Interview: Karleen Eberle, Owner and Designer of Raven Rova Women’s Motorcycle Gear
It was a hot July summer evening, and this chikita had just finished her beginner’s motorcycle course. I was stoked, sure…more importantly, I was desperately in need of good gear. I beelined for the nearest local moto dealership, on a mission to find something that fit better than the horror I had MacGyvered for the slaloms of the afternoon. Three hours later, I was in the snug retail section, combing the racks for anything in my size.
Despite the plethora of textiles and leathers, nothing fit comfortably. I was astounded.
I’d had problems like this in the past with cheaper clothing retail companies, being the 5’9″ leggy woman I was – but I didn’t expect the problem to plague the diverse community of the motorcycle world. You can imagine my excitement when, a few years later, I meet Karleen Eberle: Biker, fashion designer, and all-around renaissance woman.
Eberle is a giant in her own right – through her brand, Raven Rova, she has single-handedly taken on the biggest issue in the women’s motorcycle gear industry, making it her personal mission to provide a perfect fit for females across the country.
It’s hard to find someone so dedicated to quality-fitting female motorcycle gear as Karleen – and when I say it’s been a hot minute since I’ve seen gear as effortlessly stylish as hers, I mean it.
I’m hankering for a chat, and she’s cushioned at the base of a large tree near Redwood Park in Mill Valley as I type this, ready to rumble.
Let’s dive in.
Tell us how you got into the world of fashion.
I’ve been a fashion designer for over 12 years, graduating the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in the year of 2008. I grew up reading Vogue and just really drooling over Dior and Versace, all of that.
I still love it, but let’s get real – how many people are actually buying those beautiful couture garments?
How did the birth of the Raven Rova brand come about?
The research and development for Raven Rova started in 2016. A good friend of mine was in a horrible accident in Oakland, California and it was a big wake-up call for me – a reminder that you’ve got to gear up every time. Street clothes just don’t cut it. I went to a big gear store the day of his accident, looking to purchase something more protective.
Here I am, in the fitting room, throwing a shit fit like a child. I couldn’t find anything that fit me.
I was like, “What’s going on? It’s 2016. Why can’t I find clothes that fit me??”
My friend and I went to get a coffee afterward, and I’m like, “I’m a fashion designer. I bet other women have this problem too. I can do something about this.”
At the time, I was in business school at City College, San Francisco. I was taking marketing classes and had just started researching the motorcycle industry as a class project.
I also had a small line that I was running at the time, made domestically. I sold on consignment at boutiques in the area and was a member of a local collective. We had great sales, but no one involved in that line had any business training, and customer retention was not a top priority. There was no way I could grow a consistent clientele base.
The process from laying my designs line to rest and ramping up the motorcycle gear for Raven Rova’s official launch on Indiegogo happened very organically…I’d say the whole deal took about two years of actual design developments, and then I probably spent another year or so just researching, keeping my ear to the ground, and seeing what was going on.
Have you had any setbacks on your journey with Raven Rova?
Oh, for sure! I’ve been living with Ulcerative Colitis since I was 15. Dealing with the illness…that took me ten years to actually get to the point where I could honestly say, “Okay, I can do this. I’m physically capable.”
At the inception of Raven Rova, I didn’t have a motorcycle license. I grew up around bikes, spent my childhood group riding with my dad, but I wanted to ride for myself. I’m a really ambitious person, and I had gotten so angry and frustrated with what the medical system said my limitations were.
So, it’s 2016. I’m working on the inception of Raven Rova, attending full-time business school, surviving a nasty colitis episode, and I had just had my best friend mangled in the accident.
Everything was coming at me, all at the same time. I just had a point where I snapped and had enough. I was like, “I’m done. I’m going to get my motorcycle license, this is all happening, and I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
I got my certification, took the course, and here’s why I believe that protective gear is so essential. I had two hit-and-runs the summer that I launched Raven Rova. The first time I was at a stoplight, there was nobody around me, and I literally just took a breath and relaxed for half a second…and was rear-ended by a teenager driving his mom’s Mercedes. The crash snapped my head back, I crunched six vertebrae.
