Behind-the-scenes with Stellar Moto Brand founder Jenna Stellar…the crash that drove her to start her own brand, and how she links fashion and tech to keep women riders safer
By Joy Burgess
Photos courtesy Jenna Stellar
How does a Hollywood stylist and costume designer end up founding one of the top women-owned moto gear companies? What, precisely, is the path from earning a degree in fashion design and spending years in the entertainment industry working on films, commercials, television shows, and even styling rock bands to striking out and starting a business designing protective motorcycle gear for women?
For Jenna Stellar, the long road to creating Stellar Moto Brand was full of twisties. While she constantly spent time around motorcycles as a kid, she didn’t start riding until she was 18, and even after getting her license didn’t ride much at first. Yet motorcycling was always in her blood, passed down from her father, who was a sidecar racer. While working as a stylist and costume designer, the love for two wheels always came out in moto-inspired clothing or time spent dabbling in custom jackets. But she already had a career that left her little time to create a new business.
“It was always there,” Jenna said, “this was always a part of me. I’d even come up with a name and a logo for my company, I just didn’t have time to do both.”
But then her life came to a crashing halt when she was injured in a motorcycle accident. She was hurt, had plenty of time on her hands, and was pissed that she’d allowed her vanity to get in the way of protecting herself on her bike.
Rita Mae Brown once penned, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”
That’s something Jenna understands completely. “I’m the person who doesn’t believe that someone has to suffer and go through an experience like mine to learn. People think it’s all fun and games until they go down. I believe there’s a way to learn from other people’s suffering, and that’s the philosophy behind Stellar.”
From experience came first-hand knowledge on the type of protection women needed while riding, and from her difficulties finding gear that wasn’t ‘hideous’ she knew how few choices women riders really had in motorcycle gear. And so she started on a mission to create protective gear that used the best and latest protective technology while offering fashionable choices that allowed female motorcyclists to enjoy rocking their own sense of style. Never again would women need to choose between vanity and protection.
As far back as Jenna can remember she’s been around motorcycles. “My dad was a sidecar racer,” she said, “and he fabricated sidecars for people, too. We were always going to the races when I was a kid. My dad would always tote me around in his ’64 Triumph Bonneville 650 sidecar. While we weren’t dirt bike riders, I was just always around motorcycles; that was completely normal for me.”
Despite this exposure to the two-wheeled world, Jenna didn’t start riding until her 30s. Her father had passed away from a motorcycle accident, and after getting her license initially at age 18, seeing her mother’s face when she saw it made Jenna put away her license for years. “I didn’t think about how it would affect her,” she commented.
For years she didn’t ride much. Yet motorcycling was always in her blood, calling to her. And while her dad was gone, her brother continued to influence and inspire her. “My brother started riding before I did,” Jenna mentioned. “He was always riding. He was riding on the street, and then he got involved in a motorcycle club called the Cretins. They go to the racetracks and race vintage bikes, and he ended up getting to hang out with all the sidecar people we knew growing up.”
“Hanging out with him, watching him, going to races and hanging out with the MCs…he’s definitely been a huge influence. We’ve always hung out together, we have the same friends, and we’ve always been buds.”
Finally, it was in her late 20s that she started really getting into the rider lifestyle. And she’s never looked back, despite a motorcycle crash that would change the direction of her career…and her life.
A Life-Changing Crash
Riders always know there’s a chance they could go down when they throw a leg over their bike, but it’s easy to think a serious crash won’t happen to you. When Jenna took off on her motorcycle that day, she had no idea what the road ahead held for her. And she wasn’t prepared for it.
“I got into an accident,” Jenna said, “just pulling out of my driveway onto the road and coming to a stop. Suddenly the throttle stuck, the bike revved up on me, and the only way to avoid the cars was to swerve and try to stop. I was going down, and I sorta tried to jump off, sliding down the road with my knee down and tearing up my knee because I wasn’t wearing armor. Had I been wearing good gear, I probably could have picked up my bike and gone home.”
“I ended up in the hospital and was pretty torn up,” she continued. “I was injured, going to physical therapy daily, and suddenly I had all this time while I was recuperating. I was pissed off that I hadn’t been protecting myself with good gear, and really, there wasn’t anything good out there in women’s gear.”
