with multiple vendors, a timeline, accountability, a supply chain, purchase orders, the whole project management piece. And I knew it didn’t matter how beautiful your vision is unless you can put it together and get it into people’s hands, be it a room or a cycling jersey.”
Alexis started out this new venture slowly. She noticed little things that could make a big difference in comfort for women cyclists.
“I’d think, ‘Why is this elastic around my thigh? Why can’t it be a three-inch band of fabric? Why does this jersey have to be cheap, scratchy polyester instead of something that feels like a t-shirt? Why do women need bib shorts? We have hips!’ Once I started solving the problem, and saw the improvements in the actual product and tried the first sample on, I was like, ‘This is exactly what I was envisioning!’ And then I had to carry through with it.”
Even armed with knowledge, experience, and passion, it took until 2015 for Lexi Miller to launch. Alexis had started working in event planning during the recession, and could only dive back into Lexi Miller between gigs.
These days, Alexis both works in interior design and runs Lexi Miller.
“Lexi Miller definitely feeds my soul a bit more because it’s personal. I want to stay really close to it, because this company represents a part of myself, an aspirational persona. I love doing interior design too, but that’s for clients. With Lexi Miller, it’s a product I use myself. At the end of the day, both are work. That’s stressful at times, but Lexi Miller is a nice balance.”