Six weeks later, I am in the last stages of recovery, and I hadn’t ridden that route for six weeks. For some reason, I took the same route that day.
The next thing I know, a truck hits me. I’m sliding several car lengths, and I fracture the C5 vertebra that was still healing from the last crash.
So…we didn’t meet our initial goal for Raven Rova’s first launch because I had gotten in that accident two days after the launch began and working at a computer with a neck brace on was just not going to happen. Despite that, we did raise enough to produce one style, The Falcon Pants.
I still think they’re my favorite. We had the Falcon pants made, and then a few months later, we did the Women’s Motorcycle Conference in 2020, during the pandemic.
I did a panel with Joanne Don from The Gear Chic, we had a maker panel, and many people tuned in and heard me talking. I got some really good press with Women Riders Now, and then we got enough pre-orders to do our second style – The Raven Pants.
The entire year, we’re working within the confines of a pandemic. Our production team had to shut down for two months. The people I work with are brilliant and take care of their employees really well, so that means that even outside of the lockdowns, they were still operating at 25% capacity for months.
Despite everything, here we are – a year later, we have a sizeable inventory, things are selling, and we’re planning for next year.
Tell us about your process of creating top-quality motorcycle gear from scratch.
Since I am a fashion designer, I start conceptually. My early concept sketches are nothing like the motorcycle gear we have now. So I always start with the concept.
What’s the reason for this garment?
Why do we put on motorcycle gear?
What’s the heart and soul of this piece?
For me, it’s our armor. It protects us – not just physically, but it defines the whole garment. As women riders, we have this little voice in the back of our head that tells us we need to be a little extra.
There’s a Sia song I really like. I think it goes, “I’ll keep my sunglasses on so you can’t see me cry. I’ll keep my armor on to show you how strong I am…”
To me, that is the reason why we get dressed every day…and that’s the reason why we want to look bad-ass in our motorcycle gear. So why not flaunt it?
From conceptual sketching, I move on to blueprints. For measurements, we use ‘draping’ – a technique where you take muslin and put it on a form. That’s one way to get your basic blueprint pattern.
Once the draping process is complete, I make other measurements. I use my own unique proprietary sizing formulae – created for the female body specifically – to guarantee a perfect fit. It’s the secret sauce – what makes Raven Rova gear fit so well. I really geek out on the sizing data. I’ve actually saved the sizing data of every single person for whom I’ve ever made clothing. That’s how I made up my own sizing adjustments – I don’t just make it up out of thin air.
Despite my own adjustments, I do work with the ASTM standard dataset. I think that we have a responsibility as designers to try to give people some series of standards for comparison. Different parts of the female rider have different demands on the gear in the motorcycle community. We’ve got more muscly legs and a more powerful lower body. It’s how we hold onto the bike, how we lean into the ride, things like that.
There were actually some very clear patterns once I started looking at similarities in the data. All the information is written down into tech packs of documents for my production partner, and then everything gets shipped to Pakistan for the prototype production process. My manufacturing partner is Longview, a company that makes gear for some really big brands. When I come to Longview with my very exacting standards and ideas, I know they will get the best results possible.
There’s always lots of back and forth at this point in the communications, especially in the tweaking of the product. Building the tech packs – that’s a complicated time for sure. It’s mind-blowing sometimes, the amount of data that goes into one piece of gear, but you want it to fit right, so you can’t miss any steps.
I have had people straight up just ask me to share my data, but that’s my blood, sweat, and tears, baby! No way! Haha.
I love leather. Everything is hand-tailored with the leather team, and the quality shows in the vibrant color and the even grain. The gear itself is testimony to Longview’s quality of curing and handling.
We use princess lines so that the jacket contours to the bust, but what many people don’t consider is that it matters a great deal what part of the animal hide gets used for that pattern piece. The placement impacts how it’s going to stretch and contour to the body, and that’s a very highly skilled thing to keep in mind.
I’m still blown away when I stop and look at it our gear. I love that I can offer that level of quality to my clients. I will say that I did take an extra year to build a good relationship with my production team because relationships are everything in the apparel industry.
They’re humans, they’re working with you, and they’re working their ass off.
