Amanda Chan is the founder of Flying Solo Gear Co, a Melbourne-based startup that focuses on cultivating original motorcycle products from concept to retail.
In September 2016, Flying Solo Gear Co released its first product: The Killswitch Pack, a Kevlar and carbon fibre waistpack designed to withstand the forces of a motorcycle crash.
Amanda has a Bachelor’s degree in human movement and has competed in paddlesports and Olympic weightlifting. She combines her athletic experience with her passion for design to put her own spin on traditional gear. In the last 4 years, she has designed a device that alleviates back pain for seated athletes, as well as a gym attachment athletes can use to strengthen their technique and improve their posture.
In April 2017, Amanda completed a 40-day, 18,000km solo motorcycle journey around Australia, and has dreams of circumnavigating the world on two wheels. Amanda is a genuine believer of being brave and taking risks to live life to the fullest.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge to make it happen?
Injuries to the internal organs are common in motorcycle riding, often due to the hard contents in jacket pockets smashing into the body at speed during a crash. In January 2016, a high-speed crash reminded me of how vulnerable the body is in an accident.
Abdominal injuries are more frequent than head and chest injuries. The Killswitch Pack is not only more comfortable, but it could also save someone from sustaining significant and life-threatening injuries.
Getting started on the waistpack was the easy part. I always keep a notebook wherever I go, so I spent a couple of days drafting some rough sketches. When I was confident with the shape and size, I found $5 of tablecloth scraps from Spotlight and acquired a hobby sewing machine. After a few near-misses with the needle, I had a working prototype that I could wear around and adjust if I needed to. The overall design evolved 8 times before it reached the shelves. This became The Killswitch Pack.
I knew that the Killswitch Pack would be a gateway to more complex gear, so I needed to create a brand as well. Our logo is a phoenix (a mythical bird that is reborn stronger after it falls) encircled in a killswitch (a button on a motorcycle that marks the start of every journey). The name Flying Solo comes from my passion for travelling alone. In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to find out and what you’re capable of.
Can you explain your business model to us?
Flying Solo Gear Co launched on the last day of September 2016, and our flagship product, The Killswitch Pack, makes up most our income.
Because I direct the product from concept to product launch, the quality is high and the retail cost low for the materials we use. The Killswitch Pack retails online for $60AUD and we ship around the world. We also have a small handful of amazing brick-and-mortar stockists located around the Melbourne area.
We’re already expanding to include backpacks and knee sliders in addition to our branded clothing and small accessories. The ultimate goal is to have an online store full of unique and practical products that are all proudly ours.
I knew that the Killswitch Pack would be a gateway to more complex gear, so I needed to create a brand as well. Our logo is a phoenix (a mythical bird that is reborn stronger after it falls) encircled in a killswitch (a button on a motorcycle that marks the start of every journey). The name Flying Solo comes from my passion for traveling alone. In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to find out and what you’re capable of.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
The first sample of my current project, the Ashvault Backpack, has already arrived and was tested on a motorcycle trip around all of Australia. I’ve already started to implement new features based on my experiences during the trip, and a second version should be ready for testing in July.
I’m also on a mission to design a knee slider (piece of protective gear used in racing) that is both cost-effective and longer lasting than those currently available on the market.
Things happen slowly with small businesses like Flying Solo Gear Co, but that’s the beauty of it. A quality product is created in the design journey.
How do you make ideas happen?
It has taken about a decade of being a small business owner to effectively launch Flying Solo Gear Co. I have this notion that the more times you fail, the more likely you will succeed. My idea of spending valuable time includes finding out what doesn’t work.
I’m huge on first steps. If you have an idea, the best thing you could do is act on it, even if it’s in a seemingly insignificant way. Write it down, sketch it (even if you aren’t an artist) and try to make it yourself. Even if it’s ugly or not quite right, it’s tangible and the first version of your product is now in your hands.
To make a project come to life, you must be prepared to nurture it. Sometimes things don’t always go the way you’ve planned, but that’s alright. Making ideas happen is about being agile when it comes to roadblocks and creating another path that others don’t see. I’ve gotten quite dedicated to Flying Solo Gear Co because I’m addicted to the learning process.