“I’d thought about starting my own company for so long,” she continued, “and now I had the time and motivation to do it. It was really stupid that I chose vanity instead of protecting myself on my bike, and I wanted to give women better options so they didn’t have to learn this lesson the way I did.”
In those days after the crash, Stellar Moto Brand was born. “I put it all together,” Jenna told Woman Rider, “the knowledge, patterns, design ideas, thoughts about what I – and other women – wanted to wear. I started researching the best technology, and for a year I was gathering everything I needed.”
Technology Meets Artistry
Stellar Moto Brand launched three years ago, but Jenna says it took about a year-and-a-half to get the business off the ground, deciding to start out with a women’s line because women have been so neglected in the past. Much of that time was spent researching and finding the best fabric technologies to create gear that would keep women safe.
“I actually had to wait for Dyneema (Dyneema is a synethetic fiber that’s 15x stronger than steel yet lightweight enough to float on water ~ Ed) to be made, and it was brand new at the time. I’d tried making gear with Kevlar, and it was ridiculous. I wanted great aesthetics, but I also wanted the best protection. I was actually on the verge of creating my own – thank god that didn’t have to happen – when Dyneema came on the scene, and I was one of the first ones to begin using it.”
“I also love SAS-TEC body protection systems,” Jenna continued. “It’s not the most popular, but some people go for popular over amazing…not me.”
SAS-TEC is a type of body armor made from viscoelastic foam that has a memory effect for excellent shock absorption without hard edges or a shell. It surpasses basic CE level values by 50%, which makes it CE Level 2 protection for riders. This material is flexible and soft in its normal state, becoming more pliable with body heat. However, an impact makes the protectors harden, absorbing that impact without transmitting that force to the body, then going back to their original shape.
One of the key benefits of SAS-TEC is that it can sustain multiple impacts while remaining fully functional. It’s also an environmentally-friendly option that’s partially created from recyclable materials and lasts as long as 10 years instead of just 2-3 years like most viscoelastic armor.
But along with all the cutting-edge technology Jenna puts into her gear, she wanted women to have stylish gear options that allowed them to express themselves so they didn’t need to choose between looking great and being protected.
“I want people to be able to express themselves,” Jenna said. “We put all this energy into our motorcycles, but women haven’t had the chance to express themselves in moto clothing. I love seeing people go all out, even if it’s not my style. It’s so much fun. With my designs I enjoy just having fun with it, I put myself out there, and I’m a little bit rock and roll with my designs.”
Comfort and convenience are important, too. “I’m improving my jeans right now,” she went on, “since some women that commute on their bikes want to take their armor out at work without taking their pants off. I’m redesigning to make that easier for them. I also don’t put a ton of seams in my gear either. I try to keep it as comfortable as possible while keeping the look clean and fashionable.”
Gear Guidance for Girls
What’s the biggest piece of advice Jenna has for girls who ride? “Armor is a bigger deal than most people think,” she commented. “Most women have jeans that are road rash and abrasion resistant, but having impact protection is huge. If you don’t know this, you probably haven’t had an accident, and that’s fabulous. But once you’ve gone down, you realize that a small amount of padding and protection in certain places is a real game changer.”
“I put armor in the knees, hips, elbows, back, and shoulders,” she continued, “and I even have chest armor, which is especially good for dirt riding and flat track. I even have a new and improved armored legging with a tailbone protection option coming out soon.”
When it comes to going down, Jenna’s been there, and she knows better than to go without armor now. “I provide armor with all my gear,” she mentioned. “I’m not cheaping out on people. Companies often cheap out on women by giving us the lowest amount of abrasion resistance in gear or not giving us armor with products. While my gear may be a little more expensive, my ambulance ride was expensive.”
As Stellar Moto Brand continues to grow and Jenna works to educate women on the protection they need, her only regret is that she didn’t start this business sooner. “I put off Stellar for so long. Just seeing more women riding these days is amazing, and it inspires me. I think if I’d have seen more women racers on a track when I was little, I’d have started sooner.”
“I want women to know they don’t have to sacrifice style for protection,” she continued. “Women have told me stories of how they’ve gone down and my gear saved them from serious injuries. That’s exactly why I do this, and I do it the right way without cutting corners. We’re worth it!”
You can learn more about Stellar Moto Brand at www.stellarmotobrand.com or follow @stellarmotobrand on Instagram.