What would you say Raven Rova is to you, and what do you provide to your consumer?
Honestly, Raven Rova is my baby. I just feel like she’s my little creative child who’s riding her own motorcycle now. I wanted to give up so many times, but every time I went to give up, someone – sometimes a man, usually a woman in our community – would just pull me along, have something great to say, keep me going. Or I get new orders, or someone will share a powerful story with me, something that my gear did for them.
The women in this community, their care, and support…it’s literally the fuel in my tank. It keeps Raven Rova going. Raven Rova has been a passion project for me, but I’m doing it because motorcycle riding has given me so much confidence in healing and having the right quality gear that fits.
Having the right equipment is a huge deal for anything, no matter what it is. So we need to make better gear available to as many women as we can.
That’s what it’s about – it’s about looking cool and feeling cool, having those two sync up.
As a fashion designer in the motorcycle industry kicking ass, where do you see yourself in the coming years?
I would love to sell Raven Rova at some point because I know myself too well. I am not scalable.
There’s only one of me, and I don’t want Raven Rova to be restricted by my limitations. The number of women we can reach, the amount we can improve on gear for women worldwide – that takes priority.
It would be really, really cool to find a partner to help Raven Rova continue to grow. I think it would also be fantastic to eventually do more gear for more petite women…right now, our focus is definitely on curvy women.
(Fun fact – we have a long inseam on our pants, so you can shorten them as needed. I’ve been tailoring my whole life – you can get your pants shortened; lengthened is another story. If your tailor says they can’t shorten your pants, then they’re fibbing.)
How has Raven Rova changed your life?
I think it’s really easy to take all of your skills and hard work for granted, and it was just so amazing, hearing someone mention in a review of the Falcon Pants, “Oh, clearly one really clever woman has done what all the big gear brands couldn’t do.”
Just seeing how much Raven Rova reaches people in a good way, realizing that it all started with me being stubborn and being like, “Let’s solve a problem.”
Using design thinking and human interaction and very conceptually artistic principles to solve the problems of the apparel world and having so much positive feedback…that’s just a huge confidence boost because those skills are downplayed in our society, unfortunately. As women, we still do need to fight tooth and nail in the professional industry.
Taking that leap of faith, starting Raven Rova, all the trust and support from the community – all of it has allowed me to overcome fears in my life. It has helped me deal with a lot of personal situations that were not great, and it has helped me get to a place where I’m happy, confident, able to grow, and able to help everyone better.
And I wouldn’t be that whole of a person without Raven Rova.
What do you currently have in the garage?
I have a 2020 KTM 390 ADV. I’ve barely ridden it because it’s been a nightmare trying to get the parts to fit my body correctly, haha!
I need some custom clutch cables and a Motion Pro, so the handlebar risers and the clutch cable are happy, then we will be good.
My previous bike was a Kawasaki KLX 250 SF, with a 351 cc big bore kit.
(Sidenote – No problems getting Kawasaki parts whatsoever…)
Any pending dreams about to be purchased?
I want to get an electric moped. I love all this urban mobility, and we do waste a lot of gas.
I just saw BMW’s new concept, the urban mobility electric scooter? The concept looks a little funky, but I think it’s the right way to go.
Any parting words you have for women out there who are looking to bite the bullet, especially in the motorcycle industry?
Fail fast, fail forward.
You’re going to lose sometimes – and that’s okay because when you lose, you learn. Your first idea is not going to be good – your second might not be either. You’re going to have to try, and try, and try again.
You’re going to want to give up, and that’s okay. Take a break. Get back on it.
A tip: Tap into all of the Small Business Administration (SBA) resources out there that you can. The SBA is a branch of the government dedicated to helping small business owners. The Government’s not all broken, haha! The SBA works very well.
Resources are very regional, very city-specific, but there are tons of perks available for anybody eligible. Also! Don’t copy other people because copying is easy, but it’s only going to take you so far. Get your own ideas. Break your brain, cry. It’s going to serve you.
Rebuild. It’s like ‘ride, wrench, repeat’…It’s the exact same concept.
This has been really fun, and I just really love WebBikeWorld so much. You guys are so incredible; keep doing what you do.