My name is Mary Tolosa. I’m a curious designer, explorer, and lifelong student based in the Bay Area. Currently, I am a Color, Materials, & Finish Designer (CMF) for Specialized Bicycles, helping lead CMF design across our products in bikes, helmets, shoes, and apparel.

Can you tell us a bit about your passions beyond “work”?

My passion for staying curious, exploring, and learning about anything and everything I’m interested about 1000% compliments my work as a designer. Whether that is taking sustainability design classes on Saturdays at 4am (it was UK time…), exploring some new local trails on bike or on foot, or even looking at things under a microscope; all of this helps “fuel” my brain, helping me stay creative and to think outside the box.

Mary Tolosa looking through a monocular into some plantlife

My love and interest for design started as a young child. I grew up in a big family filled with artists, designers, and problem solvers. My grandmother was a fine artist back in the Philippines, whereas my parents, aunts, and uncles had more of the “traditional” careers as dentists, doctors, mechanics, and entrepreneurs. I saw them as problem solvers. My older sister, cousins, and I are all artists and designers, anywhere from art directors, graphic, UX/UI, fashion, industrial design, and everything in between.

Growing up, I was a very curious child, taking things apart, asking all the questions, and I remember thinking a lot. I grew up sharing a room with my sister, who is now a Design Lead at a tech company, and our room was filled with her posters, projects, and design books. I remember her staying up all night to finish her projects and her creating things from nothing. It’s come back a full circle and now I am also in that world, and I love it. ☺

items on a desk arranged nicely: a laptop, a nocs monocular, a notebook, scrap paper

What are your materials, and how do you think about them?

At work, I get to work with many different types of materials, depending on the product we are working with- helmet, shoe, bikes, or apparel. I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on all the products, and for me, I always try to create a connection with the rider (user) by telling a story using colors, materials & finishes of the product. Whether that’s me thinking about the layering of materials we use on our apparel, like the In Layers Cycling Kit I had designed, or it’s through paint and specialty pigments for our bikes. It always comes down to who is using this product and how we can create that connection between the user and product through the color, materials & finishes.

When I’m curious, bored, or hitting a “design block,” I typically try to look at things from a different perspective. I love keeping microscopes (yes, more than one, including the Zoom Tube + Inspector Microscope) at my desk so I can look at paint, specialty pigments, materials, and random objects to be inspired by. I think it can be rare for people to look at things under a microscope unless you’re in a science lab, but this is just where my curiosity kicks in.

microscope samples, from left to right: chameleon red gold (a specialized bicycles plant), chameleon silver green (a specialized bicycles plant), violet pearl over light blue paint, green-cheek conure feather (a family pet)

Do you have any “heroes“ to speak of? How are you inspired?

Neri Oxman has always been someone I looked up to in the design industry. She is a multi-disciplinary designer originally from Israel. She currently leads a research group at the MIT Media Lab called Mediated Matter Group (a dream for me to be a student there one day). She is also well known for her work on Material Ecology, bringing materials science, digital technology, and organic design (nature) to create new possibilities in the future. Her conceptual work is very inspiring because her work intersects technology and biology on another level. Her future thinking work shows the capabilities of what we can do to work with nature and not against it.

A key ingredient to building a sustainable future?

I think a key ingredient to building a sustainable future is circular design, designing products to last, and everyone working together. Saving the planet is not a competitive subject; we’re all reaching for the same goal.

Most sublime moment in nature?

Last fall, I visited Joshua Tree for the first time with my sister. I was able to do a solo bike ride from the West Entrance to the other side of the park. It was early enough where I only encountered three cars, including my sister driving my car, on the road, and it was a dream.

I started my ride at Sunrise, and it was just me, my bike, the crisp cool morning air, the pastel sunrise, and the California desert. I felt all the stress and anxiety in my life melt away as I pedaled through the desert. It felt like I was free, and I didn’t have to worry about anything but making sure I took in every second of the moment that was happening. It was a short 35-mile ride, but I wish it went on forever. It was one of my most memorable rides.

Mary Tolosa riding a mountain bike on a trail

What have been your biggest challenges?

I think my biggest challenge in the outdoors is being a bit worried to go on bigger adventures or hikes by myself, thinking of the worst-case scenario. Usually, I just end up going anyways, or I always have cousins or friends who want to explore.

In life, I think my biggest challenge is learning how to take a break from work and to take care of myself better. I guess I’m somewhat of a workaholic, but during this pandemic, I’ve gotten better about putting myself first.

Artisitic photo collage of Mary Tolosa riding her bike through various nature landscapes around san francisco

What do you do when you get out and away from the office/lab/kitchen?

I like to unplug and do things that help me recharge. Whether that’s chilling in a park / beach and reading a book, going for a bike ride, hike, or museums.

I’ve recently got into ceramics and have been taking weekly classes to learn the pottery wheel. It’s been great to just learn a new skill that’s not on the computer and to just be able to make stuff with my hands again.

What other brands do you love?

I’m a huge fan of smaller brands like Topo Designs and Ornot Bike for cycling apparel. I’ve always enjoyed supporting smaller brands since I was in middle school. I was not a fan of having the same stuff as my peers, so back then, I’d go the extra mile to be my own person. I still do that to this day.

Nocs monocular being backed into a camera bag

What keeps you going?

Three main things that keep me going.

First, my parents. They are the most hardworking people I have ever known, and is probably why I continue to push myself to be better. They have and are still doing everything they can do for our family.

The second is that the universe is massive, and no one has explored every single inch of it. It’s mind-blowing. Not saying I will, but I’m just a curious human that wants to keep learning about everything. There are endless opportunities to keep exploring and designing for the future.

The third is being able to see the products you imagine in your head come to life. This is a shortened version of the process, but being able to think about a concept, drawing it on a computer, seeing initial samples from the factory, and then after a year or so, seeing it out in the real world is always so rewarding. Seeing people ride the bikes or products I’ve worked on trail or on the street never gets old, and being able to think or say, “Hey, I helped design that” is pretty freaking cool.

A personal style?

As cheesy as this sounds, I just be myself. I don’t like following others or trends; I just be me. I don’t care what others think. I like to tell my friends, “You do you.”

Mary Tolosa holding her iphone camera up to the Nocs Monocular