What kind of steps did you take to make your project a reality?
The shoebox apartment I was living in last year had nothing but a bedside table. My mattress was on the floor and I owned about 3 cups and 2 spoons. So, I used the bedside table as a sewing table and propped the machine on top. Then, while kneeling on a rolled up Pokemon onesie, I sewed together pieces of scrap tablecloth.
Clearly, my tablecloth waistpack would explode on impact should it ever encounter a low-speed slide, so I had to make it tougher without adding bulk. Leather is heavy, mesh is too fragile, and cotton isn’t waterproof.
Between February and September 2016, casual sketches turned into pages upon pages of attempts to create an extremely thin, lightweight, yet durable design. It was more difficult than it seemed.
It occurred to me to use a variety of materials to make this product a success. After some research, I modelled The Killswitch Pack after bulletproof vests, using the same crosshatch technique to strengthen the product to an absurd extent.
The Killswitch Pack uses Kevlar (fire-resistant, abrasion-resistant) and carbon fibre (lightweight, puncture-resistant) sandwiched between cross-hatched layers of Ripstop nylon (tear-resistant, waterproof). We tested its durability by dragging it behind a motorcycle for 5 kilometres, using a power drill on it, and setting it on fire.
The blueprints for the manufacturer were drawn by hand. It was all very amateur to begin with, but after months of refinement, the final product looked polished enough for the store. Eric, a good friend of mine, took professional photos of the samples while I started creating content for the website.
From concept to launch took 6 months, including a 3-month break. I’m confident that anyone with an idea can make change, so long as they are willing to take that first step out of their comfort zone.
What does your typical day look like?
With strength training fully ingrained in my blood, I’d start most days off with a weightlifting session at the gym followed by a highly necessary cappuccino. An awesome breakfast accompanied by packing orders makes for a perfect morning. I’m not great at sitting still, so I interrupt my “real work” by going to a café and sketching outlines for the next project. I can also be found collaborating with manufacturers or stockists on our next moves, or fulfilling online orders.
When I’m not creating marketing material or website content, I’m on the road doing a quickie ride through the hills. Mastering work-life-balance is a game changer.
What challenges have you faced when starting a business in Australia?
A steep learning curve for me was managing the costs and inconveniences that come with manufacturing in Australia. There were no manufacturers in Australia that could work with Kevlar carbon fibre for a reasonable price, and the cost to ship to Australia is shocking. Customs fees pack a hard punch, too.
Luckily, we Australians are proud supporters of local and small businesses, and occasionally I get a letter of thanks or encouragement from a random stranger. It’s the little things that keep you going.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Through being a small business owner, I’ve dabbled with web design, marketing, event management, accounting, and even public speaking. I wouldn’t feel qualified to make a career out of any of these skills, but they are invaluable when you wear a lot of hats as a small business owner.
What people do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Peter Jones runs a little hub called Café Moto, about 45 minutes south of Melbourne. It’s a cool spot because it has a retail space within a café that features old school leather jackets and classic motorcycles. A small garage provides bike servicing out the back and they’re heavily involved with the legendary Isle of Man time trials. On top of that, he’s an all-round friendly guy and is always up for a cuppa.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
The contemporary business model is no longer “build it and they will come”; instead, the emphasis is working with the customer to connect their needs to our services. Business is instrumental in creating social change, thanks in large part to social media, because it’s easier for companies to communicate to the end user. It’s more of a conversation instead of just money exchanging hands. I think it’s so important for businesses to create discussion and help bring awareness to social problems.
What 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
http://www.flyingsolo.com.au/ (name completely coincidental) is a forum for starting and running a small business in Australia. Oddly enough, I stumbled across it 3 months after I started my own business of the same name.
http://design-milk.com/ Design from architecture to tech, all captured in flawless photography.
https://xkcd.com/ A comic series with a base of geekiness and sprinkles of romance and sarcasm.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups or product development, what would it be?
If possible, what could you do to predict the next 5 years, and how could you maximize your potential during this time?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
I’m in love with Long Story Short in South Melbourne. The servers are amazing and the coffee is second to none. It’s a beautiful space to knock out a pile of work and feel de-stressed at the same time. Drop in for a cuppa or three if you’re in the area.