Philly to the 802
She came to Vermont because whenever she visited, she never wanted to leave. Born and raised in Philadelphia, artist and cyclist Melissa Tabas has been visiting Vermont since she was a kid, and as an adult, she and boyfriend Cory Swingle knew that Vermont was a place they wanted to live. “We don’t have any reason not to do it now, so let’s give it a try. So we decided to move to Vermont.” They arrived in August 2018.
Starting to ride
Melissa’s father was really into riding, which meant that when Melissa was a teen, “I hated bike riding.”
But she was an avid runner, racing cross country and track in high school, and when injuries pushed her into cross training, she chose riding. In college at American University she raced with the cycling team. She both ran and biked for a while, but after running a couple marathons, including Boston, she realized, “I’m done for a while,” and stopped running for a couple years. “But now I’m bringing it back in.”
She does a little bit of everything—road, gravel, MTB—and says, “my favorite part of riding bikes is going uphill. I’m good at going pretty hard. That’s the part where I can excel and beat up on other people.” Melissa is part of that huge demographic of women who love to ride bikes, love to push hard and compete, but who aren’t “elite” or professional cyclists. “Yeah… I’m not that interested in reading about ways to make race weight.”
In Philadelphia, Melissa did a lot of track racing at a velodrome in Lehigh Valley. Track racing feels safer than road riding because “I was good enough to be in a pretty high category and so got to ride with people who are good at riding bikes.”
Team Laser Cats
After racing for a few years with women who took it all pretty seriously, Melissa wanted to be on a team where “we wear something fun, it’s a women’s team, we support each other,” so she started Team Laser Cats in 2015. Melissa was heavily involved in creating the team, designing the team’s kits, and racing. Her designs garnered the team a lot of attention, such as in this blog post: prettydamnedfast.com
Diversity on the team is explicitly sought after, with women of color, trans folks, and gender non-binary folks encouraged to apply. Cyclocross is their main thing, but the team is very much about what members want it to be, and fosters an environment where everyone wants to try everything. “When you’re trying something, you want to be in a group that you feel comfortable with.”
It brought together a group of like-minded women who didn’t want to be part of the mainstream, conventional cycling fashion or culture. “It’s great if you have good results, but it’s about having fun—bringing a smile to all of our faces, doing something together.”
Women’s Cycling Apparel: It’s Doesn’t Have to be All Hearts and Flowers.
Always an artist who designed and made her own clothes, Melissa first listened to the voice of her Dad in her ear, “no one gets a job in art.” She received her degree from American University in International Relations and Economics and had always planned to go into government, but by the time she graduated she knew that wasn’t the career path for her. “I was totally lost.”
She started working in a bike shop, Breakaway Bikes, where she met Cory. Then she worked for Fuji bicycles doing inside sales. On nights and weekends, Melissa pursued her own creative work and over time realized she wanted to get more serious about it. So she left Fuji and started taking art classes, working on figuring out what she really wanted to do.
There isn’t a wide spectrum of design choice in women’s cycling apparel. “It’s either pink with swirlies or it’s black. Or red,” says Melissa. “I wanted something fun that I would want to wear, so I started designing.” That desire combined with her creative drive and talent led her to create Laser Cats and Such.
“You’re wearing a cycling Spandex outfit. The average person is going to think you look dumb, no matter what it looks like. Now when they look at you, they’re going to smile and be like, that’s so funny and weird.” The patterns and colors of much cycling clothing are designed to accentuate the cyclist’s physique. Melissa’s designs take a different tack. Of her design ethos, Melissa says, “I’m into things that are very visually stimulating.” She loves dazzle camouflage, which was used in World War I to make ships hard to target by painting them in starkly contrasting patterns of stripes, making it hard to determine their size, speed, and heading.
A Day in the Life
Melissa’s creative process starts by coming up with a mood board, usually on Pinterest, or looking at art books, to find inspiration. A lot of the art that catches her interest is rooted in 80s and 90s fashion. From there, she does “a lot of playing around and sketching.” A big part of the process is researching companies to order kits from. “I want the quality to be really nice. It might look really cool at first and then start breaking down after a couple wearings, then there’s no point.” It’s important to find a supplier that combines quality and value with the right price point.
And What About That Name?
When she was thinking about designing her own kits a friend said, “you should put laser cats all over it.” It was right around the time of the Laser Cats skit on Saturday Night Live. “The first kits were a direct cultural reference to that. They had cats with lasers shooting out of their eyes.” Melissa says, “I really like cats. All kinds of cats, and cat-adjacent things.”
We can’t reveal too much right now, but suffice it to say that someone with as much creative drive and talent as Melissa has plans and ideas for where she wants her business to go next. Stay tuned!